On a night when the Nationals acknowledged and celebrated the most dominant Air Force in all the World, the US Air Force, the Nats and Dodgers took the field in the third game of a three game series to claim their place as the most dominant team in the National League. The Dodgers got much needed quality pitching performances from Alex Wood and Rich Hill, two starters slated to be a big part of the Dodgers playoff rotation plans. The Nationals on the other hand countered with Edwin Jackson and A.J. Cole, two pitchers who may not even make the playoff roster, depending on how things shake out.
You could say that this series doesn’t mean much considering the Nats wrapped up the NL East what seems like months ago, even though it’s only been a week. Since clinching, the Nats have lost 4 out of 5 games, you might call it a bit of a hangover. The Dodgers came into DC a bit of a wounded dog. Yes, they were on a 2 game winning streak, but that was after losing 11 in a row and 16 of their last 17. To say the Dodgers were struggling would be quite the understatement. The Dodgers began this losing streak with a record of 91 -37, that’s 54 games over .500! Even after all that losing, they still held a 92 -52 record and a 10 game division lead over the 2nd place Arizona Diamondbacks. Coming into this series the Nats were 5 games behind the Dodgers for the best record in the NL. A sweep, brings it down to 2 games, with 14 left to play…anything can happen. Losing the first 2 games pushes the Nats to 7 back. A loss Sunday, and the Nats fall 8 back and all of sudden the once dormant Dodgers (if you can call a 95 win team dormant) are now on 5 game winning streak and feeling good about themselves.
Tonight, Stephen Strasburg, one of the heads of that Nationals dominant two headed pitching monster along with Max Scherzer, took the mound to face the Dodgers. Strasburg came in hot, having pitched 34 straight scoreless innings. Observers will tell you he hasn’t been perfect during this streak but he has been getting himself out of trouble, if ever he found himself in it. The Dodgers countered with Hyun-Jin Ryu, a lefty pitcher with a nasty curve and an average fastball. Ryu is a good pitcher but isn’t likely to be part of the Dodgers rotation. Also sitting for the Dodgers were Adrian Gonzalez and Again, tonight was a matchup between two teams that may look a bit different if they meet again in October.
Strasburg, for his part, had some slight control issues in the early innings, giving up 2 walks and hitting a batter in the first 3 innings. Hiis scoreless streak ended at 35 innings after conceding a double to Logan Forsythe that scored Yasiel Puig. That said he still managed to strike out 7 batters through 5 innings and kept the Dodgers at bay. The Nats offense however seems to have collectively slumped. Ryu, initially seemed to continue the string of strong Dodger pitching performances in this series but got chased by after throwing 98 pitches in 4⅔ innings, not having allowed a run but walking Strasburg and lead off hitter Trea Turner.
In the most controversial moment of the evening, the next batter Jayson Werth lined an 0-2 pitch from reliever Ross Stripling down the left field line. The 3rd base ump immediately called the ball foul. Strasburg stopped half way between 3rd and home, with Turner on his heels. Nationals manager, Dusty Baker immediately called for a challenge and review by the league offices in NY. The crowd was certain the call would be overturned, only to be disappointed by the upholding of the call on the field. Boos rained down on the umps and Werth flew out to centerfield to end the inning.
In the bottom of the sixth, the heart of the Nationals lineup made some noise. Following an Anthony Rendon walk, Daniel Murphy lined a sharp single to center for Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman crushed a 3-1 90 mph slider over the right center field wall for a 3 run homer. Strasburg was done after six very strong innings giving up 3 hits, 1 run, 3 walks 1 hbp and 8 strikeouts on 94 pitches.
It was then on to Baker’s trusty bullpen beginning with Brandon Kintzler who breezed through the top of the 7th on 10 pitches. Ryan Madson pitched the eighth, getting off to a shaky start giving up a hard single to right by Corey Seager. Seager advanced to second on an error in the field by Werth. Madson would then retire Justin Turner, Cody Berlinger and Yasiel Puig in order to end the threat. Sean Doolittle came into the game in a non save situation and closed out the game getting the final three outs around a harmless single and walk.
The Nats added another run in the seventh on a Rendon double down the left field line that scored Werth who legged it home all the way from first. The Nats used the long ball to pad the score in the bottom of the eight with, Zimmerman hitting his 2nd homer of the night over the scoreboard in right center to make the score 5-1 and Adam Lind hitting a sharp 2 run homer to left Center into the visitor’s bullpen.
For one Sunday night in September, all was well again in Nats Park. Not much can really be made of this series. Dusty definitely wanted this win tonight, leaving nothing to chance. He got just what he needed from Strasburg and the law firm of Kintlzer, Madson and Doolittle. Zimmerman and Murphy went a combined 6 for 8 tonight reviving the slumping lineup. There are still 13 games left in the season before meaningful baseball is played in Nats park again. Until then, expect Dusty to rest some of the regulars and to tinker with some lineups as he figures out his 25 man roster for the playoffs.