One start does not make the series a mess, but there is a trend here. The Nationals’ rotation announced its presence in April, when its ERA was a stunning 1.78, best in the majors. Through the summer, it never had an ERA for a full month that was higher than 3.91 (May). For the year, the starters’ 3.40 ERA was the NL’s best.
In September and October, however, the Nationals’ rotation — including two starts from Strasburg and four from his replacement, lefty John Lannan — ran its ERA up to 4.20, 11th-best in the NL.
Carlos Beltran hit two of the Cardinals’ four home runs in a 12-4 rout of the Nationals on Monday afternoon at Busch Stadium to knot the NLDS at one game apiece. Jordan Zimmermann was mostly ineffective in a season-low three innings of work.
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Capping those outings: The disasters authored by Jackson and Detwiler as Washington tried to close out the division in St. Louis. Jackson went first, and he could get only four outs before he gave up nine runs, eight earned, in what became a 12-2 loss. Detwiler faced the Cardinals with the Nationals’ first chance to clinch the division without help from anyone else. He failed miserably, lasting 21
3 innings while giving up seven runs, though only three were earned.
“I think you can throw that away, definitely,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said.
In the quiet of the visiting clubhouse Monday night, Suzuki and Zimmermann changed into athletic shorts and flip-flops and met in a corner. They broke down the start, bit by bit. Across the room, Jackson — who has pitched in seven postseason games — showered and got dressed.
“Things can get fast in the postseason,” Jackson said. “They can speed up real quickly. Especially as a starting pitcher, you have to control the game. You have to control the pace.”
In the playoffs, the Nationals — between the jitterbugging Gonzalez and the flat-lining Zimmermann — have not done so. It is, by far, too soon to say that a strength has flipped into a weakness. Jackson, after all, threw eight innings and allowed no earned runs against the Cardinals on Sept. 4 in Washington.
But on the off day before Game 3, there is one more painful reality to consider. Two days earlier, in a 4-3 victory over St. Louis on Sept. 2, the Nationals got six dominant innings of two-hit, nine-strikeout, shutout ball from their starter. His name: Stephen Strasburg.