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Nationals shut out Cubs 5-0 to force Game 5 of the NLDS

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After all of the uncertainty and drama leading into Wednesday’s rescheduled NLDS Game 4 between the Nationals and Cubs, Stephen Strasburg arguably made the best start of his life. In doing so, he kept the Nationals’ playoff hopes alive and forced a decisive Game 5.

In case you missed yesterday’s whirlwind, Nationals manager Dusty Baker said he was sticking with Tanner Roark to start Game 4 instead of starting Strasburg, which drew a lot of criticism. Baker said Strasburg was under the weather, blaming that on mold in Chicago. Baker changed his mind late Wednesday morning and announced Strasburg as his Game 4 starter. Good thing he did.

Strasburg braved the heavy wind and misty rain, dominating the Cubs across seven shutout innings. He gave up just three hits and a pair of walks while striking out 12 on 106 pitches. The Cubs managed to get a runner to second base only twice.

The Nationals took advantage of a defensive miscue by shortstop Addison Russell in the third inning to score their only run. Trea Turner doubled with one out, Bryce Harper later drew a two-out walk and stole second. Ryan Zimmerman hit a grounder to Russell, who charged in but the ball skipped off of the heel of his glove, allowing Turner to cross home plate.

Cubs starter Jake Arrieta was not at all sharp, though he gave up just one unearned run and two hits with four strikeouts, but he also walked five. Jon Lester came in and admirably pitched 3 2/3 shutout innings of relief to keep the Cubs within arm’s reach of the Nationals. In the top of the eighth, Lester walked Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman, knowing Lester’s past difficulty throwing to first base, took a big lead. Lester threw over, a one-hopper to Anthony Rizzo. Lester threw over again, this time hitting Rizzo’s glove on the fly. Rizzo swiped a tag on Zimmerman’s foot but the umpire initially ruled him safe. Cubs manager Joe Maddon challenged the call and it was overturned, giving Lester — are you ready for this? — a pickoff in the playoffs.

After that feel-good moment for the Cubs, it got worse. Daniel Murphy singled off of Lester, so Maddon brought Carl Edwards, Jr. into the game. Edwards walked Anthony Rendon, then got a visit from pitching coach Chris Bosio. It didn’t work. He walked Matt Wieters and gave way to closer Wade Davis. After working the count 1-1, Michael Taylor drove a 95 MPH fastball to right field for a grand slam, pushing the Nationals lead to 5-0. Davis gave up a single and a walk before being replaced. Brian Duensing finally ended the inning, inducing a 3-1 ground out from Howie Kendrick.

Ryan Madson took over for Strasburg in the bottom of the eighth. He got Javier Baez to fly out, then couldn’t find his control, perhaps due to the rain. He walked Ian Happ, then hit Jon Jay. Madson recovered, fanning Kris Bryant — giving him a golden sombrero — and getting Rizzo to ground out.

Sean Doolittle got the call in the ninth to protect a five-run lead. Willson Contreras flied out to left, Zobrist flied out to right, and Russell struck out for a 1-2-3 ninth inning. The NLDS is all tied up at two games apiece.

The two teams will head to D.C. for the completion of the series with Game 5 on Thursday, starting at 8 PM ET. The winner moves on to play the Dodgers in the NLCS.

Mad Dog Licks Boots

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Earlier this week Tyler Kepner of the New York Times reported that the MLBPA and the league are heading back to the table more than two years before the expiration of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which expires following the 2021 season.

This had been hinted at for some time, as the union has shown clear displeasure at the current state of business, particularly with the free agent market. The league, one might assume, is happy with the current state of affairs, but it also has an interest in heading off potential strife or even the hint of a labor stoppage in the future. Moreover, there are priorities which have emerged on MLB’s part since the last CBA was signed that they’d love to advance — pace of play, etc. — so they have some incentive to talk as well. So, while it’s totally newsworthy that the sides are talking, it’s also quite understandable and not particularly controversial.

It’s also quite understandable that, given that this is a negotiation between parties in an adversarial position, there will be public comments from the principles which involve advocacy or even posturing on occasion. That’s part of the deal of any negotiation that holds public interest. So, when Tony Clark, for example, says something like “the system doesn’t work,” and “either we’re going to have a conversation now, or we’re going to have a louder conversation later,” which is what he told Kepner, it’s not really a controversial thing. Indeed, it’s expected.

Chris “Mad Dog” Russo thinks it’s pretty controversial, however. The MLB Network host and talk radio legend took to the airwaves yesterday blasting Clark for not being more deferential to Rob Manfred who “was nice enough to extend him an olive branch.”  Russo likewise asked, rhetorically, what “Rob” must’ve thought when reading Clark’s quotes “over his cup of coffee, and bran muffin, on Madison Avenue, after his workout and all those things . . . his morning coffee, milk and two sugars by the way — Sweet and Low.”

He’s the Mad Dog, but he certainly licks boots here:

 

It’s amusing enough that Russo believes that Clark, Manfred’s counterpart and adversary, is supposed to be deferential and thankful for the mighty Manfred. It’s even more amusing, however, that he takes the tack of arguing that MLB has no real interest in negotiating now and is somehow merely throwing the union a bone or offering an olive branch. In saying this Russo, whether he realizes it or not, is accusing Manfred of bad faith, optics-only talks with the union. I don’t feel like Manfred thinks he’s doing that. And I don’t think Clark would be talking to him if he felt he was being patronized to either. Indeed, the dance of the last several months around all of this was, in part, to ensure that that was not the case.

I don’t know what Manfred thought about Clark’s comments on Tuesday, but I do wonder how he feels about being accused by an MLB Network employee of playing games like this. It might be enough for him to spit out his bran muffin and coffee. Cream and two sugars and all.