The Washington Nationals have put themselves in a bigger hole than people may assume.
After suffering an 8-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the 2012 NLDS Wednesday, the boys of D.C. are trailing 2-1 in the series.
In order for the Nats to get themselves back on the winning side of the plate, they need to change things—quickly. With their backs against the wall now at their home ballpark, there are three things from their Game 3 loss that I would take into consideration for them to remain alive in October postseason baseball.
The Nationals starting pitchers desperately need to go longer than five innings if they want to avoid being eliminated from the playoffs.
However, Jackson had a much better start than Gonzalez and Zimmermann, but the early lead put on by the Cardinals hitters did not make his start very glamorous. He surrendered eight hits, struck out four batters and allowed four runs, all earned.
But giving up the three-run homer to Pete Kozma in the top of the second inning didn't help the Nationals one bit, as that was just the beginning of their worries.
It also didn't help Jackson having half of his pitches be sliders and the other half of his pitches be four-seam fastballs. So giving up eight hits in five innings makes sense when you're giving your opponent a 50/50 chance of what pitch to hit.
That is what worked for St. Louis starting pitcher Chris Carpenter on Wednesday. He mixed all of his pitches thrown very evenly and in timely counts as well. The 37-year-old vet didn't need to gas anybody up, as he predominantly threw his sinker and cutter for strikes at varying speeds.
That is why he is now 10-2 in postseason play after this afternoon's game.
Nonetheless, in order for the Nationals to tie the series at two games apiece Thursday, they'll need a consistent, dominating outing from their starting pitcher. It doesn't have to be someone who needs to strike every Cardinal batter out, but it needs to be someone who won't be pulled before or by the fifth inning. Someone who can manage to go at least seven innings of work on the hill. Someone who can get the job done.
In the past three games of the series, the Cardinals have executed perfectly in the small-ball department. Getting guys on, bunting them over and leaving it to the middle-of-the-lineup hitters to bring 'em on home.
If there is one major thing the Nationals' offense can take away from their counterpart, it's that.
St. Louis finished the game with 14 hits and tallied eight runs on the board.
Washington only tacked seven hits of their own. Their three-, four- and five-hole hitters were accountable for four of their eight runs in the game, two from Matt Holliday, one from Allen Craig and one from Yadier Molina.
As for Washington's middle hitters? They had two hits and nine runners left on base. Ryan Zimmerman had two hits and one runner left on base, Adam LaRoche had three runners left on base, and Michael Morse had five runners left on base.
If the Nationals are going to get on base, they need to stop doing what is not working for them and start with what is working for the Cardinals.
This kind of ties into the previous point, but at the same time not really.
Despite playing small-ball, St. Louis is putting up runs and is putting them up early. They are executing in every aspect of the game with their past two victories in the series.
For Washington's sake, execution is the key word for them through the rest of the way, not just the NLDS.
The Nationals cannot leave a total of 20 runners like they did in Game 3. The Nationals cannot leave their best hitters going 0-for, with Bryce Harper going 0-for-5, LaRoche going 0-for-3 and Morse going 0-for-4. The Cardinals had only one starter without a hit in Game 3 and that was Molina, yet he still managed to provide an RBI.
If Washington cannot eliminate the past three games from their minds, their remarkable season will come to an abrupt end tomorrow night at Nationals Park.