Both NL Divisional Series were split 1-1 *
The Washington Nationals are right where they want to be, as confident underdogs playing before a friendly home crowd and facing an vaunted opponent that they were able to size up during the regular season. But the way the National League Divisional Series got started, they could have been in a very deep hole right now. In the first inning of Game 1, Patrick Corbin walked four Dodger batters, and was lucky that only one run scored. The Dodgers scored one more in the fifth inning, and an error by first baseman Howie Kendrick was partly responsible for that. To his credit, Corbin only had one earned run over six innings, but he got no run support, while the Nats' bullpen crumpled once again. In the seventh inning, the Dodgers scored two runs on a single by Max Muncy while Fernando Rodney was on the mound, and an inning later they hit two solo home runs off of Hunter Strickland, more or less icing the cake. Final score: L.A. 6, Nationals 0. It was the Nats' first loss after nine consecutive victories, including the Wild Card Game against the Milwaukee Brewers.
The next "evening" (the dead of night here in the east), the Dodgers had Clayton Kershaw on the mound, but the Nats managed to get the bases loaded. Howie Kendrick atoned for the errors of the previous night by hitting an RBI single, but then Ryan Zimmerman popped out on the first pitch he saw and Kurt Suzuki struck out to end the inning. In the second inning, Kershaw hit the first batter (Victor Robles) with a pitch, and soon he scored on an RBI single by Adam Eaton. Anthony Rendon batted in Eaton with a double, and all of a sudden the Nats were ahead 3-0. How many people expected that? The Nats' current ace pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, had a superlative outing on the mound, just three days after pitching three innings of relief against the Brewers. He struck out ten batters over six innings, and in fact had a perfect game going into the fifth inning. The Nats' former closing pitcher Sean Doolittle gave up a solo homer, making it a 3-2 game, but then the Nats retook a two-run lead Ryan Zimmerman hit a leadoff double and later scored on an RBI single by Asdrubal Cabrera. (The latter's base-running goof cut short what could have been an even bigger rally.) In the bottom of the eighth, fans on both sides gasped when Max Scherzer came out of the bullpen to pitch in relief. I often criticize manager Dave Martinez for his pitching decisions, but this move worked out brilliantly. Scherzer struck out the side, keeping the two-run cushion intact. In the bottom of the ninth, Justin Turner led off with a ground-rule double, but Daniel Hudson struck out the next batter and Cody Bellinger popped out. Curiously, Hudson intentionally walked Max Muncy and unintentionally walked Will Smith to load the bases. Nats fans grimaced in extreme anxiety, but Hudson struck out Corey Seager on a 2-2 count to end the game. Whew!
As Game 3 gets underway with the much-improved veteran Anibal Sanchez pitching for the Nats, there is every reason to expect that the Nationals will end up the winners of this divisional series. Max Scherzer is due to pitch tomorrow night, and if it goes to Game 5 on Wednesday, Stephen Strasburg will be ready to go. Here are some of the key figures from the Dodgers-Nationals game I saw on July 28:
In Atlanta, the Cardinals took Game 1 by a score of 7-6, after a strange sequence of events. Last year's NL Rookie of the Year [Ronald Acuña] played as though he were still a rookie, disdaining to run on a long ball that he thought he had homered, and which would have been an easy double. But he [only made it to first and] failed to score that inning, and that one run ended up proving decisive. Much of the blame goes to the Braves' bullpen, which gave up four runs to St. Louis in the top of the ninth. The Braves responded with three runs, but it wasn't quite enough. But in Game 2, their starting pitcher [Mike] Foltynewicz cruised through seven shutout innings, only allowing three hits, and the Braves won it, 3-0, evening the series.
* In St. Louis this evening, the Cardinals had a 1-0 lead going into the ninth inning, whereupon the Braves pounced with a three-run rally, winning the game to take a 2-1 series lead just as I was finishing this blog post. Atlanta's chances of making it to the NLCS just skyrocketed.
Yanks & Astros lead AL Divisional Series 2-0
The matchups on the American League side seem much more imbalanced. In New York, the Yankees trounced the Minnesota Twins 10-4, mainly by switching pitchers at key moments to thwart Twins' rallies. The Yankees only had one more hit than the Twins (8 vs. 7), but they made much better use of them. In the second game the Yankees scored seven runs in the second inning, thanks in part to a grand slam by Didi Gregorious. After that the outcome wasn't really in doubt; final score 8-2. Pitching, pitching, pitching.
In Houston, the Astros easily defeated the Tampa Bay Rays by a score of 6-2 in Game 1, with Justin Verlander giving up only one hit over seven innings. Game 2 was much closer, as Garrett Cole struck out 15 batters over 7 2/3 inngs. In both games, the Rays' only runs scored came in the late innings. Thus, both the Yankees and Astros now lead the respective AL Divisional Series 2-0.
Just in case the website of MLB, ESPN, and all the major networks are down, you can keep up with the Postseason scores page, which is being updated at least once a day.