With Stephen Strasburg back on the mound, amid sickness and confusion, the Washington Nationals staved off elimination in Game 4 of the National League Division Series with a 5-0 win over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Strasburg was superb, striking out a franchise-postseason-record 12 batters through seven scoreless innings. This time, the Nationals offense backed him up, as well.
Trea Turner got a hit — and it paid off! After going 0 for 13 throughout the series, Turner’s double in the third inning was a welcome sight for the Nationals. He eventually took third on a Jake Arrieta wild pitch and scored to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead on a Ryan Zimmerman grounder that Addison Russell couldn’t handle.
Brought on in relief of Arrieta, Jon Lester flummoxed the Nationals until the eighth. Daniel Murphy’s two-out single led Cubs Manager Joe Maddon to call on reliever Carl Edwards Jr., who walked Anthony Rendon and Matt Wieters to load the bases. Maddon went to his bullpen again after Edwards started Michael A. Taylor with a 1-0 count. Taylor made him pay, hitting a grand slam off closer Wade Davis to give Washington a 5-0 lead, which would hold and give Strasburg his first career postseason win.
A winner-take-all Game 5 is set for 8 p.m. Thursday at Nationals Park.
Here are the best and worst moments from Game 4’s 5-0 win:
Best praise: “Honestly, nothing new,” Michael A. Taylor said when TBS sideline reporter Sam Ryan asked him what he learned about Stephen Strasburg on Wednesday. “We knew the kind of pitcher he was and that’s why we wanted him out there. To come out after being sick like that and to put together a game like that, it’s amazing. He’s the real deal.”
Best news: The Nationals will have a chance to clinch their first postseason series victory at home on Thursday with Gio Gonzalez and Max Scherzer available.
Worst news: Visor-wearing, Nats fan-shaming Marlins Man is planning to attend Game 5.
Worst stat: Dating back to 2009, the Nationals, Capitals, Redskins and Wizards are a combined 3-12 the last 15 times they’ve had a chance to advance in the playoffs at home. That includes an 0-2 mark by the Nationals, who have never won a playoff series and lost Game 5s at Nationals Park in 2012 and 2016. “The Capitals’ Game 7 loss to the Canadiens in 2010 has no bearing on Thursday’s Game 5,” you might say, to which I might reply, “Yeah, you’re right.” The numbers are the numbers.
Best W: The curly “W” and the letter next to Stephen Strasburg’s name in the box score. He deserved a win in Game 1 and in his only previous postseason start in 2014. He lowered his ERA in three playoff appearances to 0.47 over 19 innings, which included 24 strikeouts against four walks.
Best drama-free inning: It wasn’t a save opportunity, but Sean Doolittle slammed the doors on the Cubs in the ninth, retiring the side to preserve Washington’s 5-0 win and send the series back to D.C. for a deciding Game 5.
Best insurance runs: The Nationals had a chance to tack on some insurance runs, even after Zimmerman was picked off. Daniel Murphy singled to chase Lester and Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr. walked Anthony Rendon and Matt Wieters to load the bases. Joe Maddon summoned Wade Davis from the bullpen to face Michael A. Taylor, who hit a 1-1 pitch into the basket in right field for a grand slam.
Best inning: The Ocho. Washington has scored 12 runs in the series. Nine of them have come in the eighth.
Best sight: Cubs fans poured into the moldy streets outside Wrigley Field after Taylor’s slam gave the Nationals a 5-0 lead.
Worst surprise: Jon Lester, who allowed one run on two hits over six innings as Chicago’s starter in Game 2, was nearly perfect in relief of Jake Arrieta. Lester issued a one-out walk to Ryan Zimmerman in the eighth inning and promptly picked Zimmerman off, which has to be the most surprising moment of the series. Lester’s inability to throw to first base is well documented; he attempted one pickoff throw all season. Knowing this, Zimmerman took a large lead and, after Lester bounced a rare pickoff throw in the dirt, he threw over a second time. Anthony Rizzo’s tag caught Zimmerman on the foot, and while Zimmerman was originally ruled safe, he was called out on replay review.
