A chance to break this thing open

ST. LOUIS - Just a couple days ago, there was talk that going on the road to start the postseason was a disadvantage for the Nationals.

Instead of starting at home, the top-seeded Nats have their first two National League Division Series games here in St. Louis because of MLB's scheduling quirks, and that was thought to be a negative.

Some fans worried that if the Nats dropped both games in St. Louis, they'd suddenly return home with their backs against the wall, with a sweep staring them right in the face and the possibility of just one game at Nats Park.

How quickly things can change.

The Nats took Game 1 yesterday, scoring a 3-2 comeback win to draw first blood. And today, they're suddenly in position to take a dominating lead in this brief five-game series.

A win this afternoon puts the Nats completely in the driver's seat. They've already done what they aimed to do by securing at least a split in the two road games in this series. Worst-case scenario, they'll head back to D.C. for three home games, needing to win just two. Best-case, they'll ride Game 2 starter Jordan Zimmermann to a win today and then have three chances to pick up just one win at home.

"The first game in a five-game series is crucial," Ryan Zimmerman said after yesterday's win. "It's such a short series. For us to be able to kind of put their backs up against the wall now, they have to win (Monday). It'd be nice for us to win. We're trying to go out and win every game obviously. But when you start two games on the road like that, you have to split.

"You can't lose both games on the road because then you have to go home and sweep a three-game series, which is hard to do against playoff-caliber teams. For us to get this first game is huge. If we can go out and get the second game (Monday), obviously it's a huge advantage for us."

I hate describing a game as a "must-win", because no game absolutely needs to be won until a team is one step from elimination. That phrase is hyperbolic and has become overused in sports in this day and age.

But it's certainly fair to categorize today's game as a big one for the Cardinals. The last thing they want to do is go to D.C. down 0-2 in the series and need to take all three games from a team that finished the regular season tied for the majors' second-best home record.

"In a short series, you take Game 1, that's huge," Adam LaRoche said yesterday. "Yeah, tomorrow, I think the pressure's on them."

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