The postseason has arrived in Washington, as the Nationals dropped Game 1 of the National League Divison Series to the Chicago Cubs, 3-0, at Nationals Park on Friday night.
Nationals’ starter Stephen Strasburg showed little shakiness in his second career postseason start, racking up strikeouts, but still couldn’t keep Chicago off the board. He held the Cubs without a hit through five innings before Kris Bryant drove in the game’s first run in the sixth. Bryant then came home to make it 2-0 after Bryce Harper narrowly missed Anthony Rizzo’s blooper. Rizzo drove in another run in the eighth, off Ryan Madson. The Cubs’ starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks, meanwhile, was excellent, shutting out the Nationals through seven. The Nationals managed just two hits all night.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who was shot and seriously wounded at a practice for the annual Congressional Baseball Game in June, got the game going when he threw out the first pitch.
Here are the best and worst moments from the Nationals’ 3-0 loss.
Best news: Washington will have a chance to even the series on Saturday against Not Kyle Hendricks.
Worst home cooking: The Nationals are 1-6 in their last seven playoff games at Nationals Park and have scored 23 runs in nine postseason home games.
Worst track record: Ryan Zimmerman’s struggles against the Cubs continued in his first three at-bats on Friday. A .144/.167/.152 hitter over the last three seasons against Chicago, Zimmerman grounded out in the second inning, erased a leadoff walk to Daniel Murphy by grounding into a double play in the fourth and grounded to short with a runner aboard to end the sixth.
Worst pain: Ryan Zimmerman was called out on a dropped third strike in the ninth inning after the home plate umpire ruled he wasn’t in the base path when Cubs catcher Willson Contreras’s throw to first base drilled him square in the back.
Worst table-setter: For one night, Trea Turner forgot which side of the plate the knife goes on and didn’t lay out enough forks. The Nationals’ leadoff man, who ran former Cubs catcher Miguel Montero out of a job earlier this season, had nowhere to run on Friday after going 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.
Worst L: Stephen Strasburg deserved better. He was untouchable over the first five innings and didn’t allow his first hit until there were two outs in the sixth. Unfortunately for Strasburg, that hit resulted in the first of two unearned runs in the inning. Strasburg was lifted for a pinch-hitter after throwing 81 pitches in seven innings. He struck out 10, a new franchise record for a postseason game, and walked one.
Best performance: Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks was excellent, shutting out the Nationals on two hits over seven innings. Hendricks struck out six while walking three.
Worst silence: Whither the Nationals’ bats? Washington didn’t manage a hit after the second inning and the Nats were shut out in the postseason for the first time since Game 3 of the 2012 NLDS. “A distinct silence and uneasiness has descended over Nats Park,” TBS play-by-play man Ernie Johnson said after the Cubs took a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning.
Worst hill to climb: The Cubs added to their two-run advantage in the eighth with Stephen Strasburg out of the game. Jon Jay greeted Washington reliever Ryan Madson with a double to lead off the inning, and after Madson retired the next two hitters, Anthony Rizzo burned the Nationals again. Rizzo fouled off three two-strike pitches before lacing a double into the left-field corner. His second two-out RBI of the game gave Washington six outs to overcome a 3-0 deficit.
Best matchup: Kyle Hendricks versus Howie Kendrick. Say that three times fast. With two outs and Michael A. Taylor on first base in the seventh inning, Hendricks struck out Kendrick to preserve the Cubs’ 2-0 lead and leave Washington without a hit since the second inning. Kendrick, who was pinch-hitting for Stephen Strasburg, was 2 for 3 against Hendricks previously.
Best reason to hope: TBS’s Ron Darling mentioned the “funny swings” by Nationals hitters against Kyle Hendricks, who got Daniel Murphy to flail at a two-strike change-up for the second out of the sixth. There was nothing funny about the Nationals’ two hits, or the zero in the home team’s run column through six innings at home, but with Hendricks at 92 pitches, the action in the Cubs’ bullpen was a welcome sight.
Worst error: Anthony Rendon, one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball, bobbled Javier Baez’s groundball as he took it out of his glove to lead off the sixth inning, giving the Cubs their second base runner of the night and a golden opportunity to strike first. It was Rendon’s first error since July 22.
Best taking advantage: Kyle Hendricks sacrificed Baez to second base, and after Ben Zobrist flied out to center, Kris Bryant delivered a two-out RBI single to right field. Chicago’s first hit of the game off Stephen Strasburg gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead. Bryant took second base on Bryce Harper’s throw home and scored one batter later, when Anthony Rizzo’s line drive to right field fell in front of a diving Harper’s glove. Like that, the Nationals faced a 2-0 deficit on a pair of unearned runs.
Worst offense: Kyle Hendricks can’t match Stephen Strasburg’s stuff — the Cubs’ starter struck out at least eight batters in only two of his 24 starts this season — but he kept Nationals leadoff man Trea Turner off the bases and the Nationals off the scoreboard through five innings. Turner’s strikeout to end the fifth was Hendricks’s fourth of the game.
