Today was the first game of the 2012 NLDS, pitting the defending World Series champions, the St. Louis Cardinals, versus the team with the best record in Major League Baseball, the Washington Nationals. It certainly didn't disappoint, with three lead changes and neither team having a lead greater than one.
In the end, the Nationals came out on top with a 3-2 victory, which is big for a team with little playoff experience and having to play their first game in St. Louis. They should be able to ride this confidence into Game 2. In the meantime, this is how both teams grade out after the first game of the series.
First, the highlights, as Tyler Moore's two-run bloop single in the eighth inning gave a Nationals a 3-2 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
In one of the better pitching matchups of the day, Adam Wainwright went up against National League Cy Young candidate Gio Gonzalez. Even though Gonzalez didn't give up a hit until the fourth inning, Wainwright was the better pitcher on the day.
Wainwright continually used his curve to keep the Nationals' hitters off balance, striking out 10 while only walking three over 5.2 innings. Wainwright did exactly what the Cardinals needed from him—giving up only one run gave the Cardinals offense enough to potentially get the win.
While Gonzalez posted a career low in walks/per nine innings this year, he continually struggled with his control today. He finished the day with seven walks, four of which came in the second inning. Gonzalez couldn't seem to get anything inside the strike zone, and with the bases loaded threw a wild pitch which brought the first run across for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals added one more run that inning with a sac fly by Jon Jay. While I am sure Gonzalez was hoping for a better outing in his first career playoff game, he did keep the Nationals in this game and give them a chance to win the game.
Final Grade for Wainwright: A-
Final Grade for Gonzalez: B-
Neither offense was outstanding, but the Nationals put up just enough to get the win. Tyler Moore got the game-winning RBI, but Ian Desmond was Washington's most valuable player at the plate. He finished the day 3-for-4 and scored the go-ahead run off Moore's hit.
The Cardinals were much more disappointing—St. Louis was only able to muster three hits, grounded into two double plays, was 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left 10 on base. If the Cardinals want to have any chance in the series, they will need to get more than one hit combined from Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina.
Final Grade for Nationals Offense: C+
Final Grade for Cardinals Offense: F
The Nationals bullpen stepped up to close out the game for Washington. Over the final four innings, Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen combined to give up only two hits, three strikeouts and no walks. The zero walks was big, considering Gonzalez's issues with the BBs earlier on.
Ryan Mattheus was put in the toughest situation of any of the relievers, coming in during the bottom of the seventh with the bases loaded and no outs. Mattheus, however, managed to successfully get out of the inning unscathed.
Overall, a superb effort by the Nationals' bullpen.
Final Grade for the Nationals' bullpen: A+
I mentioned this in a previous slide, but the Cardinals were awful when it came to hitting with runners in scoring position. Collectively, the Cardinals were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, but two players in particular really struggled—Yadier Molina and Allen Craig.
Molina and Craig combined to go 0-for-7 and they didn't have more important at-bats than during the bottom of the seventh. Craig came to the plate with no outs and the bases loaded, which had to scare the Nationals, considering Craig's .400 average with runners in scoring position.
Though not exactly on the same level as Craig, with a .321 average Molina is certainly no pushover either. Mattheus did a great job of forcing ground balls and keeping runs off the board, forcing Molina into an inning-ending double play. Molina and Craig will need to step up next game.
Final Grade: F
It was only Game 1 and the Nationals still need two more wins to advance, but this was a big game for this team. Again, the Nationals have very little playoff experience and had to play their first game in the defending World Series champs' house. This win should erase some of the jitters they may have and puts the Cardinals back against the wall.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, have to be disappointed, and now know they must win at least two games in Washington if they hope to advance. They got a great performance from Adam Wainwright but the bats fell silent, and that has to be a concern for Mike Matheny.
Final Team Grade for Washington: A-
Final Team Grade for St. Louis: C-