At the very least, this was a compelling game. After two straight blowouts, the Nationals used a dominant bullpen to stay alive in the National League Division Series, riding a Jayson Werth walkoff bomb (after about as good an at bat as you could ever hope to see) to send this incredible matchup to a pivotal fifth game.
The first compelling game of the series, if we’re being honest. Both offenses took a backseat to two tremendous efforts from each pitching staff, the Nationals group turning in their best effort when it was needed most.
Gone were the free passes that haunted the Nats early in the series, not to mention the gopher balls which punctuated the two previous series losses. Ross Detwiler gamely turned in a strong effort, allowing just six base runners in his six innings of work. The Nationals bullpen, previously battered by the deep Cards lineup, stepped up in a big way: recording eight of their nine outs by strikeout in the late innings.
The Cards got another great outing by soon-to-be rich starter Kyle Lohse, who allowed just two hits and a walk in his start. One of those hits, of course, was a home run to center field by lefty Adam Laroche.
The next hit for the Nats, just their third of the night, was another big fly. This one off the bat of Jayson Werth off a pitch from starter-turned reliever-turned All Star starter-turned long reliever-turned high leverage, late inning reliever (?) Lance Lynn. Deep into the bullpen in left-field after an incredible thirteen-pitch battle. Ballgame. Werth fought hard for his pitch, fouling off some serious heat from Lynn before seeing on to his liking.
When the new Wildcard format was first announced, one of the most common complaints was the chance a strong division winner could fall to an “inferior” opponent. As much as the new format incentivized division crowns, the short series format allows the niggling doubts of random chance to level the table.
The Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals were separated by 10 wins at the conclusion of the regular season. Situational struggles and a new manager learning on the job might have held the defending World Series champions back in some way but, after this series win, very few can doubt their qualities as a team.
The gulf in won/loss records is certainly not reflected on the field. The Cardinals showed their depth over the last two games of this series. The Nationals showed the key traits that made them such an overwhelming success: great starting pitching and a rocksolid back of the bullpen.
So another Game Five. A rematch of Game One with Gio Gonzalez and Adam Wainwright on the mound again. Will Wainwright be as good? Will Gio be as (effectively) bad? Somebody has to win this series – too bad one very good team is done for the year after tomorrow night. But so it goes.