Best record: Stephen Strasburg set the Nationals’ franchise record (yes, that includes the Expos) for strikeouts in a postseason game with his eighth … in the fifth inning. Kyle Schwarber didn’t stand a chance, and with only 52 pitches through five, Strasburg would have plenty left in the tank to add to that record.
Worst record: 0-82. That’s Teddy’s record in the Presidents Race this season after the Nationals groundskeepers tackled him short of the finish line.
Best assessment: “He’s really got it going on,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker told TBS on-field reporter Sam Ryan in the fourth inning when asked what he was seeing out of his starting pitcher. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. Stephen Strasburg struck out Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to start the inning, bringing his total for the game to seven, and Daniel Murphy made a nice play on Willson Contreras’s 111-mph line drive up the middle to keep the Cubs out of the hit column.
Best pitchers’ duel: After Stephen Strasburg struck out Javier Baez on three pitches to start the third inning, TBS analyst Ron Darling noted that this was the first playoff game this October without a run through two innings. Strasburg, who retired the next two hitters on five pitches, including one by strikeout, didn’t look like he would allow a run anytime soon. Darling said the Nats right-hander’s early dominance reminded him of Strasburg’s 14-strikeout performance in his legendary 2010 major league debut.
Worst idea: With two outs in the second, Kyle Hendricks plunked .225 hitter Matt Wieters with a breaking ball and allowed a line drive single to left by Michael A. Taylor. Stephen Strasburg grounded out on an excuse-me swing to strand both runners in a scoreless game, but the Nats’ two-out rally meant Hendricks would be facing the top of the order in the third.
Best giveaway: Strasburg was less efficient in the second inning, issuing a two-out walk to Addison Russell after just missing with a 3-2 breaking ball, but he gave fans another opportunity to wave their red and white ‘K’ cards with his third strikeout of the game. Strasburg struck out 13 Cubs in his only start against Chicago this season.
Best sign: Bryce Harper was only 3 for 18 with seven strikeouts and zero extra-base hits in five games since returning from the disabled list, but he opened the playoffs with a one-out single to right off Kyle Hendricks in the fist inning. #ThereWentTheNoHitter. Harper is only three hits shy of matching the four he had in 17 at-bats during last year’s NLDS against the Dodgers.
Worst awareness: After Harper’s single, Anthony Rendon grounded out and Daniel Murphy lined out to Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs’ first baseman didn’t realize there were three outs and threw to second base in an attempt to double-off Harper, who flashed three fingers and a smile as Rizzo realized his mistake and jogged to the dugout.
Best efficiency: Stephen Strasburg, making only his second career postseason start, needed eight pitches to retire the Cubs 1-2-3 in the first inning. Ben Zobrist grounded out on the first pitch of the game before Strasburg struck out Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo swinging. That’ll do.
Best crowd: Cubs fans always travel well, but there wasn’t much blue among the sea of red at Nationals Park when Stephen Strasburg delivered the first pitch at 7:34 p.m. Apparently your team wins one World Series after 108 years and interest wanes. Well done, Nats fans.
Best lineup?: A number of people, including 106.7 The Fan host Grant Paulsen and Cubs announcers Jim Deshaies and Len Kasper, took issue with Dusty Baker’s lineup decisions this season. Specifically, they argued that Anthony Rendon, who batted in the fifth or sixth spot in 103 of his 147 games, should be higher in the order, so as to receive more at-bats. Well, those people got their wish in Game 1. Rendon is hitting third, one spot behind Bryce Harper, who batted in the second spot in only 10 games this year.
Best answer: “I don’t care.” — Las Vegas native Bryce Harper when asked if the custom cleats he planned to wear in Game 1 to honor the victims of Sunday’s mass shooting in his hometown are a violation of MLB rules.
Best timing: It’s the Redskins’ bye week, which puts even more of the D.C. sports spotlight on the Nationals over the next few days. It also gives quarterback Kirk Cousins more time to spend with his newborn son and to watch some playoff baseball.
Worst timing: Chelsea Janes reports that the Nationals have suspended assistant hitting coach Jacque Jones with pay, pending an investigation into a legal matter.
Best pregame tunes: Every occasion is better with Doc Nix and George Mason’s “Green Machine,” who entertained fans inside Nationals Park before the game. It’s been an eventful few months for the pep band, who played a surprise performance with Lady Antebellum in June.
We’ve also got a ton of great Nationals preview content, including an interactive graphic on how this team was built, some deep thoughts from various Nationals on why this postseason could be extra special, an oral history of how the Nats fixed baseball’s worst bullpen, and of course, Game 1 starter Stephen Strasburg and how he had to learn to stop seeking perfection to get to this October stage. Even more is below, so get cracking.
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