ST. LOUIS - Some news and notes to cleanse your palette before the Nationals and Cardinals return to action this afternoon for their series finale ...
* Howie Kendrick’s fourth-inning homer Tuesday night was big because it helped set the tone for an eventual 6-2 victory, but it also was historic.
Kendrick’s solo blast to center was the Nationals’ 215th home run of the season. That ties the franchise record. Which was set only two years ago. But still.
Home run records are being set left and right across baseball. The sport already saw its single-season homer record broken earlier this month, a telling sign of the state of the game right now.
Also telling: Even though the Nationals are now one homer shy of a new franchise record, they only rank 14th in the majors in home runs this season. Suffice it to say the ball has been flying everywhere in 2019.
* Speaking of records, the Nationals set another one Tuesday night. When Patrick Corbin notched the ninth of his 11 strikeouts in the game, he had 222 of them for the season. With Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer having already surpassed that number, the Nats thus became the first team in major league history to have three pitchers with at least 222 strikeouts apiece.
Again, it’s somewhat telling about the state of the sport in 2019, with strikeout numbers up across the board. Still, no team in history has ever had three pitchers who each have struck out this many batters. That’s something worth taking a moment to appreciate.
* What’s it going to take to reach the postseason? Probably 90 wins. Actually, if the Nationals can get to the 90-win mark, they will be guaranteed to at least play a Game 163 for the right to advance to the wild card game.
Here’s how that works: Though the Cardinals (84-67), Cubs (82-69) and Brewers (82-69) are all right alongside the Nationals (83-67) in the race for the National League Central title and two wild card berths, the fact the Cards and Cubs still play each other seven times down the stretch limits their potential collective win total.
Yes, there are seven guaranteed wins in those games, but there are also seven guaranteed losses. If you’re the Nationals, you’re rooting for one of those teams to win all seven games against the other. If the Cubs win all seven, then the Cardinals can do no better than 88-74 at season’s end. If the Cards win all seven, then the Cubs can do no better than 86-76. The Nats only need to finish ahead of one of those teams to qualify for the wild card game.
The worst-case scenario would be an evenly matched series between the two longtime rivals, with one team winning four of the seven games. But even then, the best the Cubs could do is finish 90-72, with the Cardinals at 91-71. There’s no way both teams can get to 91 wins.
What that means: If the Nationals get to 90 wins, they can do no worse than a tiebreaker game against either Chicago or St. Louis, with Milwaukee winning the NL Central. To get to 90, the Nats need to go 7-5 the rest of the way.
Again, the Nationals can still make the postseason with fewer than 90 wins. But that’s the magic number to ensure their season extends at least one more day beyond the Sept. 29 regular season finale.