Max Scherzer dominates Cardinals, Nationals take commanding 2-0 NLCS lead
ST. LOUIS – In this era of hyper-efficiency and cost certainty, it’s a popular sentiment to suggest you can’t buy a World Series.
The Washington Nationals’ more than half-billion dollar investment in starting pitching is coming awfully close to rebuking that theory.
They will return home to D.C. in firm control of their first National League Championship Series, registering as many wins at Busch Stadium as the Cardinals produced hits.
If that seems like a typo, well, you probably didn’t see Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer carve up the Cardinals in consecutive games.
Saturday, it was Scherzer’s turn, befuddling the Cardinals as afternoon shadows danced around Busch Stadium, then ramping up his dominance as they faded. Like Sanchez, he took a no-hitter into the late innings before settling for one lousy hit allowed, and the Nationals eased away for a 3-1 Game 2 victory.
Monday at Nationals Park, they will send out their best pitcher this season, Stephen Strasburg, to go for the kill in Game 3. He’ll be opposed by Jack Flaherty, the Cardinals’ ace, but what good will that do if his boys can’t get any hits for him?
The ugly numbers for St. Louis’ starting eight after two games: 2 hits in 54 at-bats, as excellent starts from Adam Wainwright and Miles Mikolas were wasted.
If they do the same for Flaherty, winter will come quickly to St. Louis – and Washington will capture its first pennant since 1933.
Michael A. Taylor spent much of this season in Class AA but worked his way onto the playoff roster with a nice September. After Victor Robles’ hamstring injury in the NLDS, he’s now the Nationals’ center fielder.
Saturday, he was their saving grace, too.
The Nationals’ No. 8 hitter popped a third-inning home run to give Scherzer the breathing room he needed, and he singled off Wainwright in the fifth to turn the lineup over. That added up later when the Nationals cobbled together a pair of insurance runs in the eighth.
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Man of the moment
Scherzer was not at his very best, walking a pair and running into some deep counts as his pitch total topped 39 after just two innings. But he settled in and gamely took the torch from Sanchez, who lost his no-hitter with two out in the eighth in Friday’s Game 1.
Scherzer lost his when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single, but that was quickly rendered moot when Scherzer elicited an inning-ending double play ball from Yadier Molina.
If the Sanchez-Scherzer punch felt familiar, there’s a reason. Both flirted with no-hitters in Games 1-2 of the 2013 ALCS as members of the Detroit Tigers facing Boston. At that time, it was a pair of really good pitchers quieting an elite offense.
This time, it feels more like domination of an overmatched lineup.
While Nationals pitching has been devastating, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt hasn’t helped by managing his way into crucial tack-on runs for Washington. Saturday, he let Wainwright stay in to face lefty Adam Eaton despite allowing one-out singles to pinch hitter Matt Adams and leadoff man Trea Turner in the eighth inning.
Eaton made him pay with a two-run double to right; an intentional walk ended Wainwright’s day before reliever Andrew Miller got the final two outs.
After Taylor misplayed Jose Martinez’s fly ball into an RBI double in the inning’s bottom half, the game could have been tied. Instead, the hit merely cut Washington’s lead to 3-1.
Meanwhile, Nationals manager Dave Martinez summoned Game 4 starter Patrick Corbin – signed to a $140 million contract to round out the Nationals’ dominant pitching staff – to get Wong for the first out in the bottom of the ninth. Closer Daniel Hudson – back from paternity leave – recorded the final two outs to nudge Washington closer to a pennant.
And St. Louis to the edge of a winter spent pondering a punchless NLCS.
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