A few Nationals players said after Wednesday's Game 3 loss that if they could just force a Game 5, they felt like they had the advantage.
Gio Gonzalez, a 21-game winner this season who posted a 1.35 ERA in his final six regular season starts, would take the mound for the Nats in that Game 5 with a chance to pitch them to the National League Championship Series.
Well, here it is. The Nats did what they needed to do last night to force a game today to decide the National League Division Series.
Now, it'll be Gonzalez against Adam Wainwright in tonight's Game 5, with the San Francisco Giants awaiting the winner.
Gonzalez had a rough go of it his last time out, walking seven hitters in five innings of work in the Nationals' Game 1 win over St. Louis. Despite those seven walks, a career high, he somehow managed to allow just two runs, keeping the Nats in the game and allowing them to win it with a late Tyler Moore pinch-hit RBI single.
When Gonzalez doesn't have his good stuff, you can usually tell it early on. Including his Game 1 start, the Nats' ace walked 17 batters in the first inning in 33 starts this year (most of any inning), and 15 batters in the second inning.
If he can locate early and get through the first two frames today without trouble, the Nats might be in decent shape.
The Nats hit Wainwright hard when they saw him back on Aug. 31, smacking nine hits off the veteran righty, pushing across six runs and knocking Wainwright from the game after just 2 2/3 innings. Over Wainwright's last two outings against the Nats, however, he's allowed just two runs on 11 hits over 11 2/3 innings, with 15 strikeouts and four walks.
Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth and Michael Morse all have a home run in their careers against Wainwright, but of the five Nats with more than 10 at-bats in their careers off the Cardinals right-hander, only Ian Desmond has a batting average above .280.
Desmond is 5-for-11 off Wainwright, while Bryce Harper is 3-for-8 with a double and a walk.
Offensively, the Nationals need to start stepping up and providing better situational hitting. I'll give you the stat yet again: the Nats are 3-for-24 with runners in scoring position in this series.
Yesterday, the solo home runs from Werth and LaRoche accounted for two of their three hits. Harper (1-for-18), Danny Espinosa (1-for-12) and Kurt Suzuki (1-for-13 with an RBI) have yet to get going, and Morse (whose wrist might still be bothering him) hasn't really shown the pop we know he possesses.
Davey Johnson isn't the type of manager to play small-ball and try and scratch across a couple runs. He's counting on his guys to start delivering extra-base hits and putting up big innings, which will be needed against a Cardinals team which is capable of posting a crooked number at any point.