MLB Playoff Recap: Nationals Survive

Facing long odds, the Washington Nationals defeated the San Francisco Giants and ace Madison Bumgarner on the road to force a Game Four in the NLDS. In the other National League Division Series, the St. Louis Cardinals got a lot of pitching and just enough power from their offense to push the Los Angeles Dodgers to the brink of elimination.

NLDS: Nationals Capitalize On Giant Mistakes

Score: Nationals 4 – Giants 1

Series: Giants lead 2-1

Game Hero: Bryce Harper; HR, two runs scored, 2 outstanding defensive plays

Game Summary: Facing elimination and San Francisco Giants’ ace Madison Bumgarner, the Washington Nationals’ prospects for extending their season one more day did not look good at the start of the day on Monday. Those prospects looked even dimmer when Bumgarner came out throwing 95 MPH in the first inning. However, Washington starter Doug Fister overcame a shaky start and kept the Giants off the scoreboard, Bumgarner eventually cracked and the Nationals lived to play another day.

With offense at a premium in this series, it was clear early in the game that whichever team collected the first big hit with runners on base would likely win the game. The Giants had several opportunities early in the game – including a bases-loaded, two-out situation in the second – but they were unable to get to Fister. The tall right-hander got sharper and more efficient with his pitch count as the game wore on. He finished with seven scoreless innings on 99 pitches. Fister struck-out three, walked three and allowed four hits. He retired nine batters on groundball outs.

Bumgarner was equally effective until the seventh inning. Although not as sharp as he was in the NL Wild Card game, Bumgarner still muzzled the Nationals’ offense early. Going into the seventh, he hadn’t walked a batter and he had allowed just four hits. Ian Desmond singled to lead-off the inning and Bryce Harper followed with a walk. The Nationals elected to have catcher Wilson Ramos bunt and he dropped one to the left of the pitcher’s mound. Instead of going to first or second, Bumgarner fired to third to try to force the lead runner. His throw sailed past a diving Pablo Sandoval and careened around the Giants’ bullpen. Both Desmond and Harper came around to score and the Nationals suddenly had the break that had eluded them during the first two games of the series. Asdrubal Cabrera extended the lead even further, singling home the third run of the inning after the Ramos bunt.

Fister returned to the mound in the bottom of the seventh and kept the Nationals’ momentum going with some help from Harper in left. Brandon Belt led-off the inning with a single and moved to second on a Brandon Crawford ground out. Travis Ishikawa followed with a sinking liner to left that Harper made a diving catch on, saving a run. It was Harper’s second outstanding catch in left of the day. Matt Duffy pinch-hit for Bumgarner with two-outs and grounded out to second to end the threat.

Washington manager Matt Williams turned to the bullpen in the eighth, and this time Washington’s ‘pen came through. Tyler Clippard retired the Giants in order in the bottom of the eighth. Harper then gave the Nationals more insurance in the ninth with a long solo homerun that just missed a splash landing in right center.

Armed with a four-run lead, Drew Storen returned to the mound after blowing the lead for Washington on Saturday. Storen looked shaky early in the inning, allowing a single to Sandoval and a double to Hunter Pence to start the inning. However, he recovered to strike-out Belt on a slider and after a sacrifice fly by Crawford, got Ishikawa to bounce out to short to end the game.

What’s Next: Despite the win, Washington is still in a do-or-die situation going into Game Four of the series on Tuesday evening. The Nationals will send Gio Gonzalez to the mound to face-off with Ryan Vogelsong. Both starters have had their ups-and-downs this season.

NLDS: Wong Plays the Role of Hero This Time Around

Score: Cardinals 3 – Dodgers 1

Series: Cardinals lead 2-1

Game Hero: Kolten Wong; game-winning, two-run homerun in the seventh

Game Summary: Last post-season, Kolten Wong played the role of anti-hero when he was picked-off first base to end a World Series game with Carlos Beltran at the plate and the St. Louis Cardinals trailing by two runs. On Monday night, Wong got to play the role of post-season hero for the Cardinals. The left-handed hitting second baseman hit a two-run homer off of left-hander Scott Elbert in the seventh inning to break a 1-1 tie. Cardinals’ closer Trevor Rosenthal worked his way out of a ninth inning jam and the Cardinals moved a step closer to a return to the National League Championship Series.

Game Three of the NLDS matched Los Angeles Dodgers’ left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu and Cardinals’ right-hander John Lackey. Ryu returned to the mound for the first time since leaving a start in mid-September with shoulder soreness. Despite the lay-off, Ryu was sharp, allowing only a third-inning homerun from Matt Carpenter, who is making a habit of going deep this post-season. The homer was Carptener’s third of this post-season. All three have come off of left-handers. Carpenter hit two homeruns versus southpaws during the regular season. Ryu lasted six innings and 94 pitches, scattering five hits and one walk and striking out four.

Ryu’s counterpart Lackey was equally effective. He allowed a two-out double to Hanley Ramirez in the top of the sixth, scoring Yasiel Puig from third. Puig had tripled earlier in the inning, breaking a personal streak of at-bats ending in strike-out at seven.

With Dodgers’ needing to be careful with Ryu, Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly lifted Ryu at the start of the seventh in favor of the southpaw Elbert. Elbert was hit hard immediately, allowing a lead-off double off the bat of Yadier Molina. Jon Jay moved Molina to third with a bunt, setting up a lefty-lefty match-up between Wong and Elbert. On the first pitch, Wong crushed an Elbert offering over the Cardinals’ bullpen in right, giving St. Louis a two-run cushion.

Wong came to the plate in the bottom of the eighth with a chance to extend the lead. With the bases-loaded and one-out, Wong hit a hard grounder up the middle against lefty J.P. Howell. Howell, with his body turning away from homeplate and his head looking towards second, dropped his glove down and the ball found its way into it. He fired home and the Dodgers turned the spectacular 1-2-3 double-play.

The Dodgers mounted a one-out rally in the top of the ninth off of Rosenthal when Ramirez and Carl Crawford hit one-out singles. Rosenthal then fell behind Juan Uribe, 2-0. Rosenthal appeared to slip on the wet mound on his 2-0 pitch and Molina and Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny called for the groundscrew to add more dirt to Rosenthal’s landing area. Once play resumed, Rosenthal was much more in control. He got Uribe and A.J. Ellis to fly out to right to end the threat and the game.

What’s Next: Facing elimination, the Dodgers will turn back to ace Clayton Kershaw, who will be pitching on just three days rest after a disappointing Game One start. He will face hard-throwing right-hander Shelby Miller on Tuesday afternoon at Busch Stadium.

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