WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a vacuum, the Nationals situation looks pretty good. They are tied in the World Series with Houston, 2-2, with their ace, Max Scherzer, taking the mound with a chance to pull within a win of their first World Series. This World Series isn’t in a vacuum however, it’s in the reality that the Nationals’ surprising 2-0 series lead they brought back to DC is now squandered and the series is essentially starting over as a 0-0 best of three with the Astros having regained home field advantage.
Had you told a Nationals fan on May 23, when they 19-31, a season high 12 games under-.500, that the aforementioned situation was going to be a reality, they would have gladly taken it. Circumstances change and so do expectations, and when the Nationals went rattled of seven straight postseason wins, including an NLCS sweep of the Cardinals and a 2-0 World Series lead, the current situation is not as palatable.
The good news for the Nationals is that despite losing Games 3 and 4 in Washington by a combined score of 12-2, they are still just two wins away from a World Series title. The Astros may have tied the series and gotten back to their own aces, Cole and Verlander, but this same aces gave up a combined 9 earned runs in their Game 1 and 2 losses. The Nationals were able to get to Gerrit Cole and hand him his first loss since May 22, the day before Washington’s lowest point of the year. They were able to get 5 earned runs off of Cole when he had only given up a total of 30 since that May 22 loss so they should have the confidence that they can do it again. A tall task? Yes, but clearly not impossible and no less probable than it was five days ago.
The pressure is back on the shoulders of a man who relishes big games and always brings the energy, Max Scherzer. He will need to be more efficient Sunday night than his 112 pitches over just 5 innings on Tuesday. Scherzer pitched his heart out from the beginning, knowing that after giving up 2 runs in the 1st, every pitch was crucial to keeping his team alive. Cole was impressed by the 35 year old hurler saying Saturday night “the tenacity shown in the first game was something to be admired for sure.” Scherzer knows that historically he hasn’t faced as well, as most pitchers don’t, when facing an offense for a second time in a series, admitting “it’s just going to be a challenge” but regardless if what number time it is facing the Astros anytime you matchup against an ace like Cole in the playoffs “no matter what, it’s always going to be a battle.”
In their postseason careers, both starters have had expected drop-offs the second time around, but Cole has faired better in such situations than Scherzer, albeit, in fewer opportunities. Cole’s ERA rises from a 0.66 in 13.2 innings to 2.08 in 13 innings in the three times he’s faced a team twice in a series. Scherzer on the other hand has had seven such opportunities if you include relief appearances, and his ERA rises from 2.52 to 5.19, and if you only include starts, its even worse at 3.70 to 6.14.n Not ideal, but fortunately for the Nationals, past performances do not guarantee future results.
So far this World Series, the road team has won every game, if Houston were to continue this trend, the two teams would join only the 1996 Braves & Yankees and the 1906 White Sox & Cubs to achieve such a feat. Game 5 is the naturally the most important game of this World Series, with the team taking a 3-2 series lead historically going on to win the World Series 70% of the time. It is not the end all, be all, however, as the winner of Game 5 only goes on to win Game 6 46% of the time.
A huge key to the Nationals taking Game 5 would be getting Juan Soto’s bat hot again, as he took Cole deep in Game 1 and was responsible for 3 of the 5 RBIs against him. The young slugger celebrated his birthday on Friday and his literally not gotten a hit since turning 21, going 0-7 with 4 strikeouts since reaching the legal drinking age. He was 4-7 with 3 extra base hits in the first two games of the series but the return to home cooking has not worked in his favor. For a guy who hit .311 at home this season with 18 home runs, something has to give, and for his team’s sake, it needs to give early and often in Game 5.
The Nationals mantra since early in the season has been “Go 1-0 today” and if they want to seize back momentum, that’s exactly what they have to Sunday night.
First pitch set for 8:08 pm.