By Rob Rains
There is no way to know what would have happened in the rest of the third game of the NL Championship Series on Monday night had Marcell Ozuna caught Anthony Rendon’s fly ball in the third inning.
What is known, however, is had Ozuna made the sliding catch instead of having the ball go into his glove and bounce out, the inning would have been over with the Nationals holding a 1-0 lead over the Cardinals.
Instead, a run scored on the play, which was ruled a double, and before Jack Flaherty could get out of the inning the Nationals scored two more runs on the first of Howie Kendrick’s three doubles, sending them on their way to an 8-1 victory in Washington, D.C.
The loss gave the Nationals a 3-0 lead in the series, meaning the Cardinals will have to do what no team in the National League has ever done if they want to get to the World Series.
The only major league team which has ever rallied from an 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven postseason series was the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 AL Championship Series against the Yankees, before they kept winning and swept the Cardinals in the World Series.
“There is no concession speech being written,” said manager Mike Shildt. “This is a team that absolutely can win four games in a row.”
The Cardinals had eight winning streaks of four or more games during the regular season.
Duplicating the Red Sox feat, however, will require the Cardinals to make a dramatic shift in the way they have played the first three games, with their offense again being shut down by the Nationals on Monday night for the third consecutive game.
According to Stats Inc., the Cardinals are the first NL team in history to score one run or none in the first three games of a postseason series.
“We’ve got to get a lead at some point in this series. Hard to win a game if you can’t get a lead,” Shildt said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to create some offense early in the game and be able to hold it there. It’s the first time our pitching hasn’t been able to contain this offense. I’m confident we’ll be able to do that tomorrow.”
The Cardinals’ only run on Monday night was unearned, scoring on a throwing error by Juan Soto. In the three games, they have scored a total of two runs.
Jose Martinez, the only effective hitter in the first two games of the series at Busch Stadium – as a pinch-hitter – was inserted into the starting lineup and had two of the team’s seven hits.
Ozuna and Paul DeJong also had two hits, but the rest of the lineup was once again dormant. Dexter Fowler remained in the leadoff spot and was 0-of-4, striking out three times. He is now 0-of-11 in the NLCS and just 2-of-33 in the postseason.
Paul Goldschmidt joined the group of struggling hitters, striking out in all four of his at-bats as the Cardinals fanned 16 times, their highest total ever in a postseason game.
The Cardinals top three hitters, Fowler, Kolten Wong and Goldschmidt, are a combined 1-of-33 in the first three games, with Goldschmidt getting the lone hit.
“We can’t and won’t pin it on anybody, but we need to get that production from the top,” Shildt said. “It happens like this, you know. If we could explain it, if we knew exactly what it was, we’d do it. Clearly, it’s not for a lack of effort or comprehension, but we’ve got to figure out a way to get it done.”
Washington starter Stephen Strasburg recorded 12 of the strikeouts in his seven innings of work. The Cardinals have just the one unearned run in 21 2/3 combined innings against starters Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Strasburg.
Here is how Monday night’s game broke down:
At the plate: After the Cardinals did not get their first hit until the eighth inning in game one and the seventh inning in game two, Ozuna doubled leading off the second, but then promptly made a baserunning gaffe and was tagged out … The Cardinals got back-to-back singles with two outs in the fourth from Ozuna and Martinez, but Yadier Molina flied out to end that threat … They scored their ojnly run in the seventh when Martinez led off with a single, followed by singles by Molina and DeJong and Martinez was able to score on Soto’s throwing error on DeJong’s hit … DeJong’s single was the first by the Cardinals in the series with a runner in scoring position … Their seven hits left them 11-of-91 for the three games, a .121 average. Subtract the four hits by Martinez in six at-bats, and the rest of the team is 7-of-85, an .082 average.
On the mound: The four runs allowed by Flaherty in the third were the most runs he allowed in an inning since giving up six runs to Oakland on June 25. It was the fourth time this season he allowed that many runs in an inning. He was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the fifth … Back-to-back doubles by Kendrick and Ryan Zimmerman off John Brebbia produced two more runs in the fifth (one charged to Tyler Webb) before Victor Robles homered leading off the sixth, also off Brebbia … Daniel Ponce de Leon made his first appearance of the postseason and pitched the final two innings, allowing the final Nationals run while striking out four.
Key stat: The Nationals have started three players in the eighth spot in their lineup in the three games – Yan Gomes, Michael A. Taylor and Robles – and the three combined went 6-of-11 with two homers and three RBIs. This came after the Braves’ eighth-place hitter, Dansby Swanson, was 7-of-18 against the Cardinals in the Division Series.
Worth noting: The Cardinals’ left-handed hitters have gone 36 at-bats without a hit in the three games against the Nationals … The 16 strikeouts were one more than the team’s previous postseason record. They fanned 15 times in game four of the 2015 Division Series against the Cubs … Goldschmidt is the second player in franchise history to strike out four times in a postseason game. The only other player to do it was Nick Punto in game 6 of the 2011 NLCS ..
Looking ahead: Dakota Hudson will get the start in game four on Tuesday night to try to keep the Cardinals’ season alive. Patrick Corbin will start for the Nationals.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports