The Washington Nationals won 98 games in the regular season and finished with the best record in baseball. They now need two wins in a row to extend their season.
Learning the hard way that the first 162 games mean little once the postseason begins, the Nationals face elimination Thursday afternoon when they host the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of their National League Division Series.
The defending World Series champion Cardinals put an 8-0 whooping on the Nationals Wednesday afternoon to a take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 series. And Washington is now forced to turn to young left-hander Ross Detwiler to keep their season alive.
“We are not out of this by a long shot,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson told reporters after Game 3. “Shoot, I’ve had my back to worse walls than this, but I like my ball club and I think we’ll come out and play a good game.
“We lost another battle, we got a couple more battles we need to win. And it comes from our pitching. Detwiler has certainly got the stuff to pitch a good game. He’s pitched some quality games this year.”
The Cardinals entered the playoffs as the second wild card in the NL and advanced to play Washington by beating the Atlanta Braves in the one-game showdown. Now they are looking to beat baseball’s best team for the second straight season after ousting the heavily favored Phillies in the Division Series last year.
Something about the postseason seems to bring the best out of the Cardinals. After stumbling to just 88 wins in the regular season due to key injuries to Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter and Rafael Furcal, the Redbirds seem to be clicking in all phases at the perfect time yet again.
And they have the guy they want on the mound to try and close it out Thursday: Kyle Lohse. The veteran right-hander went 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA in the regular season and was the Cardinals’ most consistent starter all year.
Lohse was tabbed to start last week’s wild-card game against the Braves and came up big, allowing just two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings to earn the win. Now he hopes to pitch the Cardinals into the NLCS.
“I’ve learned how to handle that adrenaline, all of the other stuff, the ability to block it out,” Lohse said. “Just go out there and do the things that I know how to do; make pitches and not really care about the situation. Just go out there and have fun. You know, I came through the Atlanta game pretty successfully, and plan on being able to do the same thing from here on out.
“I experienced what it’s like to be in a win or go home situation in my last outing and felt I handled that well.”
Lohse has the comfort of knowing a loss wouldn’t end the Cardinals season. Detwiler doesn’t have that option. The 26-year-old St. Louis area native will make his postseason debut against the team he grew up rooting for – in a win or go home scenario.
And he can only hope it goes better than his first meeting with the Cardinals. Making his first career appearance against his hometown team on Sept. 30 in St. Louis, Detwiler allowed seven runs on four hits and five walks in just 2 1/3 innings.
“I try not to remember that one, but I’m just really going out there trying to throw strikes, trying to get ahead in the count,” Detwiler said. “You know, make the hitters hit my pitch instead of having to come after them 2-1, 3-1 like I was the whole time. Limit the walks. I think I had five or six walks and I think that’s what really ended up hurting me.
“Really, if you’re going to get hurt, get hurt with nobody on base. I go back to walking all those guys and then giving up a double or triple, and it gets that easy when there’s people on base and there’s a lot more pressure on the pitcher. When there’s nobody on base, there’s less pressure and you’re able to put the pressure back on the hitter.”
The first postseason game in Washington since 1933 didn’t go very well for the home team Wednesday. They can only hope it goes better on Thursday. Their season depends on it.