Nats Tighten the Noose

The game was still scoreless when Victor Robles opened the bottom of the third with a ground ball single up the middle (just out of the reach of shortstop Paul DeJong).  After pitcher Stephen Strasburg bunted Robles down to second, Cardinal pitcher Jack Flaherty struck out Trea Turner.  The Nationals did have the lead run at second, but now there were two outs.

During his remarkable second half run, batters were only 15 for 109 (.138) when batting with two outs against Jack, with only 6 of the hits being for extra-bases (4 doubles and 2 home runs).  The two home runs were the only two-out runs batted in against Flaherty since the All-Star Break.

But Flaherty and the Cardinals had now run into the scorching hot Washington Nationals – a team that is currently getting every meaningful bounce and exploiting every opponents’ mistake.

Jack’s first-pitch fastball to Adam Eaton tailed back across the plate, and Adam bounced it off the plate and into centerfield for the first run of the game.  There followed in rapid succession Anthony Rendon’s soft flyball down the left-field line that Marcell Ozuna couldn’t keep in his glove, a walk to Juan Soto, and a wild pitch that moved Rendon and Soto into scoring position.

Already ahead 2-0, Howie Kendrick all but iced the contest, as he stroked a fastball the other way – perfectly placed into right-center.  And Washington had four, two-out RBIs.

They wouldn’t stop there.  In the fifth inning, John Brebbia would serve up two more two-out RBIs on doubles by Kendrick and Ryan Zimmerman.  In the bottom of the seventh, Zimmerman would single home the final run of the game – again, with two out.  In their 8-1 win (box score), the Nationals would drive in 7 of the runs with two-outs.

For the evening, Washington was 4 for 18 before there were two outs in the inning.  They were 7 for 15 with 5 doubles and 3 walks – a batting line of .467/.556/.800 – before St Louis could get the final out.

This hasn’t really been a problem all season.  Again, according to baseball reference, St Louis tied with the Cubs for third fewest runs allowed after two outs in all of baseball.  But now 9 of Washington’s 13 runs in the series have been driven in with two-out hits, and the Cards are backed up as deeply as they can be.

Fifteen years ago, the Cardinals were slugging it out with the Houston Astros (then part of the National League Central) in the League Championship Series.  The winner (which eventually turned out to be the Cards) seemed like they would be facing the Yankees in the series – New York had jumped out to a 3-0 lead against Boston (with Game Three, by the way, being a historic butt-kicking as the Yankees piled it on to the tune of 19-8).  It was hard to imagine a team more dead in the water than the 2004 Red Sox.

And then it was 3-1, Yankees.  Then 3-2.  Finally of course, Boston – Curt Schilling’s bloody sock and all – overcame the Yankees and their 3-0 lead and, in fact, never lost again as they swept the series that year in four games from St Louis.

To date, that is the only time a team has rebounded from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.  All season, this team (the Cards) has claimed that it is special.  Few conceivable achievements could mark it as more than special than to match the Red Sox’ feat.  Should they manage that, it’s interesting that their world series opponent would be either the Astros or the Yankees – the two teams that lost those Championship Series’ back in ’04.

But first, of course, they will actually have to win a game against Washington.  A good first step toward that would be to score their first run sometime before the seventh inning.  We’ll see.

Jose Martinez

Inserted into the lineup to provide a little offensive spark, Jose Martinez did contribute a couple of hits and scored the only Cardinal run last night.  Jose is 4 for 6 now on the series, and actually has a five-game hitting streak built mostly on pinch-hit at bats.  Martinez is 6 for his last 8.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler is the second member of the usual lineup (Matt Carpenter was the first) to lose his spot because of the team’s offensive difficulties.  Dexter was hitless in four at bats last night (with three strikeouts) and is 0 for 15 since the first inning of Game Five against Atlanta.  Fowler is 2 for 33 (.061) during the playoffs.  Harrison Bader will get tonight’s start in center.

Wong and Edman

Spark plugs all season long, Kolten Wong and Tommy Edman are the other two members of the starting lineup who have gone hitless through the first three games of the Championship series – they are both 0 for 10 against Washington.

With a team batting line of .121/.167/.143 over their last 96 plate appearances, there are no shortage of bats that have been missing in action recently.  The Cardinal season has reached the point where there are no more tomorrows.  Some of these guys will hit tonight, or they will be playing golf by the weekend.

NoteBook

The 8-1 final was as badly as St Louis has been beaten in a while.  It was, in fact, their largest margin of defeat since August 5.  They lost to the Dodgers that day 8-0 – the first game of a three-game sweep.

The seven run deficit they took into the sixth inning was also the largest seventh-inning deficit in a Cardinal playoff game since they trailed San Francisco 7-0 after six on their way to a 9-0 loss in Game Seven of the 2012 Championship Series.  The Cards, of course, had led that series three games to one at one point.

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