On verge of elimination, Cardinals still searching for rhythm in NLCS

The Cardinals came to D.C. taking aim at becoming the second National League team to recover from a 0-2 deficit in a best-of-seven series and make the World Series.

Instead, they dug themselves an even deeper hole.

The Nationals, a win away from bringing the World Series to Washington for the first time since 1933, beat the Cardinals 8-1 in Game 3 on Monday night to take a three games to none lead in the NL Championship Series at wild and crazy Nationals Park.

The 2004 Red Sox are the only team in history to rally from a deficit of 0-3 and win a best-of-seven LCS. The Red Sox beat the Yankees for the American League pennant and went on to beat the Cardinals, giving Boston its first World Series championship since 1918, breaking the legendary “Curse of the Bambino.”

Rookie Dakota Hudson, 25, a pitcher with a slider and power sinker, will try to save the Cardinals’ season Tuesday in Game 4. He threw 4 2/3 innings and allowed one run when the Cardinals beat Atlanta in an NLDS Game 4 win-or-go-home situation.

Hudson had 16 wins and a 3.35 ERA for the Cardinals this season. He held opponents to a .163 average in September, third-best in the NL behind teammate Jack Flaherty (.118) and the Braves’ Mike Foltynewicz (.149).

Hudson and Game 3 starter Jack Flaherty, 23, who had a 0.91 ERA in 15 second-half starts, are the sixth combo of pitchers 25 and younger to make starts for the Cardinals in the postseason, going back to Paul and Dizzy Dean in 1934.

The Nationals lineup isn’t easy, Hudson said.

“It’s quality through and through,” Hudson said. “Got to make pitches and you have to be able to keep them off-balance.”

Hudson has a 2.93 career ERA in six games - two of them starts - against the Nationals.

After getting a combined four hits - three singles and a double - during the first two games, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt changed his lineup, putting José Martínez in right field, moving Tommy Edman to third and sending Matt Carpenter to the bench.

Martínez had two hard-hit singles against and scored a run in the seventh inning on left fielder Juan Soto’s throwing error, but otherwise the Cardinals couldn’t do much.

The biggest reason: Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg continued his - and the Nats rotation’s - dominance with 12 strikeouts and no walks in seven innings. He struck out three in the seventh.

“Not a lot of opportunities,” Shildt said. “We haven’t been able to play our brand of baseball. We haven’t been able to get in rhythm, but we still have more baseball to play.”

“They live off their pitching,” Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong said.

Strasburg “had a 95-97 miles an hour fastball with good sink that’s 10 miles an hour slower,” Wong said.

“His longevity - he went so far into the game,” Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong said. “We knew about his changeup. It was working. He didn’t disappoint.”

Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt’s view on Strasburg: “He had his command and didn’t make many mistakes. We didn’t get many mistakes. That’s why he’s so good.”

The Cardinals’ best scoring chance early was in the second inning. Marcell Ozuna hit a leadoff double in the left field corner, but was out on an unusual play.

Ozuna was caught off second when Martínez hit a comebacker to the mound. Strasburg fielded the ball and ran toward Ozuna, tagging him on the infield dirt between second and third - a 1-U scoring play that doesn’t happen every day.

The Cardinals were trying to become the second team in NL history to come back from a 0-2 deficit in a best-of-seven series and make the World Series.

Ironically, the other NL team to come back from 0-2 and win the pennant was the 1985 Cardinals, who lost the first two NLCS games in Los Angeles and came back to win Game 6 7-5 at Dodger Stadium on Jack Clark’s three-run ninth-inning home run.

The Cardinals aren’t giving up, knowing they won five of seven against the Nationals during the regular season.

“We start tomorrow,” Goldschmidt said. “We win one game at a time. We can’t look too far ahead.”

Shildt said the key to a comeback is getting a lead.

“We’ve got to get a lead at some point in this series,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to create some offense and be able to hold it there. It’s the first time our pitching hasn’t able to contain this offense. I’m confident we will do that tomorrow.”