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The Nats look to exorcise the demons of the 2012 NLDS

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Today, October 12, is the day the Washington Nationals can advance past the NLDS for the first time in their history when they play the Cubs at Nats Park.

Today, October 12, is also the anniversary of their losing Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS to the St. Louis Cardinals at Nats Park. A loss that not only eliminated them but which also made the record books as the Nats blew the biggest lead in an elimination game in postseason history.

Gio Gonzalez started Game 5 in 2012 and was staked to a 6-0 lead after three innings thanks to home runs from Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, and Michael Morse. He’d leave having given up three runs — not spectacular, but not terrible — and the Nationals would carry a two-run lead into the ninth, twice coming within one strike of advancing. It was not to be, however, as Drew Storen melted down, the Cardinals scored four runs, the plastic which had been hung for the champagne celebration in the Nats’ clubhouse was hastily removed and the Cardinals boarded a charter for San Francisco for the NLCS.

Dusty Baker has yet to announce who his starter is today, but Gonzalez may get the call once again. He’ll no doubt say that he’s not thinking of that game in 2012, but how could one not? How can any of the fans at that ballpark who remember that game not, especially if the Nats jump out to an early lead?

But thinking about a thing is not the same thing as worrying about it, and objective-minded Nats fans should worry less now about holding a lead than they have at any time in their franchise’s history. Stephen Strasburg’s gem yesterday not only gave the team new life, but it helped keep the bullpen rested. Ryan Madson threw 27 pitches and Sean Doolittle 12, but each are certainly available tonight. So too is Brandon Kintzler. So too is Tanner Roark if Gonzalez gets the start and vice-versa. The Nats will also have Max Scherzer, who was prepared to throw an inning of relief if necessary yesterday, ready to do the same today. With no regard for going long in this game and the possibility of no tomorrow, Scherzer will be a terrifying presence for Cubs hitters if pressed into action.

If there is anything for the Nats to worry about today it’s the bats. Yesterday’s win was great, but the offense was still basically moribund. As a club, Washington is hitting .130 in this series. Bryce Harper is 2-for-15. Daniel Murphy is 2-for-16. Anthony Rendon is 2-for-14. Ryan Zimmerman is 3-for-16. At least one of those guys has to have a better game tonight or else Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, who tossed seven shutout innings in Game 1, is going to have an easy time of it.

Most Nats fans won’t have an easy time of it, though. No matter how big of a lead the Nats have and no matter how late they hold it. They’ve been here before. Five years ago today, in fact, and they will not be calm until the final out is recorded. They learned the hard way that the game isn’t over until it’s truly over.

Braves clinch postseason spot with 10-1 win over Nationals

Dansby Swanson
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The Braves clinched a postseason berth with Saturday’s 10-1 win over the Nationals. Now, the only question is whether they’ll get there with an NL East division title or via one of two wild card spots currently up for grabs.

Granted, things are looking pretty good on the division title front. After losing their second straight game to the Braves, the Nationals sit 10.5 games back of first place in the NL East, and every other division rival is at least 15 games out. The Braves, meanwhile, carry a magic number of four; should they clinch, it’ll be their 19th franchise title and 14th since they migrated to the East division in 1994.

They certainly looked like postseason contenders on Saturday. Mike Foltynewicz led the charge with six innings of one-run, five-strikeout ball, limiting the Nationals to four hits while rookie right-hander Austin Voth kept the Braves scoreless through 5 2/3 frames. Things started to tip in Atlanta’s favor in the sixth inning: Nick Markakis put the team on the board with an RBI single, and a four-run breakout in the seventh helped cement a sizable lead. Over the last three innings, the Braves found opportunity after opportunity against the Nationals’ bullpen, capitalizing on walks, throwing errors, and productive outs as they climbed toward a double-digit finish.

The win didn’t come without some sacrifice, however. The Braves lost Charlie Culberson to a facial injury after he was struck by a Fernando Rodney fastball in the seventh inning, and they’ll likely be without him for the remainder of the regular season — pending a formal diagnosis, of course. Culberson’s loss isn’t the only one the club is feeling right now, either, as Johan Camargo ended his season with a hairline fracture in his right shin and Freddie Freeman is playing through a minor bout of elbow soreness after making an early exit from Friday’s 5-0 shutout.