NLCS Game 4: Nationals complete sweep to clinch first World Series appearance

Mark TownsendYahoo Sports Contributor

The Washington Nationals are going to the World Series for the first time in franchise history.

Thanks to a seven-run first inning and another solid pitching performance, the Nationals defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 7-4 to complete an impressive four-game sweep on Tuesday night in the National League Championship Series.

The Nationals have come a long, long way since beginning the season with a 19-31 record. There were reports then that Davey Martinez might not survive the year as manager, and that free-agents-to-be like Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg would end up on the trade block. Washington’s front office kept its faith in the squad built during the offseason and will now celebrate its repaid confidence.

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One of the big additions during the offseason was Patrick Corbin. The veteran left-hander signed a six-year, $140 million contract. He proved to be a strong acquisition during the regular season, and flashed dominance in Tuesday’s clincher. Though he allowed four runs over five innings, Corbin recorded 12 strikeouts. In doing so, the Nationals’ rotation made postseason history.

The Nationals’ offense did their part too, chasing Cardinals starter Dakota Hudson after just eight batters. Seven of them reached base and ultimately scored.

Hudson was charged with seven runs. Only four were earned due to Kolten Wong’s error. The usually sure-handed second baseman was unable to handle a routine throw on a double-play ball. The following batter, Victor Robles, reached when Wong, right fielder Jose Martinez and first base Paul Goldschmidt miscommunicated on a pop-up into short right field.

Though the offense finally showed signs of life, the sloppy start proved too much for St. Louis to overcome. The Cardinals brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the eighth inning, but Matt Carpenter couldn’t come through with the bases loaded.

The Nationals will now await the winner of the American League Championship Series between the New York Yankees and Houston Astros. The Astros took a 2-1 lead in that series on Tuesday.

The Washington Nationals defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 7-4 in NLCS Game 4 to clinch their first-ever trip to the World Series. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
The Washington Nationals defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 7-4 in NLCS Game 4 to clinch their first-ever trip to the World Series. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

WHO MADE THE DIFFERENCE

• The Nationals bullpen: It has been the team’s Achilles’ heel all season. In Game 4, it was collectively clutch. Tanner Rainey, Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson combined to record the final 12 outs. Sure, there was drama in the eighth inning when St. Louis loaded the bases with two outs, but there was no damage.

• Trea Turner: The Nationals lead-off man was front and center during the first-inning rally. Turner started it with a single. Then he capped it with a two-run single. Turner added a fantastic diving stop on defense to prevent the Cardinals from starting a sixth-inning rally.

• Yan Gomes: The veteran catcher drove in the key first run in Game 1 of this series. He followed with a clutch two-run single in the first inning of Game 4. Without that hit, the Nationals may have settled for three runs instead of seven.

MUST-SEE MOMENT

To the Cardinals’ credit, they battled back and eventually brought the tying run to the plate in the eighth inning. Pinch hitter Matt Carpenter, who manager Mike Shildt saved all game for just this moment, faced closer Daniel Hudson with the bases loaded.

Hudson won the battle, getting Carpenter out on a sharp ground ball to second base that Brian Dozier bobbled before recovering to record the out.

WHAT THEY'LL BE TALKING ABOUT

The Nationals are going to the World Series, but will have to wait awhile to get it started. Game 1 will be played on Oct. 22, regardless of when or how the ALCS ends. That’s six days off between games. Extended postseason layoffs have been a problem for some previous World Series teams. We’ll see if Washington can navigate it effectively.

The utter dominance by Washington’s starting rotation during this series also has the baseball world buzzing. Corbin, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Anibal Sanchez combined to strike out 39 in 26 2/3 innings. Can they carry that dominance over into a World Series matchup against one of the two best offenses in baseball?

WHAT'S NEXT

The Nationals will celebrate Tuesday and probably continue Wednesday. Then they’ll go into wait-and-see mode as the Yankees and Astros decide the AL championship.

As for the Cardinals, the offseason begins now. They will have questions to answer in regards to their offense, which was overmatched by Washington’s starting rotation. Their biggest free agent is Marcell Ozuna. The slugging outfielder was a difference maker in their NLDS victory against the Atlanta Braves.

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