The Nationals need to win tonight to extend their season. Much of the talk has been about their bullpen struggles all season, but the bottom line in this National League Division Series against the Dodgers is that if the offense doesn’t get going tonight, it will be all over anyway.
So far in the NLDS, the Nats have managed just eight runs on 18 hits over the three games, and were shut out once. The Nats have not scored more than four runs in any of the three games. They trail in the best-of-five series, two games to one.
The catchers, Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes, are a combined 0-for-12 in the postseason. Third baseman Anthony Rendon is batting only .231 (3-for-13) with one double, one RBI, four walks and four strikeouts. Howie Kendrick and Adam Eaton are both hitting .214.
As a team offensively, the Nats are hitting just .189, with just seven of their 23 hits going for extra bases. By contrast, the Dodgers have put up 18 runs with 13 extra base hits, including six homers, for an overall .250 batting average against Nats pitching.
“Yeah, we just got to get the ball in the strike zone,” said Nationals skipper Davey Martinez. “And we got to stay in the middle of the field. There’s a lot of hits in the middle of the field. We just got to get back to that and take our walks and just get back to the middle of the field.”
The Nats’ two big hitters, Juan Soto and Rendon, have seven total hits in the postseason, with one double and one homer combined. Do they have to get going tonight for the Nats to force a Game 5, or is it up to the rest of the lineup?
“Rendon got a hit today, stayed inside the ball, hit the ball fairly (well) up the middle,” said Martinez. “Home run to center field was huge. And then he came up and got (a) base hit. Soto got a base hit to left field, which is nice. So, I think that, hey, like I said, like I told them, just get strikes, get (and) hit strikes. They want to walk you, let them walk you. We got good hitters behind you. So just concentrate on hitting strikes and putting the ball in play.”
The Nats must also take advantage of opportunities presented to them as they look for big innings. Sunday night in Game 3, down 8-2, the Nats loaded the bases with no outs. After a wild pitch plated Rendon, Asdrúbal Cabrera lofted a fly ball to right field that scored another run to cut the Dodgers’ lead to 8-4. But an anxious Kendrick got caught between second and third base for a double play that pushed the rally off the rails. An infield popout by Michael A. Taylor abruptly ended what looked to be a promising frame.
“I should’ve trusted my instincts, to be honest with you,” Kendrick said of his baserunning blunder. “My first instincts were right. I kind of shut it down a little bit, went back to the bag, and then at that point I probably should’ve just stopped and stayed there. It kind of helped them out in the inning there.
“Sometimes those little things are what kill rallies, and Cabby did a good job of getting the ball in the air, getting Juan in, and we had something going there. It’s tough, but things like that do happen. But it’s important to try to not make those mistakes again. Some of those little things like that, they can change the game.”
Especially when the Nats have had trouble finding scoring opportunities against the Dodgers’ pitching. Los Angeles has gone to Adam Kolarek as a “Soto specialist.” The left-hander’s sidewinder delivery has created havoc for Soto, who has gone 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against him.
The Nationals need the offense to get going to outscore the Dodgers, certainly, but it would also provide a larger margin of error for Nats bullpen. If Martinez can get to the later innings with a four- or five-run cushion, he can allow Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson to be themselves and not worry about allowing a solo homer.
Instead of trying to hold a late 2-1 lead, if the offense can figure out a way to out up a few crooked-number innings against veteran Rich Hill, the bullpen will have the leeway they need to do their job with every pitch in their arsenal.
“I always look at it you’re either going to win or you’re going to lose,” Suzuki said. “You might as well go out and play hard and give it whatever you got. Whatever happens, happens. You can control yourself going out there and playing hard. You really can’t control the outcome.”
“Even today, man, right when they had the big inning, if there was a team that was going to battle ‘til the end, it’s us,” Gomes said. “We put runners right on and we threatened to get some guys going. But hey, we got to put this game behind us. We’ve done it before. We’ve done it plenty of times.
“We’ve got our two best guys that anybody would want going the next couple days,” Gomes added, referring to starting pitchers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. “So we like our chance. But again, it’s the playoffs. It comes down to a couple plays. We just got to bear down and play our game.”
“We just try to play good baseball,” Kendrick said. “Regardless of whether we are facing elimination or not, you still got to go out and play. We got to pitch, hit and play defense. Hopefully, Max throws a gem and we can put up some runs on the board.”