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.

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Disappointingly superficial analysis here. You expected Strasburg to pitch both games 2 and 3, maybe? Which one of Jackson and Zimmermann would not have pitched if he'd been available? I am quite confident the answer is "neither." They got lit up on their own performances, not because the other guy wasn't on the active roster cheering them on.

I agree, Johnson's tactical moves were poor, but I'm not so sure about Matheny's. Trevor Rosenthal has been a bullpen beast for St. Louis lately, and if he'd been called on to pitch two complete innings, rather than the 1.1 he did, his availability for the next two games would have been more in doubt, in games that are likely to be closer than this one. The Cardinals had enough of a lead when Carpenter stayed in for an at-bat that Matheny had the rare (in the post season) luxury of thinking long term. I'd have made the same move. The Jay bunt is harder to justify, but I can't totally condemn a move that makes it unnecessary for 37-year-old pitcher's legs to sprint hard from second to score on a single. Whether this analysis is sound or not, just thinking in terms of run expectation is a pretty superficial way to look at a post-season managerial decision. Context matters on these things!
How was Strasburg going to make the Nats score more than 7 runs in the 3 games played thus far? Did Strasburg put Hot Stuff in Jordan Zimmermann's jockstrap on Monday, or Edwin Jackson's today, out of a fit of pique? I fail to see how Strasburg has caused the complete collapse of the rest of the Nationals starting rotation and offense...unless it is, indeed, a psychological thing. But if the other 24 Nationals' psyches are that delicate, they weren't going to win anything in October anyway.
Walking Craig was the right call. Down five runs in the seventh, you can't allow any more - you need the DP. Plus Craig has been hitting like crazy.