Losing the first game of a five-game National League Division Series on their home field puts the Nationals in a very difficult position. But it is not insurmountable.
In 2016, the Nats fell in their first game of the series at home to the Dodgers in the NLDS. They went on to win the next two games to go up two games to one. Obviously, the Dodgers came back to win the next two games. But the Nats have shown a resiliency in the past to come back.
This season the Nats recorded 41 come-from-behind wins.
Manager Dusty Baker said the club is not panicking tonight in Game 2.
“There’s a fine line between urgency and panic, and the thing that you never want to do, you never want to panic,” Baker said. “You’ve heard me say, there’s always a way out.
“You know, I’ve been in almost all situations. I’ve been up two games and lost, been down two games with one to go and won. You know, you’ve got to win the first one first. You’ve got to get back to one.
“Urgency or panic certainly doesn’t help the situation, you know. You have to be of the coolness of mind, but then bring desire to succeed in your heart, and then respond accordingly.”
One factor that has caused major concern is the inability of the Nats to generate scoring chances in Game 1. The Nats managed only two hits and those came in the first two innings. The Nats left only six men on base and went 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position.
Baker said he believes his hitters need to change their approach at the plate a bit and possibly get more aggressive early in the count tonight against left-hander Jon Lester.
“Well, we only had two hits,” Baker said. “That meant that your approach wasn’t correct. And so we had to change our approach. First thing you want to do in a series is to find out what their opinion of you is and how they are going to attack you. And once you figure that out, then you can counterattack them.
“Last night, we were more passive on fastballs early in the count than I would like to see. Because everybody talks about getting deep in the count, and all that does is just put you in a situation where you’ve got to hit something off a guy with control, hit something off the plate or off-speed, which he did to us last night. We just got to change our approach some.”
Baker was asked if he got the feeling in the clubhouse that maybe the Nats were tight after the Game 1 loss leading into today’s game. Baker said that kind of feeling doesn’t display itself until the bright lights are turned on.
“Not til you hit the field, really, because guys can be great actors and great pretenders,” Baker said. “Then when you get to the field, then you find out. It’s always an urgent situation, but usually the cool heads prevail. So I think we’ve got a bunch of cool heads here. Plus, we win today, you guys won’t even ask me those questions.”
Another element to Game 2 is the lineup. Facing a left-hander in Lester, would Baker change his lineup to get the lefty-versus-righty matchups down the line?
Baker said he will stick with the same lineup as Game 1.
The reasoning could be that Baker really didn’t think his full starting lineup put its best foot forward in the opener. And to that end, the starting nine that Baker and general manager Mike Rizzo constructed before the season hasn’t been close to its opening day configuration in many months.
Baker might be reasoning that by keeping the lineup the same as Friday that he wants his best hitters in the same order so they can look to get into a rhythm they enjoyed the whole season.
“I think about it,” Baker said on the temptation to alter the lineup. “But if I can’t come up with anything different, then why are you going to do it? You don’t do it just to be doing it. You know, you’re like, OK, is this the best lineup that I have for today, or was yesterday a rare occasion? Or was yesterday the pitcher’s day? You know, sometimes they have their day and it has nothing to do with the lineup that you put out there.
“You don’t like it and it’s tough to watch, but what can you do but come back and get them today. I mean, this is a different game every day. So who is hot today may not be hot tomorrow, and vice-versa.”
Right fielder Bryce Harper agreed with not changing strategy in his approach and pointed toward the outstanding pitching from the Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks on Friday night.
“Yeah, Hendricks, he’s tough,” Harper said. “He goes out there and pitches to his strengths and his abilities. He throws that two-seamer and that changeup, it was really good last night. They played great defense, as well.
“That’s a team over there that’s not going to make mistakes, so you’ve got to hit the balls through the hole and you’ve got to hit the ball in the gap and run the bases well and do the things that you can get runs on the board.”