The Washington Nationals came into Thursday night’s matchup with the Los Angeles Dodgers on fire. They finished the regular season on an eight-game winning streak. Then came from behind to beat the Milwaukee Brewers 4-3 in a dramatic N.L. Wild Card game on Tuesday night. The Dodgers, however, were more than happy to extinguish the fire. They coasted to a 6-0 shutout win thanks to some very sloppy play from the Nationals.
Nationals’ Patrick Corbin Wild in the First
The Nationals went down one-two-three to start the first and that would be a trend that continued for the majority of the game. The Dodgers, on the other hand, got off to a quick start. They took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first thanks to some control issues by Nationals’ starter Patrick Corbin.
Leadoff hitter A.J. Pollock got the first of four walks issued by Patrick Corbin in the frame. Corbin recovered to punch out David Freese and Justin Turner back-to-back, but he lost control again, issuing free passes to both Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor to load the bases. A third straight walk to Max Muncy brought in the Dodgers’ first run. Corbin escaped further damage by getting Corey Seager to ground out to end the bases-loaded threat.
Howie Kendrick‘s Defense Sloppy at First Base
The Nationals went down quickly again in the top half of the second. Juan Soto led off with a single, but Howie Kendrick was retired on a very questionable called third strike. Asdrubal Cabrera then grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Kendrick also committed the first of two errors of the game in the bottom of the second. The first would not cost the Nationals as they got out of the inning scoreless, his second, however, would prove to be much more costly.
After scoreless frames in the third and fourth, the Dodgers made it 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth courtesy of another Kendrick error. Corbin got two quick strikeouts but allowed a walk to Bellinger. Taylor’s single advanced Bellinger to third. Muncy hit what looked to be a sure out right at Kendrick, but the ball went under his glove allowing Bellinger to score. Taylor attempted to score but a strong throw from Nationals’ right fielder Adam Eaton nailed him at the plate keeping it 2-0.
Corbin returned for the bottom of the sixth after another scoreless inning for the Nationals. He retired the side in order in what would be his final inning. Despite a rough first inning and five walks, Corbin still pitched well enough to win. He pitched six complete innings allowing three hits while striking out nine. He allowed two runs, but just one was earned. Corbin simply got zero support as the Nationals mustered just two hits on the night.
Nationals Bullpen Struggles Again
Although it certainly wasn’t his best effort, Corbin left the game giving the Nationals a chance to win. The bullpen, like it has so many times this season, quickly let the Dodgers bust the game wide open.
Tanner Rainey came in to pitch the bottom of the seventh. He had a promising start getting Pollock to strike out, but he then issued a walk to Joc Pederson, who advanced to third on a Turner single. That was enough for Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez, he opted to bring in Fernando Rodney.
Rodney struck out Bellinger for the second out to bring up Taylor. Turner stole second base and that proved to be huge. Taylor singled to right allowing Pederson and Turner to score and improve the Dodger lead to 4-0. Rodney got Seager to ground out to get the Nationals out of the frame, but the damage had been done.
The Nationals were once again held scoreless in the top of the eighth. Martinez tapped Hunter Strickland to begin the bottom of the eighth and he fared no better than the previous relievers. In fact, he had the worst showing. Strickland allowed solo homers to both pinch hitter Gavin Lux and Pederson to put the Nationals down 6-0.
Joe Kelly came in for the top of the ninth for the Dodgers and despite allowing a leadoff double to Trea Turner, he quickly settled down and retired the next three Nationals in order to secure the victory.
Nationals Must Play Better Tonight
The Dodgers came into the playoffs heavy favorites to be the National League’s representative in the World Series and last night’s victory showed why. They dominated all facets of the game. Martinez understands what his team is up against and knows they must play better to have a shot. “They’re good, they’re really good,” he said. “That’s why they have been in the postseason so many years in a row. We didn’t play very well today.”
It’s very important for the Nationals to pick up the win tonight so they can go back to Washington with some momentum. Turner believes they can turn it around thinks they were just pressing too hard last night. “I feel like right now, we’re trying a little too hard,” he said. “Just have a little bit more fun and continue what we were doing. I think we put together good at-bats, just trying to do a little too much.”
Things won’t get much easier for the Nationals tonight as they will face All-Star Clayton Kershaw. The Nationals will counter him with Stephen Strasburg, who has been a very good postseason pitcher. In four career postseason starts, he’s gone 3-0 and allowed just one earned run while striking out 28 and walking just four. The Nationals’ offense has to take advantage of that.
If Strasburg can continue to post numbers like that, the offense has no excuses to lose. They need to get to Kershaw early and get into the bullpen to hopefully give Strasburg a chance to coast. The deeper Strasburg can pitch, the better chances the Nationals have to win. However, if they can build up a big lead, Martinez may opt to remove Strasburg early. He’s pitching on just three days rest after throwing 34 pitches in relief during the N.L. Wild Card Game.
One thing is for certain, regardless of how well Strasburg pitches, the Nationals must play more fundamentally sound baseball to have a shot at taking down the reigning N.L. champs.