Washington’s 6-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday night in the nation’s capital earned the Nationals another opportunity to fight to keep their season alive in a win-or-go-home Game 5 tonight in LA. Max Scherzer tossed seven strong in Game 4, giving up a run on four hits, before Sean Doolittle (1 1⁄3 scoreless) and Daniel Hudson (2⁄3 IP) finished things off, setting Stephen Strasburg up for a second appearance in the NLDS matchup tonight in Dodger Stadium.
Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez was asked late on Monday how he felt about turning to Strasburg in Game 5 after Scherzer did what he did to give the team a chance to make it past the NLDS for the first time in franchise history (2005-present).
“It’s not going to be hard, that’s for sure,” Martinez told reporters. “But, yeah, he’s, like I said, he’s a big reason why we’re playing Game 5. And I’m glad we give him the ball, and run him out there and see how long he can go for us.”
Strasburg, who tossed three scoreless in relief in the NL Wild Card Game, held the Dodgers to a run on three hits in six innings in Game 2 of the NLDS in Los Angeles, striking out 10 in an 85-pitch effort on the road in Chavez Ravine.
Dodgers’ skipper Dave Roberts is running Walker Buehler out there against the Nationals, in his second start of the series, after he threw six scoreless in LA’s 6-0 win in Game 1, striking out eight of 21 batters, which, Roberts acknowledged, gives fans of both sides, and fans of baseball in general, a marquee pitching matchup.
“Oh, Game 5, win or go home, Buehler, Strasburg, it’s — those guys are premier pitchers in this league,” Roberts said.
“And to get them at our place, we have just seen Strasburg recently ... we’re going to have to make adjustments. And I’m sure he’s going to either do what he’s been doing or make adjustments and we got to kind of -- I like the familiarity, the recent familiarity. There’s going to be 45,000 fans there, but, yeah, as a fan, as a player, you live for moments like this.”
Nats’ catcher Kurt Suzuki said the adjustments on each side are part of the fun, and the challenge of facing one another five times in a short series when asked if facing Buehler again so soon after seeing him provided any advantage.
“I don’t know,” Suzuki said. “It’s that cat and mouse game. You see him once, they make adjustments to us, we make adjustments to them, I think it’s that kind of cat and mouse game, so I think that’s pretty cool.”
Suzuki and the Nationals know what they’re going up against in Buehler though.
“He’s good,” the backstop said. “He’s a good pitcher. He’s tough, man, so we’ve just got to go out there and try to have good at bats and see what happens.”
“This will be the fourth time I faced the them this year,” Buehler told reporters, after putting up a 2.92 ERA (7 R, 4 ER in 12 1⁄3 IP), and a .250/.321/.396 line against, in his starts opposite the Nationals in the regular season, throwing seven scoreless in LA in May before giving up the four earned runs over 5 1⁄3 IP in July in D.C.
“Obviously being in the National League I threw against [those] guys twice and then about five days ago,” he added. “So I think I pitched against the Rockies five or six times last year, there’s always going to be familiarity, there’s only 30 teams in this game. So it is what it is, I don’t really know if there’s any difference. If I look back at my outing I think there’s about 10 or 12 pitches I wish I made better and I think there’s about 10 or 12 things that they wish they would have made better. So I think it’s more about who makes the better adjustment than, ‘Oh, we’ve seen him five days ago.’”
Strasburg said that more than anything else, what matters is how he executes his pitches.
“I mean, for me I think it just comes down to execution,” he explained. “I try and focus on the things I can control and good pitching is supposed to get good hitting out most of the time. They always say a guy that gets a hit three out of ten times is in the Hall of Fame, so I’m trying to get him out those seven other times.”
Buehler, 25, and a 2015 1st Round pick (24th overall), has seen his share of big games early in his second big league campaign, starting in Game 7 of the NLCS last season (6 H, 1 ER, 4 1⁄3 IP) and Game 3 of the 2018 World Series (7.0 scoreless).
“I think in those kind of games,” he said, “I think it also helps to know that you got everyone else behind you, it’s kind of all hands on deck and go as long as you can, as good as you can, and try and get out of it as clean as you can. So we’re excited. I think the thing that’s kind of lost in playoff baseball is that it’s really fun and I think the pressure and things like that, if you spin it in your head the right way it can make it more fun. So that’s our plan.”
Strasburg, who now has a 0.64 ERA in 28 postseason innings pitched in his career, talked in advance of his Game 5 start about pitching in these situations, and why he’s comfortable in big games.
“I don’t know, I mean, I’ve said this before, I think it’s something that you train for,” he said.
“You dream about [this] as a kid, and you want to have those opportunities to just see how your stuff stacks up.
“When you’re in the moment and stuff it’s a great feeling,” the 31-year-old, ‘09 No. 1 overall pick added. “Just going out there and competing against the best.”
Buehler vs Strasburg. Game 5 of the NLDS starts at 8:37 PM EDT in Los Angeles, California.