On the heels of a five-game winning streak, the Nationals were three outs away from reaching the .500 mark for the first time since July 19 when Rafael Soriano took the hill with a 3-1 lead in the ninth inning this afternoon against the Giants. After allowing a lead-off single to Buster Posey, Soriano got two quick outs, striking out Hunter Pence and getting Pablo Sandoval to fly out. Soriano prolonged the inning by walking Roger Kieschnick, bringing up Hector Sanchez with the tying run on first base.
Sanchez entered the pinch-hit at-bat with no home runs and a .501 OPS in 51 plate appearances so far this year. Soriano threw him nothing but fastballs. After falling behind 0-2, Sanchez admirably took a couple close pitches and worked the count back up to 3-2. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Sanchez took Soriano’s offering deep down the right field line for the go-ahead three-run home run. Prior to the at-bat, the Nationals were 93 percent favorites. After the at-bat, they were 18 percent underdogs, something best illustrated, as FanGraphs as has done.
The Nationals fall back to 59-61, 14.5 games behind the Braves in first place in the NL East. The Giants improve to 53-67, but they are 17 games behind the Dodgers in last place in the NL West.
The Cubs had a nice night last night. Javier Baez finally broke his hitless streak with not one but two homers. Willson Contreras hit a nearly 500-foot homer. Jake Arrieta, possibly pitching for the last time as a Cub, dug down for a gutsy performance, pitching into the seventh inning, working around some walks to allow only one run while striking out nine.
After the game, Cubs players sounded hopeful notes about believing in themselves, taking them one game at a time, getting the series back to L.A. for a Game 6 and Game 7. They’re professional athletes who know better than any of us that to achieve a thing you have to believe you can achieve that thing, so it’d be dumb to expect anything else from them in this situation. Ballplayers, quite admirably, don’t sound a note of defeat until they are actually defeated.
But let’s be realistic there: they’re still a dead team walking.
- They’re dead because, as we have been reminded oh so many times, only once in 35 tries has a team come back to win a seven game series in which they’ve found themselves down 0-3. That team did so because Dave Roberts worked some magic. Dave Roberts is working for the other team now.
- They’re dead because their biggest weakness this postseason — their bullpen — is not going to have its best pitcher, Wade Davis, available today in Game 5 after throwing 48 pitches in Game 4.
- They’re dead because while the Dodgers used five relievers last night, none of them were worked particularly hard and neither Brandon Morrow nor Kenley Jansen were used at all, allowing them to come in and work hard and heavy tonight if need be.
- They’re dead because the man on the mound to start tonight’s game is Clayton Edward Kershaw. Yes, he has had some less-than-glory-filled moments in the postseason in recent years, but all of those have come at the tail end of starts, when his managers have left him in perhaps an inning too long. See the above bullet point — and Dave Roberts’ early hook in Game 1 — if you think that’ll be a problem tonight.
The Dodgers lost last night, yes, but it was their first loss in the postseason. All teams have lost at least one postseason game since it went to the three-round format, so it was likely inevitable that L.A. would drop one. Heck, maybe they’ll drop two before the NLCS is over, but they’re not going to drop the next three in a row.
Last night’s Cubs win was nice for them, but it only delayed the inevitable.