Observations from and analysis of the Nats’ NLDS Game 4 win at the Cubs
NLDS Game 4: Nationals win at the Cubs 5-0 to even the series at two on Wednesday (Oct. 11, 2017)
1. Stephen Strasburg was sensational for the second time in four games in this series. Pitching off being ill and off a drama-filled previous 24 hours, he tossed seven scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts versus three hits and two walks on 106 pitches. Strasburg was dominant, striking out the Cubs’ best batter, Kris Bryant, three times. Strasburg had three pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup) working for a second start in this series. His strikeouts of Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in the bottom of the first came on curveballs; Strasburg struck out the side in the bottom of the third on a fastball (Jake Arrieta), a curveball (Jon Jay) and a changeup (Bryant); Strasburg had three more swinging strikeouts in the bottom of the fourth on three changeups and struck out the side swinging in the bottom of the seventh on three changeups. Strasburg became just the third pitcher in National League history with multiple 10-strikeout games in the same postseason series (Bob Gibson in the 1967 and ’68 World Series and Sany Koufax in the 1965 World Series).
2. This game concluded one of the wildest, most-bizarre and avoidable 24 hours in Nats history. Dusty Baker announced on Tuesday evening after Game 4 had been postponed due to rain that Tanner Roark still would start Game 4 as opposed to Stephen Strasburg, even though he would have been pitching on four days’ rest. Dusty said that Strasburg was sick in an odd, disjointed press conference that included the manager either misspeaking or outright lying about when Strasburg had thrown a bullpen session (he said Tuesday; the reality was Monday) and blaming the change in weather, hotel air conditioning and Chicago mold for multiple Nats players being under the weather. What followed was avalanche of both local and national criticism for Strasburg being soft unlike few things you’ll ever see. And then came the news on Wednesday morning that Strasburg was feeling better and would start Game 4. A few thoughts:
3. As was the case in the Nats’ Game 2 win, the offense was asleep until a big eighth inning fueled by the home run. Michael A. Taylor smashed a two-out grand slam off the Cubs’ ace reliever, Wade Davis, to give the Nats a 5-0 lead. The grand slam was the first in Nats/Expos postseason history and increased the Nats’ win probability from 76.7 percent to 98 percent per Fangraphs. No Nat improved more as a batter this season than Taylor. He entered 2017 with a career OPS+ of 72 but posted a 105 OPS+ this season. He has had the best at-bats of any Nat in this series according to TBS’ Ron Darling. Seeing Taylor blast the grand slam (and off Davis) into the netting just beyond the right-field wall was tremendous.
4. Two other interesting aspects of the Nats’ four-run eighth in Game 4:
5. As good as the Nats’ offense was in the four-run eighth, the offense still was mostly really bad for a fourth time in four games in this series. A major bright spot, though, was the Nats working nine walks to go with the team’s mere five hits. Five of the walks came off Jake Arrieta, who threw 90 pitches in lasting for just four innings in his first start since Sept. 26 due to an injured right hamstring. Working two walks was Trea Turner, who also had a double in his first good game in this series off going 0-for-12 with five strikeouts over the first three games.
6. Dusty Baker improved to 4-8 in playoff games facing elimination. Here is how he did from a #strategery standpoint.
7. Dusty Baker, perhaps learning a lesson from the Strasburg Illness debacle, did not announce a starting pitcher for Game 5 after the Game 4 win. The Nats have a number of options. Tanner Roark has yet to pitch in this series. Gio Gonzalez could pitch on four days’ rest. Max Scherzer is available on two days’ rest. I would start Roark given how poor Gio has pitched over his last seven starts (24 earned runs in 37 1/3 innings, good for a 5.79 ERA). But here’s the thing: I would make this a bullpenning game. I wouldn’t have any pitcher face a batter more than once. So I would start with Roark, have him go through the Cubs’ lineup one time and then bring in Scherzer. And then I would do the same with him and then go to the Core Four with the exception perhaps of Ryan Madson, who gave up a walk and a hit-by-pitch in looking out of sorts during a 27-pitch eighth inning in Game 4 (although that did end up being a scoreless eighth). But Sean Doolittle tossed a perfect ninth on just 12 pitches, so he should be fine. This is an all-hands-on-deck use-every-weapon-you-got kind of game. It is the biggest game since the franchise moved to D.C. The smart approach is the bullpening approach.