Nationals stadium was packed to the rim last night for the first game of the National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs with a sold out crowd of 43,898 fans. Expectations for the DC team were high as Stephen Strasburg opened up the series and many consistent hitters filled the lineup, but the team did not rise to those expectations. They were shut out in a 0-3 loss and achieved only two hits in the first 7 innings… that’s right, two hits. Both the offense and defense seemed to be asleep as they failed to execute their usual keen eye for pitches and made multiple defensive mistakes. However that was not the case for all aspects of the team, Strasburg had a very successful night allowing no hits within the first 5 innings and achieving 10 strike outs, a new franchise record. Cubs catcher Willson Contreras described Strasburg’s performance as “a masterpiece.” Unfortunately, despite his efforts Stras couldn’t single-handedly compensate for the Nationals offense.
What is happening right now? I yelled this question at my tv screen a few times during the game. My first conclusion was that the DC curse was too strong to be broken by a beefed up bullpen and impressive batting averages, but no. Stephen Strasburg allowed no hits in the first 5 innings, which seemingly very unlikely against defending world series champions, just as unlikely for the Nats to have only two hits in seven innings. So, look at the pitcher. The DC lineup is usually able to hold their own against some of the best pitchers in the league, but Kyle Hendricks (last nights Cubs pitcher) goes about things completely different than most. The pitcher from Dartmouth has a methodical and strategic approach with an 88 mph fast ball and a killer change up.
Javier Baez commented on Hendricks approach:
”That’s why we call him Professor,” Chicago second baseman Javier Baez said about Hendricks. ”He knows what he’s doing.”
Part of Hendricks method is that he is slow, almost drone-like, which affects the game through the fan base. Strasburg stated during a post-game interview, “He has a slow, methodical approach that really affected the fans and quieted them down.” A lull throughout the crowd will affect the morale of even the most confident teams. Hendricks also does his research, a fellow teammate confirmed:
”He knows the scouting report,” said Jon Lester, who starts Game 2 on Saturday for Chicago against fellow lefty Gio Gonzalez. ”He knows where guys’ weaknesses are.”
Hendricks struck out 6 batters and walked 3. No where near the same intensity and power as Strasburg, but when you’re going up against a line-up like the Nationals’, sometimes strategy is more effective than power.
Another factor negatively affecting the Nationals morale was the suspension of assistant hitting coach Jacque Jones only half an hour before the game. The suspension was allegedly due to an incident involving Jones distributing pornographic photos of an unnamed woman without consent. Despite the reasoning, losing a coach that these players spend hours with every day will without-a-doubt have the ability to distract the team a bit.
”That was kind of a downer before the game,” Baker said, ”because he’s a big part of the team.”
Last night should serve as a wake up call for the Nationals offensive lineup to get it together and start swinging to kill. Today’s Cubs pitcher, Jon Lester, has problems with speed and pitching from the stretch. So, let’s hope the Turner and Kendrick can get on base with the intention to steal and give the Nats an advantage.
And to the fans, wake up and bring your energy today! The team needs it.