Worst narrative: Stephen Strasburg is soft, doesn’t want the ball in big games and/or is only effective when the conditions are just right. Seriously, crumple it into a ball and throw it away, or better yet, toss it into the wind that was whipping throughout Wrigley Field. Declared too sick on Tuesday to pitch in Wednesday’s rescheduled Game 4 before a new dose of antibiotics worked their magic overnight, Strasburg was even more dominant than he was in Game 1. With the mist falling in Chicago, he allowed three hits over seven scoreless innings, walked two and struck out 12, which broke the franchise single-game postseason record he set last week. Dusty Baker might have to fight Strasburg to prevent him from starting a Game 5.
Best pitch: Stephen Strasburg didn’t have his change-up working in the first inning, but it was virtually unhittable after that. Eight of his 12 strikeouts came via the pitch.
Worst look: TBS’s cameras showed someone in the Cubs dugout who appeared to be wearing an Apple Watch, which isn’t allowed under MLB rules. Earlier this season, the Red Sox were punished for using a replay camera and an Apple Watch to steal signs from the Yankees and relay them to their hitters. Diamondbacks coach Ariel Prieto was fined for wearing an Apple Watch during the National League wild card game. Prieto said wearing the electronic device was an honest mistake and an MLB investigation determined he wasn’t using the watch for nefarious purposes.
Best double play: Jason Heyward entered Game 4 with 15 hits in 37 career at-bats against Stephen Strasburg and led off the fifth inning with a solid single up the middle. Heyward was erased one batter later, when Javier Baez grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. Strasburg was out of the inning on seven pitches, bringing his total for the game to 73. He’s showed no ill effects of the flulike symptoms that had the Nationals committed to starting Tanner Roark only a few hours ago.
Worst disappearing act: Daniel Murphy, who hit .322 during the regular season, struck out against Lester to end the fifth inning, leaving him 1 for 14 with five strikeouts in the series.
Worst frustration: Bryce Harper flung his bat in disgust after hitting a flyball against Jon Lester, who came on in relief of Jake Arrieta, to start the fifth inning. Unlike that time in 2015 when the wind carried what Harper figured was a sure pop-up over the left field fence for a surprising home run, Wednesday’s bat fling was followed by an out.
Worst throw: Strasburg compounded a swinging bunt single by Willson Contreras with one out in the fourth inning by throwing the ball into the stands beyond first base and allowing the Cubs’ catcher to advance to second.
Best making up for his mistake: No matter, Strasburg struck out Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell swinging to end the inning and Chicago’s threat. That’s six Ks in Chicago’s last seven batters.
Worst chant: “Stras-burg! Stras-burg!” Cubs fans chanted, attempting to rattle the Nationals’ ace as he took the mound in the fifth inning. Strasburg proceeded to strike out Anthony Rizzo, who had the game-winning bloop in Game 3, on three pitches.
Worst left on base: The Nationals seemed poised to add to their lead in the fourth inning after Anthony Rendon led off with a double and Michael A. Taylor drew a one-out walk to put runners on first and second. Following a perfect sacrifice bunt by Stephen Strasburg, Jake Arrieta walked Trea Turner on four pitches. Jayson Werth, who struck out looking in a similar spot an inning before, fouled off a couple of two-strike pitches before watching a fastball right down the middle. Werth couldn’t fault home plate umpire Laz Diaz for this missed opportunity.
Best silver lining: Arrieta didn’t allow any runs in the fourth, but he walked his fourth and fifth batters of the game and finished the frame at 90 pitches. The Nationals should get a good look at the Cubs’ shaky bullpen.
Worst nightmare fuel: Halloween isn’t for three more weeks, guys.
Best groove: Stephen Strasburg made quick work of the Cubs in the third inning, needing only 12 pitches to strike out the side.
Worst defense: The Cubs can’t blame their shoddy defense over the past two games on the wind.
Best lead: After Werth looked at a 3-2 slider off the outside corner for a called strike three, Jake Arrieta walked Bryce Harper on seven pitches. With two outs, Cubs shortstop Addison Russell couldn’t handle Ryan Zimmerman’s chopper past the mound, allowing Turner to score an unearned run that gave Washington an early 1-0 advantage. Arrieta struck out Daniel Murphy with two on to prevent any further damage.
