It’s do-or-die time for the Washington Nationals as they take on the St. Louis Cardinals tonight in Game Five of the National League Division Series in primetime at Nationals Park.
For a city that’s been starved of playoff baseball for 79 years, this is baseball at its finest – and the biggest game in franchise history since the Nationals arrived in the nation’s capital in 2005.
For the first time in MLB history, all four matchups in the NLDS and ALDS this week have reached Game 5, but for Nationals, the outcome of tonight’s game determines whether or not the team will advance to face San Francisco in a rematch of Washington’s 1933 World Series Championship against the New York Giants.
It only seems fitting that, with the National League Championship Series on the line, the Nats would turn again to none other than their number one starter, Cy Young Award candidate Gio Gonzalez tonight in a Game 1 rematch versus Adam Wainright. The Cardinals managed only one extra-base hit against Gonzalez in Game 1, but the Nats’ ace walked seven, allowed a run to score after a wild pitch and struggled to find the strike zone all night.
“He’s a very talented young man, and he knows what he needs to do to be succesful,” Nats manager Davey Johnson said about the adjustments Gonzalez would have to make to be successful in Game 5.
While the Nationals continue to face a barrage of media criticism for keeping Stephen Strasburg off the playoff roster, last night’s battle against the defending World Champions made clear that, for now, what the Nats are missing more than anything is their power at the plate.
Bryce Harper enters tonight’s game 1-for-18 with a .056 batting average and six strikeouts and power-hitter Michael Morse has not fared much better, accumulating only three hits in 15 at-bats in four games. Johnson reiterated in his pre-game press conference that Morse is healthy, and testified to Harper’s maturity in handling his first postseason appearances. “The tension of a pennant race in September, he played like a veteran. With Bryce, when he doesn’t do something spectacular, it’s hard to believe, but he tried harder. And trying harder is not always better. And that’s part of learning how you handle situations. That’s part of experience.”
If the Nats are to advance to the NLCS, they can’t bank on seeing 13 pitches in every at-bat tonight as Jayson Werth did last night in his game-winning at-bat against Lance Lynn. However, you should expect to see more patience at the plate from the Nationals tonight as they have a better read on Wainwright’s curveball. Postseason pressure is no stranger to Wainwright, so that Nationals will have to find their own comfort zone tonight in order to have their sights set on San Francisco.