That is probably the only word that could come close to describing the events that unfolded for the Washington Nationals in game five of the National League Division Series (NLDS) against the St. Louis Cardinals on October 12. After what seemed like an easy trip to the next round for the Nationals early on, St. Louis staged one of the greatest comebacks in Major League Baseball history to completely shock everyone.
Home Run Fest
After having only scored two total runs over the past two games combined, the Nationals got off to a fantastic start against Adam Wainwright, scoring six runs in the first three innings with five of them coming from the long ball. Of note, Bryce Harper finally came out of his slump for the entire series with a triple and a home run in his first two at-bats for Washington. With that kind of a lead, Wainwright out of the game, and Gio Gonzalez on the mound, there was no way the Cardinals could have come back from that deficit, right?
Starting Pitching Woes
However, as the Cardinals showed the previous year along with this season, they have a flair for the dramatic, and starting in the fourth inning they started chipping away at the six run lead. Gio surprisingly ended up having another mediocre outing, going only five innings and giving up three runs on five hits to go along with five strikeouts as well. His command seemed to be off for the entire game, as he only threw 9 first pitch strikes to 23 total batters and walked four (Gio had a total of 11 walks in two starts). I would have to say without a doubt that Gonzalez was the biggest disappointment in the series, as he is likely to win the NL Cy Young Award this year and was really needed as an anchor for the starting rotation in the series, but just let the team down with two poor starts.
Even with Gonzalez leaving the game after five innings, the Nationals still held a 6-3 lead and were able to maintain the lead to 7-5 in the eighth inning after the Cardinals continued to stage their comeback. Everything was set up perfectly for closer Drew Storen, and unfortunately Storen just didn't have it on the mound when he really needed to, throwing too many pitches over the plate and allowing the Cardinals hitters to keep getting base hits. It doesn't matter how fast you throw if it is always hittable in the strike zone, and I think that is something that Storen will learn from moving forward.
No Stephen Strasburg?
It was certainly a devastating loss for the Washington Nationals to end their season, and I am sure it will be hotly debated as to whether Strasburg should have pitched in the playoffs or not. Personally, I think he should have because one never knows what will happen in the future, but the facts remain that the Nationals had a great opportunity to advance and simply didn't close it like they should have. It is something that I think the team will learn from and I fully expect the Nationals to be contending next year for the playoffs, especially if GM Mike Rizzo is aggressive this offseason.
Ryan Kekoufski lives near the Nationals' stadium and has been following the team ever since they moved to Washington D.C.