Thoughts on a tough Game 1 loss

We were all wrong.  At least I was.  I expected Clayton Kershaw to show up and shut down the Nats.  Even though he missed most of the second half due to injury, he returned just to time build up his strength for a playoff run.  In my mind, the question wasn’t whether the Nats could beat Kershaw in Game 1, but whether Max Scherzer could keep pace.

It turns out that Clayton Kershaw never showed up.  He had trouble locating his fastball.  His slider didn’t have the same bite.  The Nats got plenty of baserunners and managed to push across 3 runs in 5 innings.  Almost as importantly, they worked up his pitch count, making the Dodgers go to bullpen before they wanted to.

In a cruel twist of fate, that Max Scherzer never showed up either.  The long ball virus infected Max again in the first inning.  Then again in the third.  After spotting the Dodgers a 4-0 lead, Kershaw and the LA bullpen managed to hold on.

The Kershaw-Scherzer pitching duel never arrived.  Instead, both guys tried to hold on long enough to get the game to their bullpen.  Ironically, it looked like Max had the better stuff on the night, but he made the bigger mistakes, so he gets the loss.  Earlier today, I wrote about how big moments like this are why teams go out and sign an ace like Scherzer.  Today was his moment, and he didn’t seize it.  It’s a bitter pill to swallow.

Speaking of bitter pills to swallow, today was the first day Wilson Ramos’ absence became a problem.  All season, Ramos anchored the Nats lineup, providing a critical RBI source in the middle of the order.  Without him, the Nats batting order is noticeably thinner.  This became evident three different times when Danny Espinosa came to bat with two runners on base, and three times he struck out.  Without Ramos, the back third of the Nats order just didn’t pack as much punch, and the heart of the lineup had their efforts wasted.  The story of the night was poor hitting with runners in scoring position, and Espinosa was the poster boy of that futility.

Tonight was a wasted opportunity.  Kershaw in a short series is a dangerous threat, yet the Nats had a chance to beat him.  Scherzer didn’t do his job.  Neither did Espinosa.  Nobody else came up with a big hit in the late innings to salvage this loss.

The playoffs are cruel.  A season can be ended very quickly.  Someone has to step up and be hero, but so far we don’t have any takers.

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For Game 1, all eyes on Max Scherzer

The playoff are unfair.  Very unfair.  162 games of grinding, fighting–and even dominating if you’re the Cubs–can all be rendered meaningless in 72 hours.  The five game series is cruel.  It’s like deciding a marathon winner with a 40 yard dash.

It’s especially cruel for the Nationals, who get to face the best pitcher on the planet Clayton Kershaw, maybe twice if the series goes five games.  If Kershaw pitches like Kershaw, the Dodgers could already be two thirds of the way to the NLCS.

My next point is obvious, but it needs to be said.  Today is why the Nats signed Max Scherzer.  The regular season awards consistency and longevity.  The postseason awards dominance.  And there are very few pitchers more capable of achieving dominance than Max Scherzer.  Scherzer has moments where he’s frustrating to watch.  He sometimes gives up home runs in bunches and he looks nothing like an ace.  But he also has those moments–like the no-hitter against Pittsburgh in 2015 or the 20 strikeout performance earlier this year–where he looks like the best pitcher on the planet.

Five above-average pitchers will win you 100 games and a division title.  One dominant pitcher will win you a playoff series.  The Dodgers have their guy capable of dominance.  The Nats have theirs too.

The playoffs aren’t fair, but they’re fun.  Scherzer against Kershaw.  Let’s do this.