SPORTS INSIDER WEEKLY: Washington Nationals on brink of playoff breakthrough


Ceci Ferrara
October 11, 2016
Sports Writer
Sports Insider Weekly

For the Washington Nationals, the postseason has never looked so good. They are on the brink of winning the NLDS and advancing to the Championship Series for the first time in Washington franchise history. A victory will send the L.A. Dodgers home and the Nationals on to face the victor of the Chicago Cubs – San Francisco Giants Series (Chicago leads 2-1).

After dropping the first game 4-3 behind a disappointing performance by Max Scherzer, Washington’s offense has been on fire. A rain delay pushed Saturday evening’s match-up to Sunday afternoon, and the extra day gave Washington a chance to regroup. They won 5-2, thanks to an unexpected 3-run home run by Jose Lobaton and clutch hits by Daniel Murphy.

The two teams then traveled out West to play Game 3 on short rest. Despite the time change and quick turnaround, the Nationals came out swinging. After falling behind 1-0 in the first, they answered with four runs in the third, to claim the lead. But a two-run homer by Carlos Ruiz cut the deficit to one and threatened their lead.

The game stayed close through the top of the 9th, when Jayson Werth broke the game open with a solo shot to extend Washington’s lead. A 2-RBI triple by Ryan Zimmerman added insurance, and a Chris Heisey sac fly made the game no contest. The Dodgers went down quietly in the bottom of the inning to give the Nats a 2-1 series lead.

“We’re always in a game. We’re never out of it,” said Werth, whose 450-ft homer was the catalyst for the late game offensive burst. “Even when we’re behind, we can tack on runs when we’re ahead or we can get some runs when we’re behind.”

The Nats will attempt to put the series away on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium. If they succeed it will be the first time since they came to Washington that they will have advanced past the first round. They made early exits in both 2012 and 2014, despite being heavily favored. As the Montreal Expos, the team made it to the NLCS in 1981 but lost to the Dodgers.

For Werth, past disappointments and challenges are part of what makes them so confident.

“This team is battle-tested and playoff-tested,” the outfielder said. “We know what we need to do. I mean, it’s a young team, but it’s not a young team. We’ve got a lot of guys that have played in a lot of games, so there’s not a lot that needs to be said.”

UPDATE: October 13 NLDS Headed Back to Washington for Decisive Game 5

Despite their best efforts, the Washington Nationals failed to put the Dodgers away on Tuesday night, allowing them to even the series and send it back to D.C. for a decisive Game 5.

It was the second blown chance the Nats had to end the Dodgers’ season and advance to the Championship Series. Despite a big day for Daniel Murphy–he drove in four of the team’s five runs–the Nationals were unable to overcome a strong outing by Clayton Kershaw and a hungry L.A. team fighting for their season.

L.A. led 2-1 in the first inning, and extended that to 5-2 after the fifth. They took that lead into the seventh, when the Nats rallied to score three runs and tie things up. In the next inning, Chase Utley hit an RBI single to break the tie and Washington was unable to respond.

The Nats now head back to Washington with their season on the line.

“This is probably the biggest start of my career,” Max Scherzer, who will start for the Nats, said. “Biggest start of my life.”

The last time the team was in this position was 2012, when they lost 9-7 to the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park. But that was their first playoff appearance in Washington, and the team is more seasoned and better prepared this time around. Thursday will be their chance to prove it.


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