NLCS Game 3: Nationals on the verge of first pennant after dominating Cards

Almost two weeks ago, the Washington Nationals were four outs from elimination in the wild card game. Now the club is a win away from the first World Series berth in franchise history.

Behind another lights-out performance from their starter and some more clutch hitting, Washington nabbed an 8-1 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series at Nationals Park on Monday night.

Stephen Strasburg followed Anibal Sanchez’s and Max Scherzer’s lead and made history. He yielded an unearned run on seven hits while striking out 12 — all on off-speed pitches — over seven innings. The performance put Strasburg in a category with Bob Gibson as the only pitchers in MLB history with multiple playoff outings with at least 12 punchouts and no earned runs.

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In seven career postseason starts, Strasburg has a 1.10 ERA in 41 innings. Washington’s starters have not allowed an earned run in 21 2/3 innings in the series.

Washington led the National League with 335 two-out runs in the regular season. They’ve produced nine of their 13 NLCS runs with two outs, including all but one of their scores in Game 3.

Victor Robles started a four-run third-inning rally with a hit and was driven home on an Adam Eaton base knock. It was Robles’ first at-bat since Game 2 of the NLDS due to a hamstring strain. Anthony Rendon followed Eaton with an RBI double to left, and Howie Kendrick capped the rally with a two-run double to the gap in right-center.

Rendon, the MVP candidate and impending free agent, reached base three times, including a pair of hits, scored twice and drove in a run. He also showed off his defensive prowess at third base with an excellent diving snag on a hard-hit grounder by Paul DeJong in the third.

Robles also led off the sixth with a homer. Ryan Zimmerman had RBI hits in the fifth and seventh.

Jack Flaherty was the best pitcher in baseball after the All-Star break but hasn’t been as sharp in the postseason. In fact, the Nationals’ third-inning rally matched his run allotment from the month of September. Flaherty was charged with four runs on five hits and two walks with six strikeouts over four innings. He’s got a 4.24 ERA in 17 postseason frames, and may not have another chance to reduce that figure.

Only one team in major league history has ever come back to win a series after being down, 3-0. The Cardinals haven’t shown nearly enough life to inspire the idea that they can pull off that type of comeback, and the Nationals are firing on all cylinders.

Stephen Strasburg was the latest Nationals starter to dominate the Cardinals. (Getty Images)
Stephen Strasburg was the latest Nationals starter to dominate the Cardinals. (Getty Images)

WHO MADE THE DIFFERENCE

  • Howie Kendrick: The 36-year-old finished with three doubles, tying an LCS record, while setting a franchise-record with nine RBIs this postseason. Kendrick, Washington’s hero in the NLDS clincher, is 5-for-12 (.417) with four RBIs and three runs scored in the NLCS.

  • Fernando Rodney: Nationals’ starters have only required the bullpen to record 16 outs in the first three games of the series. Rodney got three of those outs, including two by strikeout, in a perfect eighth inning. It was his first clean outing of the postseason. Tanner Rainey struck out a pair in the final inning.

  • Marcell Ozuna: The Nationals were on no-hitter watch pretty deep into each of the first two games of the series. Ozuna put that dream away with a second inning double, then singled in the fourth. Like much of the Cardinals’ lineup, Ozuna entered Monday night hitless in the series.

MUST-SEE MOMENT

The weirdness of a play that involved Juan Soto hitting the deck in the seventh inning will stick out. But Strasburg’s ability to bounce back and strike out the next two batters was a defining moment. Even as the game clearly seemed out of reach at that point, Strasburg went into those two at-bats with 109 pitches and proved that he was the guy to get it done in that spot.

About that play, the Cardinals again got their only run on a Nationals’ outfield miscue, much like what happened in Game 2.

Soto fielded Paul DeJong’s single, then slipped and fell to the ground as he attempted to crow hop. Jose Martinez, who singlehandedly accounted for the bulk of the Cardinals’ offense in the first two games, pulled into third with no intention of breaking for the plate, but Soto’s throw in from his knees eluded four different Nationals and allowed Martinez to score.

WHAT THEY’LL BE TALKING ABOUT

St. Louis manager Mike Schildt shuffled the batting order after his team was limited to four hits in the first two games of the series. Things got better as they collected seven hits, but they’re still on the verge of becoming the first team since the 2004 World Series-losing Cardinals to get swept in a series without ever holding a lead. The team that beat the Cardinals in that World Series, the Boston Red Sox, was the only club in postseason history to do what St. Louis will now have to attempt, coming back from a 3-0 series deficit.

WHAT’S NEXT

Washington can clinch the pennant for the first time in franchise history on Tuesday at 8:05 p.m. ET at Nationals Park. Patrick Corbin (14-7, 3.25 ERA) made his past three appearances out of the bullpen, but he’ll go back to his starter’s role in Game 4. Dakota Hudson (16-7, 3.35 ERA) gets the start for the Cardinals in his first outing in more than a week.

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