LOS ANGELES -- The Nationals arrived here for the start of the National League Division Series feeling confident in how they stacked up with the Dodgers. They could go toe to toe with their rotation, match their lineup in depth and boast an MVP Award candidate of their own. They
LOS ANGELES -- The Nationals arrived here for the start of the National League Division Series feeling confident in how they stacked up with the Dodgers. They could go toe to toe with their rotation, match their lineup in depth and boast an MVP Award candidate of their own. They were also still riding high after stealing a win in the NL Wild Card Game.
The margin for error against Los Angeles is small, however, and Washington will have to play a much cleaner game than it did in Thursday’s 6-0 loss in Game 1 to knock off the two-time defending NL champion. Nationals pitchers issued seven walks, collected as many hits as they made errors (two) and saw their middle relievers exposed once their starter left the game, all adding up to a 1-0 series deficit.
“They're good, they're really good,” manager Dave Martinez said. “That's why they have been in the postseason so many years in a row. We didn't play very well today.”
It was the fourth consecutive loss in Game 1 of the NLDS for the Nationals, who have never advanced beyond this round in their brief existence.
In the history of best-of-five postseason series, Game 1 winners have gone on to take the series 72 percent of the time, but these Nationals have made a habit of overcoming adversity, and a 1-0 series deficit with Stephen Strasburg set to take the mound for Game 2 on Friday night in Los Angeles is certainly not insurmountable.
But Thursday’s loss, which snapped a nine-game winning streak, exposed a few flaws on a night when not much went right.
It started in the first inning, an uncharacteristic frame for Patrick Corbin in his first career postseason start. Corbin walked in one run and issued four walks, the first time in his career he yielded four free passes in one frame.
Once those early jitters wore off, however, Corbin started looking like himself. He got Dodgers hitters to chase sliders darting out of the strike zone. He did not walk another batter until the fifth, when he issued a two-out free pass to Cody Bellinger. That walk would also result in a Dodgers run, thanks to a ball that got underneath first baseman Howie Kendrick’s glove and rolled into right field. It was the second of two errors Kendrick, inserted into the lineup because of his bat, made on the night.
“You try to make every play, and tonight it just didn’t work out,” Kendrick said. “It’s going to happen in this game. Unfortunately, it’s the postseason. But I wouldn’t change anything about the way I tried to make that play. It was just one of those times where you just miss it. You just try to suck it up and hopefully make it up on the other end.”
Compounding the errors was the fact that the Nationals’ bats were silent again on Thursday, and the team was shut out for the third time in its postseason history, uncharacteristic for a club that scored the second-most runs in the NL, behind only the Dodgers, in the regular season.
The bats were cold for most of the Nationals' first two postseason games; they had scored just one run in Tuesday night's Wild Card Game before they rallied for three runs in the eighth inning. Martinez said he lost track of how many pitches the Nats chased out of the strike zone. Dodgers starter Walker Buehler was excellent, as were the relievers behind him, limiting the Nationals to a pair of hits, a single from Juan Soto to start the second inning and a double from Trea Turner to start the ninth.
“I feel like right now, we're trying a little too hard,” Turner said. “Just have a little bit more fun and continue what we were doing. I think we put together good at-bats, just trying to do a little too much.
“I think everybody wants to help out. I don't think it's a bad thing. It's not easy to play it like every other game, because it's the postseason. But for me, I think we should have a little bit of fun.”
The Nationals never got much of a chance to strike back after their bullpen took over in the seventh inning and couldn't keep the score at 2-0. The lack of a left-handed reliever aside from closer Sean Doolittle was exposed, as Tanner Rainey and Fernando Rodney combined to give up two runs in the seventh. Hunter Strickland gave up a pair of homers in the eighth to put the game out of reach.
“I think we got a pretty good team,” Rodney said. “We had one day off, and we didn’t score runs. I think tomorrow is going to be a different game.”
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.