Max Scherzer took a no-hitter into the seventh inning as the Washington Nationals beat the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1 in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday in Busch Stadium.
The Nats lead the best-of-seven series 2-0.
A Paul Goldschmidt leadoff single in the seventh broke up Scherzer's no-hit bid one day after Nats starter Anibal Sanchez tossed 7.2 hitless frames in a 2-0 win.
Scherzer struck out 11, allowed just one hit and walked two to help the Nats take two on the road, giving Washington a sizable series cushion after grabbing home-field advantage from St. Louis.
Games 3 and 4 are in Washington, D.C., and Game 5 will also take place in the nation's capital, if necessary. Two more Nats wins will give Washington its first World Series appearance.
Nationals SP Max Scherzer: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 11 K, 2 BB, W
Nationals CF Michael A. Taylor: 2-for-4, HR, 1 R, 1 RBI
Nationals RF Adam Eaton: 1-for-4, 2B, 2 RBI
Cardinals SP Adam Wainwright: 7.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 11 K, 1 BB, L
Cardinals PH Jose Martinez: 1-for-1, 2B, RBI
Cardinals 1B Paul Goldschmidt: 1-for-4
Scherzer Back in Peak Form at the Right Time
Scherzer made only two starts between July 1 and August 21 as a back strain landed him on the injured list.
Before July 1, Scherzer struck out 170 batters over 122.1 innings, allowed a .218 batting average and posted a 2.43 ERA.
The right-hander struggled to return to form once he came back for good on Aug. 22, however, as he had a 4.74 ERA and allowed a .243 batting average.
But any late-season concerns have washed away in the postseason, as Scherzer looks like the Cy Young candidate from the first part of the season.
The right-hander set the tone early by striking out the side to start the game, and he proceeded to either punch out Cardinals or induce soft contact for the remainder of the matchup.
Case in point: St. Louis didn't hit a ball in play to the outfield until the fifth inning, and that resulted in a harmless Yadier Molina flyout into Adam Eaton's glove in right. Otherwise, the Cardinals had a bunch of harmless outs between strikeouts, ground balls and foul pops.
Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com put some numbers on the Cardinals' softly hit baseballs:
Otherwise, the stats showcasing Scherzer's postseason dominance are seemingly endless:
That's bad news for the struggling Cardinals if they fight back in the series and see Scherzer for Game 6, when the right-hander's turn in the rotation would come again on full rest.
However, the right-hander would be a significant problem for any team, and some World Series dominance may be on the horizon.
Cardinals' Cold Bats Waste Another Pitching Masterpiece
Lost in the shuffle of Sanchez's no-bit bid was the fact that Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas twirled six fantastic innings of one-run ball, striking out seven.
The problem was the Cards' starters went hitless, with pinch hitter Jose Martinez registering the lone base knock.
On Saturday, it was a similar story.
Adam Wainwright was excellent through his first seven innings, striking out 10. He allowed just one runner to reach second base during that span on a Michael A. Taylor solo shot.
The margin of error for Wainwright and the Cardinals defense is razor-thin, though, and an Eaton two-RBI double in the eighth gave the Nats a 3-0 edge that felt like 13-0 with the way the Cards offense has performed.
Sarah Langs of MLB.com cited Elias Sports Bureau when highlighting the team's offensive struggles:
Sarah Langs @SlangsOnSports
The Cardinals' streak of consecutive AB by starters without a hit ends at 58. That's the longest by any team in a single postseason (h/t @EliasSports). Prior to this, their last hit from a starter was from Paul Goldschmidt. So naturally, he's the one to break the streak, too.
The Cardinals' problem is that there's not much hope that they will experience an offensive turnaround on a day where their only run came courtesy of a misplayed ball from Taylor in the eighth.
Sure, the Cards are a talented team that's capable of breaking out offensively, like when they scored 10 first-inning runs against the Atlanta Braves to close the NLDS.
However, Washington has a couple more aces to throw the Cardinals' way in right-hander Stephen Strasburg and southpaw Patrick Corbin, who combined to strike out 489 batters.
Variance can swing the Cardinals' way in Washington, D.C., but the odds are against St. Louis.
The Nats will host the Cards for Game 3 on Monday at 7:38 p.m. ET in Nationals Park. Strasburg will get the call for the Nats, and Jack Flaherty will take the ball for the Cards.
TBS will air the game.