'Far from over': Nats ready for another must-win

October 29th, 2019

HOUSTON -- Here the Nationals are again, facing an uphill battle to dig themselves out of a hole and save their season. It’s been this way for most of the 2019 season, as these Nats have made it a habit of doing things the hard way.

Now, to accomplish its ultimate goal, Washington must do what no team in MLB history has done before: win the World Series without winning a home game. The Nationals' task, as they prepare for Game 6 on Tuesday night in Houston, trailing the series 3-2, is to capture the next two games at Minute Maid Park and pull off a massive series upset.

“It’s been a crazy year for us,” first baseman said. “So why not have every road team win every game of the World Series. Why not?”

For everyone but those inside the Nationals’ clubhouse, the task seems daunting. But for those who have been through this before if there’s not a comfort in this scenario, there is at least familiarity.

Perhaps it’s only natural to develop such confidence when you were one of only nine teams in MLB history to rebound from falling 12 games under .500 to make the postseason. Or when you’ve been trailing a game with your season down to its final six outs, twice (in the Wild Card Game and in Game 5 of the NLDS). Or when you’ve already overcome a 2-1 series deficit to win a postseason set against the Dodgers, including winning a decisive Game 5 in Los Angeles with back-to-back home runs off , working in relief.

The Nationals have already survived three elimination games this postseason alone, experiences they will carry into Tuesday’s must-win.

"Pretty much everyone eliminated us from the season in May,” catcher said. “So we've been playing every game as an elimination game since then.”

The Nationals’ biggest reason for optimism is, as usual, their starting pitching. They will send to the mound Tuesday, as he continues to make a case as one of the greatest postseason pitchers ever. This month, Nats are 5-0 in games Strasburg makes an appearance (four starts, one relief appearance) and he owns a 1.93 ERA with 40 strikeouts and two walks in 28 innings.

Manager Dave Martinez said he plans to treat Game 6 as if there’s no tomorrow, so his entire staff is certain to be available. That said, the Nationals are hopeful Strasburg can dominate once again.

“He’s been doing it all year, and pretty much the past few years in the playoffs for us,” Zimmerman said. “Whenever we need a big game or a big outing, he steps up and gives us one. We have all the confidence in the world in him.”

If Washington is going to pull this off, however, it also needs to find some offense.

The lineup was held to exactly one run in each of the three games in D.C. Their success with runners in scoring position from the first two games has vanished and they haven’t hit with enough power to make up for it. The way to beat Houston’s Game 6 starter, , has been with the long ball, as he gave up 36 homers this season, third-most in the Majors. If the Nationals survive, it’s because the offense rediscovered its power stroke.

And if they can get past Game 6, then everything is on the table for a decisive Game 7, including the potential return of .

Scherzer, who was scratched from his Game 5 start on Sunday with spasms in his neck and right trapezius muscle, received a cortisone shot on Sunday morning and the Nats were optimistic it would alleviate the pain in his neck so he could start a winner-take-all game if they extend the series. Then, the Nationals could also have , likely to start if Scherzer cannot, and available out of the bullpen.

First, the Nationals need to adopt Martinez’s favorite cliché and focus on going “1-0” on Tuesday. It’s been their mindset ever since the end of May, when the mad dash that carried them through the postseason began. It has also brought them, once again, to the brink.

“You know, we have Stephen Strasburg on the mound, who has been unbelievable for us this year,” Martinez said. “The guys feel good. We were talking last night after the press conference, and they're all upbeat. This is way far from over.”