MLB Playoffs 2012: Why the Washington Nationals Are Facing Elimination

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MLB Playoffs 2012: Why the Washington Nationals Are Facing Elimination
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Edwin Jackson's struggles against the St. Louis Cardinals continued in Game 3 of the NLDS.

Remaining steadfast to the curious notion that they could absorb the loss of Stephen Strasburg and still win the World Series, the Washington Nationals—who boast baseball’s best record—are now facing elimination, thanks to a dynamic young pitching staff that has been erratic, a listless offense and growing rumblings inside the clubhouse about Strasburg’s absence.

Before Game 3, FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal reported that an unnamed Nationals player said that the team would have been up 2-0 coming out of St. Louis if Strasburg had been active.  Instead, they now face the challenge of trying to extend the series Thursday afternoon. Ross Detwiler—a fifth starter most of the year—will face 16-game-winner Kyle Lohse.

Washington’s pitching staff had been momentum changers throughout the regular season.  However, they have not gotten a quality postseason start through the first three games of the series.  The Nationals' starters appear to be too rested and have not been sharp.

Moreover, they don’t appear to have a starter who can shut the Cardinals down.

Gio Gonzalez walked seven in five innings of Game 1 but was bailed out by a flawless effort from the bullpen that set up Tyler Moore’s eighth-inning heroics for their only win in the series.  Jordan Zimmerman had tremendous velocity in Game 2, but his location rendered his stuff batting-practice quality to St. Louis hitters.  Edwin Jackson pitched down to the 9.45 ERA in his five previous starts against his former team, giving up four earned runs over his first two innings.

 

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Bryce Harper (l) and Jayson Werth (r) are looking for answers as the Nationals offense continues to struggle.

Since Game 1, Washington has been outscored 20-4.  The Nationals' pitching has been so bad that even Chris Carpenter got two hits in Game 3.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals are playing with the swagger of a team that knows how to win in October. They are again getting contributions from unexpected sources who have led them to the precipice of the National League Championship Series.

Last year, it was David Freese who became a household name during the playoffs, and he has blistered Nationals pitching. This year, however, the biggest blow of the Division Series was a three-run shot from Peter Kozmo which put St. Louis up 4-0 in the second inning of Game 3 and may have been the first nail in Washington's 2012 postseason coffin.

Meanwhile, the Nationals are waiting for someone to deliver a clutch hit.  Washington has left 19 runners on base in their last two games and are just 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position.  They have only hit two home runs through the first three games of the series, while Carlos Beltran hit that many in Game 2 alone.

Clearly, the momentum of the series is on the side of the Cardinals heading into Game 4.  The defending world champions, who were given new life with the advent of the second wild-card spot, have seized the opportunity to extend their title defense.

However, momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher. The Nationals now have to hope that Detwiler is flawless in Game 4, and that their bats wake up from postseason hibernation.

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