NLDS game blog: Stasburg looks to get Nats off to strong start

It’s finally here. Postseason baseball is back in our nation’s capital as the Nationals welcome the defending World Series champion Cubs for the National League Division Series.

There’s no way to understate the importance of Game 1 in a playoff series, especially in a five-game set. The winner of the series’ first game advances 72 percent of the time. And just look at the Nationals’ postseason history: Obviously, they have lost all three of their previous playoff series, but they have only won Game 1 once. And that lone win came in 2012 against the Cardinals in St. Louis, so they have never won a playoff series-opening game at Nats Park.

NLDS-2017-sidebar.jpgEnter Stephen Strasburg. With Max Scherzer forced back to start Game 3 in Chicago while battling a hamstring injury and Gio Gonzalez set to start Saturday’s Game 2, Dusty Baker and the Nationals will look to Strasburg to give them a strong start to this series. And boy, could he sure deliver if he picks up where he left off at the end of the regular season.

The NL Pitcher of the Month for September, Strasburg went 4-0 with an 0.83 ERA in five starts over the season’s last month and finished the regular season 15-4 with a 2.52 ERA. With that kind of hot streak going, the right-hander is my key for the Nationals to take a 1-0 lead over the Cubs tonight.

As for this blogger, I don’t know how the Nats have stayed so calm, cool and collected over the past week leading into tonight’s game. While they have been relaxed and focused through batting practice this evening, I have been an emotional wreck with all the excitement, stress and pressure that comes with the postseason.

So I hope you enjoy this blog and follow along with me throughout tonight’s game. I’ll be adding videos, pictures and tweets all night, and hopefully interacting with you in the comments section and on Twitter at @Bobby_Blanco. Hopefully you can keep me calm and positive!

Also, be sure to follow along on all our social media platforms for wall-to-wall Nats coverage of tonight’s game! Check out videos and stories on Facebook, game updates on Twitter at @masnNationals, and behind-the-scenes footage on Instagram and Snapchat (masnNationals).

Let’s get started with this pregame video featuring MASN All Access’ Sara Perlman, MASNsports.com beat writer Mark Zuckerman and MASN’s Dan Kolko!

Update: Let’s take a look at how the MASN crew is preparing for Game 1 ...

Enjoying the ride.

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It’s almost time for first pitch!

Update II: Through three, we’re scoreless (the first such game this postseason, I might add). As I said needed to happen, Strasburg has been completely dominant. He’s only allowed one baserunner via a walk with five strikeouts on 31 pitches.

Another good sign for the Nats: Bryce Harper recorded the game’s first hit, a blazing single to right field. Matt Wieters was hit by a pitch and Michael A. Taylor has the other base hit, but the Nationals are 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position and have left three on base.

PLAY BALL. #IBackTheNats #postseason

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Update III: Well, since the last update, the most action has been the Presidents Race. Teddy led the whole way until he was tackled by a group of the Nats Park grounds grew in the final leg. George went on to take the cake.

As for baseball, we’re still scoreless and Strasburg is still dominant. With his strikeout of Kyle Schwarber in the fifth inning, Strasburg set a franchise record with eight strikeouts in a single postseason game. Scherzer held the previous mark with seven in last year’s Game 5 against the Dodgers. Oh, and by the way, Strasburg has kept the Cubs without a base knock through five. Just so you know.

Update IV: Javier Báez reached first base on an error by Anthony Rendon to lead off the sixth inning. Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks bunted Báez over to second to give Chicago its first runner in scoring position. And then they cashed in.

Kris Bryant drove in Báez with a hard-hit single to his good buddy, Harper, and then advanced to second on the throw. The Nats challenged the call that Bryant was safe at second, but it stood, leaving the Nats with one challenge remaining for the game.

Anthony Rizzo followed with an RBI single to right field of his own to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead, with both runs unearned and coming with two outs.

Meanwhile, the Nats have now left four runners on base. Let’s see if they can change that in the bottom of the sixth, with some helpful advice from MASN’s F.P. Santangelo.

Update V: Story of this game continues to be Strasburg and the Nats leaving runners on base. Strasburg pitched seven innings, giving up three hits and two runs (none earned) with one walk and 10 strikeouts, his first double-digit strikeout postseason game in his career (he has 36 in the regular season).

Howie Kendrick came on to pinch-hit for Strasburg in the bottom of the seventh with Taylor on first base, but struck out swinging to end the frame. The Nationals have now left six on base.

With Ryan Madson pitching for the Nats, the Cubs had their own pinch-hitter to lead off the eighth inning, with Jon Jay doubling to left field in place of Hendricks. Rizzo then recorded his second RBI of the game with his own double to left field.

Down 3-0, the Nationals have just six outs to work with and need to start getting them on, getting them over and getting them in. Unless of course, you know, someone would like to hit a home run ...

Update VI: Well, that’s the ballgame. The Nationals fall 3-0 as the Cubs take a 1-0 series lead. The offense managed just two hits and left six runners on base tonight. This was just the second time ever the Nats have been shut out in the postseason, the other coming in Game 3 of the 2012 NLDS also at Nats Park.

The Nationals will need a great start from Gio Gonzalez and some offense tomorrow to knot this NLDS at 1-1 before heading to Chicago. Check back tomorrow for another game blog for Game 2.

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