Scherzer and Janssen use similar styles to close down series in Chicago

The two biggest offseason pitching acquisitions came through huge for the Nationals in the same game Wednesday night in Chicago.

Starter Max Scherzer and reliever Casey Janssen, alongside Matt Grace and Drew Storen, held the Cubs without a run in a series-clinching 3-0 victory at historic Wrigley Field.

Scherzer struck out a season-high 13 batters over seven innings, allowing only five hits. He walked only one in twirling 108 pitches, 72 for strikes.

Janssen-Spring-White.jpgThen, with two men on and no outs in the eighth, Janssen wiggled out of a major jam to maintain the Nats’ advantage. Storen came on in the ninth to record his 16th save.

While watching Scherzer and Janssen, similar to Doug Fister’s uptempo style, you see how their attitude of moving each at-bat along and their forcefeeding of the opponent out after out works so well. Scherzer marched around the mound after each out. When he struck out the side in the sixth, it was as if after every pitch he was saying to the batter: “Try and hit this one, you can’t.” He was ferocious.

Janssen picked up where he left off last Sunday in what was his first Nationals appearance. But this time, he came in with the game on the line and the tying run in the batter’s box. He calmly and precisely broke the Cubs down.

After Grace had allowed a double and a hit by pitch to start the eighth inning with the Nationals up 3-0, Janssen got the dangerous rookie Kris Bryant to harmlessly pop up to first base for the first out.

The second out was a defining play for the Nats on defense. Part of their trouble early in the season was pitchers’ sloppy fielding leading to easy runs for the Red Sox and the Phillies, and both games ended in losses.

The Cubs’ Dexter Fowler had a creative trick up his sleeve when he pulled the bat back and tried to bunt after working the count to 1-1. The dribbler went to the right of Janssen. Diving to his knees, Janssen threw a one-hopper to Ryan Zimmerman at first for a critical second out. Janssen showed tremendous athletic ability and the presence of mind to calmly make the play. If he had thrown that ball into the dugou,t it turns into a one run game and the Cubs have the go-ahead run stepping to the plate.

The runners moved into scoring position on the play, but Janssen had his opportunity to get out of the inning unscathed.

On three pitches, he got Starlin Castro to ground out to shortstop Ian Desmond to end the inning.

Scherzer and Janssen had done their job with powerful, intimidating efficiency. It also isn’t lost that it was president and general manager Mike Rizzo who brought on the pair of lethal hurlers within 11 days of each other this winter to solidify a very solid lineup of pitching for 2015.

It also cannot go without notice that both put in signature performances using similar styles on the same night in Rizzo’s hometown to lift the Nationals to their ninth straight series win.

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I was impressed in this series by the kind and respectful comments from the other dugout, especially those of the usually very opinionated Cubs, and former Rays, manager Joe Maddon.

He had nothing but good things to say about the Nationals, especially their pitching and outfield defense. It is a bit of a contrast from the back-and-forth he had three years ago with former Nationals skipper Davey Johnson regarding the possibility of pine tar use by pitcher Joel Peralta.

After the series was completed, Maddon was impressed with the play of both teams.

“The takeaway is, we can play with these guys. I feel very confident about that moving forward,” Maddon told reporters after the game. “Entertaining baseball at Wrigley Field for the last three days.”

MASN color analyst F.P. Santangelo said during the game he would not be surprised if these two teams tangle for a bigger prize at the beginning of October. It is a possibility they could meet again when the divisional series arrives.

It’s only late May for both teams so we will see how it plays out. But as good as the baseball was in this series, especially the pitching with only 11 total runs scored between the two clubs, I would not be surprised to see this matchup again, either.

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