The Chicago Cubs got their championship defense off to a winning start Friday, defeating the Washington Nationals 3-0 at Nationals Park in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
Anthony Rizzo powered the Cubs offense, going 2-for-4 with two RBI. Kris Bryant knocked in the only other run with Chicago's first hit of the game at the top of the sixth inning, driving in Javier Baez from second to break up what had been a classic pitchers' duel.
Kyle Hendricks was cooly efficient for Chicago, allowing just two hits and three walks while striking out six in seven shutout innings. Stephen Strasburg was his mostly brilliant opposite, carrying a no-hit bid into the sixth before ending up the losing pitcher with two runs allowed and 10 strikeouts in seven innings.
Carl Edwards Jr. and Wade Davis, who earned the save, supplemented Hendricks' display, with neither allowing a baserunner. In a 2017 postseason so far defined by offensive outbursts, runs came at a premium, and it took two of the biggest heroes from the Cubs' 2016 World Series campaign to get the victory.
For the first half of the contest, a Nationals win felt all but inevitable because of their table-setter. Strasburg was dominant, mixing a heavy fastball, nifty changeup and a wipeout curveball that had batters' knees buckling on several occasions.
Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan noted the Nationals starter was getting his pitches to work on his first pass through the lineup:
The 29-year-old righty didn't let up for another couple of innings, sending the home crowd into a frenzy as he racked up strikeout after strikeout. MASNsports.com's Mark Zuckerman pointed out Strasburg didn't have to pitch long to set a franchise postseason record:
Hendricks wasn't as electric, but he was nevertheless effective. He mixed his pitches well and dispatched the Nationals hitters with poise.
"That's why we call him Professor," Baez said of Hendricks after the game, via NBC Sports. "He knows what he's doing."
670 AM's Matt Spiegel appreciated the right-hander's calm demeanor and his ability to keep the Nationals off balance despite not having overpowering stuff:
Hendricks' crafty pitching was enough to carry the game until his lineup could break through. Baez reached on an error by third baseman Anthony Rendon and then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Hendricks. With Strasburg's aura of invincibility wavering, the dynamic duo of "Bryzzo" made its mark.
Bryant drove in Baez with a single, reaching second on the throw:
Then Rizzo sent him across home plate with a single of his own.
The Cubs pointed out Bryant and Rizzo got justice after both struck out in each of their first two at-bats:
The Cubs added another insurance run in the eighth inning thanks to Rizzo, who laced an opposite-field double to plate Jon Jay, who came into the game as a pinch-hitter.
Bryce Harper and Michael Taylor were the only Nats to get hits in this contest (one apiece), and both came within the first two innings. The offense was nonexistent after that, per Passan:
Game 1 was a demoralizing way to start the NLDS for manager Dusty Baker's team, as the Nationals have won the NL East title four times since 2012, including this season, but have yet to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
The series stays in Washington, D.C., for Game 2 on Saturday for a battle of left-handers. The Nationals will try to bounce back with Gio Gonzalez, who went 15-9 with a 2.96 ERA but tapered off at the end of the regular season. On June 26, Gonzalez pitched six innings of one-run ball in his only start against the champs in 2017.
The Cubs will counter with Jon Lester, who is 13-8 this season with a 4.33 ERA but has a career 2.63 ERA in the postseason. In 12.2 innings against the Nats this year, Lester has given up nine hits and four earned runs.