Cardinals fall into 3-0 hole after failing to hit, pitch, run and field
WASHINGTON — Paul Goldschmidt shook his head and blamed himself. The answers aren't coming easily right now.
After a third consecutive anemic offensive showing led to an 8-1 blowout loss to the Washington Nationals in Game 3 of the NL Championship Series on Monday night, the St. Louis Cardinals are staring down a 3-0 deficit and are one loss from being swept in the best-of-seven playoff.
St. Louis scored one unearned run on seven hits and has a total of two runs on 11 hits through three games. It wasn't supposed to be like this, and the Cardinals are on the brink of elimination going into Game 4 on Tuesday night.
"We haven't scored," said Goldschmidt, who struck out four times in Game 3. "We haven't executed as an offense. I haven't really done anything this series, and the results speak for themselves, especially tonight. Just have to do a better job."
Time is running out to turn things around.
Through the first two games of the series, pitching, defense and baserunning helped keep the Cardinals competitive. When all those elements abandoned them and the hitting never showed up Monday, it added up to a devastating defeat in front of 43,675 fans eager for the first World Series in Washington since 1933.
"It's frustrating to be down 3-0," second baseman Kolten Wong said. "We know how good we are, and we know how good they are. In the season we played them and we've handled them pretty well. To come into this situation and just be where we're at, we expected better, but it's baseball."
A comedy of errors in the field and on the basepaths and a rare off night for 23-year-old ace Jack Flaherty did little to relieve the pressure of a lineup still flummoxed by Nationals pitching.
Manager Mike Shildt opted not to shake up a lineup that had gone cold since a 13-run outburst in the clinching Game 5 of the NL Division Series at Atlanta, changing out only Matt Carpenter for José Martínez. That didn't work: Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg mowed down the Cardinals with 12 strikeouts and zero walks.
"He's one of those guys where when he's on, you've got to really figure out ways to just scratch, claw and get on base," Wong said.
The Cardinals didn't do much of that.
Beyond Goldschmidt's four Ks, leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and Marcell Ozuna struck out twice. When Ozuna doubled leading off the second inning, he stunted the momentum with a baserunning blunder that set the tone for the rest of the night.
With little developing at the plate and the Cardinals' margin for error razor thin, each mistake — like Ozuna missing a catchable ball in left field in the third inning — became more demoralizing.
"It wasn't our cleanest game," Shildt said. "Got called off at second base trying to move a runner — could have gotten the lead at that point, trying to make a play. Not our cleanest game. ... The Ozuna play, but that's not exactly a play you can expect a guy to make when he leaves his feet."
It didn't help that the starting pitching that kept St. Louis close in the first two games wasn't at the same level.
After going 18 consecutive starts without allowing more than three runs, Flaherty surrendered four on four hits in the third inning alone. He then started off the fourth by giving up Kurt Suzuki's first hit of the playoffs and didn't make it to the fifth.
"I felt like I didn't execute to (Howie) Kendrick right there," Flaherty said of the two-run double he gave up in the third. "It just comes down to execution."
By the time Shildt turned to his bullpen — to fittingly terrible results — it was difficult to envision the Cardinals scoring enough runs to even make it interesting. The crushing combination of no hitting and flawed play all over the field put St. Louis on the brink of elimination with 25-year-old Dakota Hudson going to the mound trying to extend this season one more day.
"I'm not going to go out there and try to do anything that's out of my skill set," Hudson said. "I just want to give the best I have and stay within myself to where I have the best chance of success."