TINSMAN: Nats better hope this was a hangover

Brian Tinsman
October 04, 2019 - 1:51 am

Less than 48 hours and 3,000 miles removed from their biggest win in years, the Washington Nationals looked like a shadow of the team that celebrated a Wild Card win.

Ironically, the script started off in much the same way: Nats ace limits damage but falls behind and the bats are nowhere to be found. Load the bases and hope for the big hit.

But the big hit never came. In his post-game remarks, manager Dave Martinez cited "way over 20" times that the Nats chased bad pitches out of the strike zone. 

Nationals hitters had their best chance in the fourth inning, getting Dodgers starter Walker Buehler on the ropes after he walked the bases full. The Dodgers took a calculated risk in keeping Buehler in the game, who got Asdrubal Cabrera to ground out to the mound and end the inning.

The Nats never threatened again and finished with just two hits on offense, tying the lowest of any Dodgers postseason opponent in franchise history.

Then the bullpen collapsed.

Starter Patrick Corbin handed an 0-2 deficit to Tanner Rainey and Fernando Rodney, who doubled down, 0-4 in the seventh inning. In the eighth inning, Hunter Strickland ran it to 0-6 with two solo home runs. The cavernous ballpark barely contained several other fly balls.

In the end, Nats pitchers issued seven free passes, and Howie Kendrick had two errors in the field, giving the Dodgers plenty of free opportunities.

"We walked a lot of guys," Martinez said. "When you have those two combinations where you walk a lot of guys and are not hitting, it's tough to win ballgames."

Put another way, as Dennis Green famously said: "They are who we thought they were." Even adding three bullpen arms at the trade deadline, this team's biggest weakness is the bullpen.

Just look back at the Wild Card game when Martinez brought Stephen Strasburg in to relieve Max Scherzer. Strasburg had never pitched professionally in relief but was still a better bet to put up zeroes than the bullpen.

In a five-game series, this bullpen will be a source of heartburn every single night vs. a potent Dodgers offense. But there's no reason to count this team out, yet.

There's no way the Nats were supposed to make the playoffs, but they did. They had never won a playoff series-clinching game, but they did. They have never advanced to the NLCS, but they still could, even after starting 0-1.

The Nats need to hope Game 1 was a champagne hangover and not a sign of things to come, or this "Red October" will be over in a hurry.

Related: Nationals open NLDS with a thud

Brian Tinsman has covered D.C. sports since 2011, both from the team marketing and skeptical fan perspectives. Tweet your criticisms @Brian_Tinsman.