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October 10, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Game Three Recap: Cardinals 8, Nationals 0

by R.J. Anderson

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The talk during and around Game Three was about Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg’s absence went unnoticed, for the most part, in Game One because of the tight score. In Game Two, however, the Cardinals thrashed Jordan Zimmermann. The beat-down resulted in one National player telling Ken Rosenthal, “If we had ‘Stras, we’d be up 2-0.” But the Nationals do not have Strasburg, and now they are down 1-2 because of their active pitchers.

Gio Gonzalez’s Game One start, in which he pitched five innings and allowed one run, has been the high point of the Nationals’ postseason. Gio walked seven in that outing and was lucky to escape without more damage. You already know Zimmermann threw batting practice in Game Two. Edwin Jackson didn’t pitch beautifully in Game Three, allowing four runs over five innings. This is why the Nationals are a loss away from beginning their offseason.

Kevin Goldstein used to say that something only mattered if the players put weight into it. Take closer mentality. Meaningless… except if the pitcher being called upon in the ninth inning thought he didn’t have what it took to close out games. Then closer mentality can have a tangible effect on ballgames. The same can apply to the Strasburg-less Effect. The Nationals’ chances of winning this series did not ride on whether Strasburg would pitch, but if the club’s players believed that they did, then perhaps those negative thoughts have infected their brains and affected their play. Whether this is true or not doesn’t matter; with one more loss the Nationals will give birth to an offseason-long narrative.

 If the Nationals do lose Game Four, expect to see plenty of the same images we saw late in Game Three: Strasburg, in full uniform, on the bench, looking bored and picking at his cleats. Ross Detwiler could save Mike Rizzo grief if he pitches well on Thursday.

  • Mike Matheny and Davey Johnson both made questionable decisions in Game Three. We’ll start with Matheny. In the fifth inning, with Chris Carpenter on second base and nobody out, Matheny used Jon Jay to bunt the pitcher to third. The Cardinals wouldn’t score a run. In the sixth inning, Matheny left Carpenter in to hit for himself with a runner on third and two outs. Carpenter would return to the mound and get two more outs before Matheny went to his bullpen.
  • Johnson, meanwhile, had Christian Garcia intentionally walk Allen Craig to load the bases with one out in a five-run game in the seventh. Garcia walked the following batter before striking out the next two.
  • Would you have believed me if I had told you entering this game that Pete Kozma and Chris Carpenter would combine for more extra-base hits than the Nationals?
  • During the roundtable, someone asked why Jackson went as long as he did. The difference between this game and Game Two, when Matheny removed Jaime Garcia after two innings, is that there are no more off-days. Game Four is on Thursday and Game Five would be on Friday. Burning the bullpen in Game Three just didn’t make a ton of sense from that perspective.
  • Game Four is Thursday afternoon. Kyle Lohse will attempt to end the series for the Cardinals, while Ross Detwiler looks to force a Game Five.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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