Best spark: Trea Turner, who popped out on the second pitch of the game to extend his hitless streak in the series to 13 at-bats, reached base for the first this postseason with a double to left with one out in the third inning. Turner took third base on Jake Arrieta’s wild pitch to the next batter, Jayson Werth.
Best wind: Cubs fans roared and rose when Chicago’s next hitter, Addison Russell, crushed a ball to deep left field. The wind, still blowing in, kept it from leaving the park and allowed Jayson Werth to make a routine catch on the warning track. Stephen Strasburg walked Jason Heyward on seven pitches to put runners on the corner with two outs, but he got Javier Baez to ground back to the mound to escape the inning unharmed. Thanks, wind.
Worst scoring threat: The Cubs’ first hit against Stephen Strasburg in Game 1 came with two outs in the sixth inning. On Wednesday, they put an end to his no-hit bid and threatened to break a scoreless tie with one out in the second, when Ben Zobrist laced a pitch into the right field corner for a double.
Best signs of life: The Nationals were hitless against Jake Arrieta through two innings, but Daniel Murphy lined out to third base to lead off the second after Ryan Zimmerman hit a laser directly at right fielder Jason Heyward to end the first. For a team that entered the game hitting .121 with a lot of soft contact, this represented progress. Arrieta struck out Michael A. Taylor after issuing a two-out walk to Matt Wieters and was at 36 pitches through six outs.
Worst birds: Cubs fans booed when Daniel Murphy shooed the birds in shallow right field out of the way while Chicago was batting in the first inning. Hopefully Rufus the Rally Pigeon wasn’t among the flock.
Best drugs: Stephen Strasburg looked just fine in the first inning while retiring the Cubs in order on 15 pitches. He got Jon Jay to fly out to center before both Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo swung through nasty, 3-2 curveballs. Strasburg threw only 81 pitches in Game 1, but Dusty Baker and Mike Maddux will be monitoring his stamina closely.
Worst weather: It was misting at Wrigley Field and the wind was blowing in at first pitch, which could make things difficult for hitters from both teams. Jayson Werth worked the count full with one out in the first inning against Cubs starter Jake Arrieta, but his line drive to left field didn’t carry and settled harmlessly into the glove of Ben Zobrist. After his two errors on one play in Game 3, Kyle Schwarber was out of Joe Maddon’s lineup on Wednesday.
Best flu game?: In 1997, Michael Jordan carried the Chicago Bulls to a win in Game 5 of the NBA Finals by scoring 38 points while battling a stomach virus or food poisoning. “Probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” the Hall of Famer said afterward. “I almost played myself into passing out just to win a basketball game.” Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg, who was masterful in Game 1, has been on anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and IVs over the last few days while battling fevers, chills and acute sinusitis. For better or worse, this is his flu game.
Worst mold: On Tuesday, Nationals Manager Dusty Baker explained that Stephen Strasburg wasn’t the only one of his players who was feeling less than 100 percent, and he suggested it might be related to the mold count in Chicago. “It’s just this time of the year for mold around Chicago — I think it’s mold. I mean, I have it, too,” Baker said. Wednesday’s pollen report indicated the mold levels in Chicago are indeed high.
Best bit: Several Cubs fans wore surgical masks provided by a Chicago sports radio station to mock Baker’s comment. It’ll be up to the Nats’ moldy bats to spoil their day.
Worst anniversary: The Cubs advanced to the NLCS with a four-run, ninth-inning rally against the Giants on this day last year.
Best anniversary: Five years ago today, Jayson Werth delivered the greatest hit in Nationals history with a walk-off home run in Game 4 of the NLDS. Werth, who is 1 for 10 with a pair of walks in the series, was slated to bat second Wednesday. (Other best anniversary, in case my wife is reading: I got married three years ago.)
We’ve also got a ton of extra Nationals 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, and an oral history of how the Nats fixed baseball’s worst bullpen. Even more is below, so get cracking.
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