After the Cardinals thumped the Nationals, 12-4, at Busch Stadium, a National League Division Series quickly shaping up as a classic contrast of styles will shift to Washington, ready to host the Nationals’ first home playoff game, tied at one game each. Needing to rebound in the series’ final game here, the Cardinals knocked Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann out after three innings and won despite pulling their own starter, Jaime Garcia, after two.
The Nationals played 16 three-game series at Nationals Park this season. They won 11 of them and lost only five. Now, they face one more, against their toughest opponent, to keep their season alive. “It’s go home and win a series,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “It would have been nice to win today. We’ll forget about this game and take the split.”
The St. Louis Cardinals do not play to merely beat their opponents, especially not the Nationals. They play to bludgeon them, to turn the game into a rout before Davey Johnson and Drew Storen and one of many potent pinch hitters can strike. Monday, they battered Zimmermann with four runs in the second, a homer from Allen Craig in the third and did not lead by less than four runs for the final six innings.
It’s not that the Nationals, who scored the second-most runs of any NL team in the second half, cannot win big. “We can play slugfest, too,” second baseman Danny Espinosa said. But that may be the only way the Cardinals can win the series. This season, the Cardinals went 21-26 in one-run games, ranking in the bottom third of the majors. The Nationals went 27-21, seventh-best.
“I feel like we’re going to score runs as the game goes on,” right fielder Jayson Werth said. “We’re going to bang with them. They got out in front in the early part, and they just kept pouring on runs. If we can be in the ballgame as the game goes on, we got a shot. I like our chances.”
Despite back-to-back home runs by Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche in the fifth inning and a consistent barrage of line drives, the Nationals could not crawl their way to striking distance. The 98-win Nationals still remain in control, with all three remaining games to be played at Nationals Park, starting Wednesday at 1:07 p.m. Prior to the game, LaRoche called Game 2 “kind of a must-win for the Cardinals.”
“That was our goal,” Espinosa said. “We wanted to get one win here.”