The Nats are on the brink, but let’s not blame the absence of Stephen Strasburg

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It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The Nationals had the best record in baseball and the best rotation heading into the postseason. But now, after consecutive awful outings by the pitching staff, the Cards lead the Nats 2-1 in this best of five series. They lost 8-0 today.

Edwin Jackson was shaky out of the chute, and gave up four runs on eight hits. He settled down a bit, but as he made way for the bullpen, the fire began to rage again, and before it was all done the Cards had hung eight on the Nats. Pete Kozma’s three-run homer in the second was the big blow, but the Cardinals ended up needing only one run to secure the win.

The hittability of Nats pitchers led broadcasters Bob Costas and Jim Kaat to note the absence of Stephen Strasburg. And to note that his absence will turn into serious heat on Mike Rizzo and the Nats brass should Washington go on to lose this series.  I think they’re right about that.  And indeed, anyone who has read this blog over the past few months knows that I disagreed with the Nats shutting down Strasburg too. But let me say this: the way the Nats are losing this series shouldn’t bring any more heat on Rizzo for the Strasburg shutdown than he’s otherwise getting.

The Nats won Game 1 with Gio Gonzalez. They lost Games 2 and 3 due to poor outings from Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson. Guess what: barring a sweep, all three of those pitchers would have gotten starts in the NLDS. They needed Jackson and Zimmermann to pitch well even if Strasburg was there. They didn’t. The biggest difference will be seen in Game 4 when Ross Detwiler gets the nod, but his presence has yet to damage Washington’s chances.

Beyond the poor outings from Zimmermann and Jackson, the real culprit here has been the Nationals’ somnambulistic offense.  Washington was shut out today, leaving scads of runners on base — I counted 11. On Monday they were down 7-1 before the bats woke up. Even in the win on Saturday they scored only three. You can’t give up 22 runs in three games and expect good things, but you gotta score some runs yourself too, you know.

So no, I’m not changing my mind about the Stephen Strasburg shutdown. I still think it’s a bad call to willingly deprive yourself of your best pitcher entering a playoff series. And if the difference in this series ends up being one solid pitching performance, I’ll be willing to entertain the notion that Strasburg was as critical as people will soon be saying.  But, as it is right now, let’s not pretend that Stephen Strasburg’s absence is the difference here.  The Nats are in serious trouble, and it is because of a total team failure, not because of some front office decision.

Oh, it also has a lot to do with the fact that the Cardinals — who just so happen to be the defending World Series champions — are a good baseball team who have gotten strong performances from just about everyone. Let us not lose sight of that when everyone rushes to blame the outcome of this series on the absence of Stephen Strasburg.

Cardinals’ bullpen loses combined no-hit bid with two outs in the eighth inning

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Update (10:04 PM EST): Orlando Arcia reached on a fielding error by DeJong. Gallegos bounced back, inducing weak fly outs from Ryan Braun and Trent Grisham. Yasmani Grandal ended the dream, yanking a double down the right field line.

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Cardinals starter Dakota Hudson flirted a no-hitter, but was unable to make it through the seventh inning. The right-hander kept the Brewers hitless through 6 2/3 innings on Monday evening at Busch Stadium, striking out six and walking four on 111 pitches. Hudson’s career-high was 112 pitches, so it was not surprising to see manager Mike Shildt take Hudson out of the game after a two-out walk to Eric Thames. Giovanny Gallegos entered the game and got Ben Gamel to ground out to end the inning.

Hudson, 24, entered the night 11-6 with a 3.82 ERA and a 97/59 K/BB ratio in 127 1/3 innings.

The Cardinals provided Hudson three runs of support. Kolten Wong knocked in a run with a ground out in the fifth inning and Dexter Fowler added an RBI single later in the frame. Paul DeJong crushed a solo homer to left field in the sixth to make it 3-0.

The last Cardinals no-hitter was thrown by Bud Smith on September 3, 2001 against the Padres. The Brewers were last no-hit on June 12, 2007 by Justin Verlander, then with the Tigers. If the Cardinals were to complete the no-hitter, it would be the fourth of the 2019 season and the third combined no-hitter.

We will update this thread as the Cardinals’ bullpen attempts to keep the Brewers hitless through the final two innings.