The Washington Nationals are on the brink of history.
The Nationals have never been to the World Series in franchise history, but they are one win away following Monday’s 8-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. Washington leads 3-0 and has two opportunities at home to close the series after Stephen Strasburg befuddled the Cardinals' lineup throughout the contest.
St. Louis will now have to become the second team in MLB history to overcome a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series to reach the Fall Classic.
Notable Player Stats
- Stephen Strasburg: seven innings, one run (unearned), seven hits, zero walks and 12 strikeouts
- Howie Kendrick: 3-of-4, three RBI and two runs
- Anthony Rendon: 2-of-3, two runs, one RBI and one walk
- Ryan Zimmerman: 2-of-4 and two RBI
- Victor Robles: 2-of-4, one home run, two runs and one RBI
- Jack Flaherty: four innings, four earned runs, five hits, two walks and six strikeouts
Nationals Riding Familiar Formula All the Way to World Series
It's clear Washington's plan in these playoffs is to ride Strasburg and Max Scherzer to a World Series crown.
It's working so far.
Throughout these playoffs, the Nationals are now 6-0 in games where at least one of the aces appear and 1-2 when they do not. Strasburg was brilliant in relief in the Wild Card Game win over the Milwaukee Brewers, helped lead the team to wins in both of his starts against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Division Series and was gutsy through 117 pitches in Monday's effort.
He mixed in timely strikeouts or induced weak contact whenever he found himself in trouble and ended on a high note with back-to-back strikeouts of Matt Wieters and Dexter Fowler in the seventh after an unearned run scored and there were two runners on.
Strasburg didn't need much run support given the way he pitched, but he received plenty.
The Nationals exploded for four runs in the third, two of which came around on a Howie Kendrick double. Kendrick and Ryan Zimmerman mixed in back-to-back RBI doubles in the fifth before Victor Robles blasted a solo homer in the sixth to break the game completely open.
With run support like that and the Strasburg-Scherzer combination at the top of its game, Washington can put the Cardinals away early and set its rotation while the New York Yankees and Houston Astros battle in the American League.
Why change the formula now?
Cardinals' Bats and Ace Go Missing in Action at Worst Possible Time
To say offense has been an issue for St. Louis this series would be a massive understatement.
Anibal Sanchez took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of Game 1, and Scherzer took a no-hitter into the seventh inning of Game 2. The Cardinals managed just four combined hits in those contests and didn't do much better in the scoring department Monday.
The visitors actually managed to get a hit in the second inning when Marcell Ozuna led off with a double, but he was fittingly thrown out on the basepaths. It took an error by Juan Soto in the seventh for the Cardinals to finally scratch the scoreboard.
Given the state of the offense, St. Louis needed a shutdown pitching performance to have a chance. Jack Flaherty figured to be the perfect candidate considering he allowed a combined seven earned runs in 12 August and September starts, but Washington chased him after four innings.
It wasn't all Flaherty's fault, as much of the damage came because Ozuna couldn't make a sliding catch on a softly hit and catchable ball off the bat of Anthony Rendon that extended the fateful third inning.
Still, he wasn't the unhittable stopper the Cardinals needed, and now they are on the brink of elimination.
Game 4 is in Washington on Tuesday.