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NLDS: Dodgers vs. Nationals

Baker's future Nats' biggest offseason question

Washington not losing many players to free agency
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- As the Nationals begin this offseason -- which came much sooner than they expected -- the biggest question looming will be the status of manager Dusty Baker.

Washington will not stand to lose much to the free-agent market, with nearly all the crucial members of the team under contract for next season. The exception is Baker, who just reached the end of his initial two-year contract. Baker has said he wants to continue managing. Nats general manager Mike Rizzo said before the start of the postseason that he expected Baker to return next season and that they would work on a deal once the season was over.

WASHINGTON -- As the Nationals begin this offseason -- which came much sooner than they expected -- the biggest question looming will be the status of manager Dusty Baker.

Washington will not stand to lose much to the free-agent market, with nearly all the crucial members of the team under contract for next season. The exception is Baker, who just reached the end of his initial two-year contract. Baker has said he wants to continue managing. Nats general manager Mike Rizzo said before the start of the postseason that he expected Baker to return next season and that they would work on a deal once the season was over.

So even following the Nationals' heartbreaking 9-8 loss to the Cubs in Game 5 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile, it seems to be not a question of if Baker will return, but a matter of working out the details for him to continue as the Nats' manager.

:: NLDS schedule and coverage ::

No one can argue with the results from Baker's first two regular seasons in Washington. He won 95 regular-season games in 2016 and 97 in '17, resulting in back-to-back NL East titles. He has twice brought the Nationals to a decisive Game 5 of the NLDS, both of which were played at Nationals Park, where they lost each time.

These Nats should be in position to make another postseason run next season. Outside of their manager, their biggest losses in free agency will be franchise stalwart Jayson Werth and some of their newest acquisitions, such as Howie Kendrick, Brandon Kintzler and Adam Lind. The Nationals have outfield depth in the organization to replace Werth, especially with the emergence of Michael A. Taylor this season to go along with Adam Eaton and Bryce Harper. Brian Goodwin made strides in his rookie season, and top prospect Victor Robles could be ready to take the next step.

Werth in disbelief after possible Nats farewell

The Nationals will still have Harper and Daniel Murphy under contract for one more season, with Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon and a resurgent Ryan Zimmerman to join them. Their top four starting pitchers will all return after Max Scherzer had another Cy Young Award-worthy season and Stephen Strasburg finally ended the season healthy. Two midseason bullpen acquisitions, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, both return.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Baker on sloppy play in Game 5 loss

"We have a good core of guys here on the current club, a good core of guys in the farm system to supplement us," Rizzo told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand. "We feel good about the future."

Feinsand: Nats left waiting for next year

The biggest question remaining for these Nationals is the uncertain future of their manager, who still has the support of the clubhouse.

"I think Dusty's great," Zimmerman said. "The whole coaching staff. Those guys worked their butt off to get us ready. They do such a good job of making sure they relate to us. That's a great group of guys in there. They're just as much deserving of the success we've had as we are. They probably work harder than us, to be honest with you. So it's a pleasure to be part of that staff. I think everyone in this room would love to have them back."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Washington Nationals

Turning point: Montgomery holds Zimmerman

Nats first baseman had lead of just 8 feet, below MLB average of 14.8
MLB.com

There was a play in the midst of the wackiness of Game 5 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile that's almost certainly going to be lost to history. After all, it came in the midst of aces struggling in relief, a dropped third strike that led to a run after an errant throw, and however it was that you'd describe the entire fifth inning. What will be lost in the Cubs' dramatic victory to advance to the NL Championship Series presented by Camping World will be Daniel Murphy's sixth-inning double, because from the outside, it looked straightforward.

Murphy doubled to left, advancing Ryan Zimmerman from first to third while scoring Bryce Harper to close the Cubs' lead to 8-6 with two outs in the inning. Simple, right? Murphy doubled 43 times this year, seventh most in baseball. He does this a lot, and he looked pretty happy about this one.

There was a play in the midst of the wackiness of Game 5 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile that's almost certainly going to be lost to history. After all, it came in the midst of aces struggling in relief, a dropped third strike that led to a run after an errant throw, and however it was that you'd describe the entire fifth inning. What will be lost in the Cubs' dramatic victory to advance to the NL Championship Series presented by Camping World will be Daniel Murphy's sixth-inning double, because from the outside, it looked straightforward.

Murphy doubled to left, advancing Ryan Zimmerman from first to third while scoring Bryce Harper to close the Cubs' lead to 8-6 with two outs in the inning. Simple, right? Murphy doubled 43 times this year, seventh most in baseball. He does this a lot, and he looked pretty happy about this one.

But there was something about this one that stood out. Why didn't Zimmerman try to score, too? And might he have been safe if he had? Zimmerman scored from first on a double six times this year, and it's not an unimportant question. Since Anthony Rendon was walked and Matt Wieters flied out, Zimmerman never did make it home. The Nats would lose, 9-8. One run was everything.

:: NLDS schedule and coverage ::

Let's start from the start, with Cubs lefty Mike Montgomery. Entering as the fourth Chicago pitcher of the night, Montgomery threw 14 pitches to five batters. He allowed two doubles and two walks (one intentional), plus threw a wild pitch that allowed Jayson Werth to score. Objectively, Montgomery did not have a strong game.

But Montgomery did do one thing very well -- the kind of thing that's not reflected in the box score. He kept Zimmerman from getting any sort of lead at first. The Major League average lead distance at first base when the pitch is released is 14.8 feet; against lefties, it's a slightly smaller 14.2 ft. Still, it's just over 14 feet no matter who's on the mound, yet Zimmerman was standing just eight feet off the base when the ball left Montgomery's hand. Six feet may not sound like much, but it's going to be a big deal.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Zimmerman discusses early playoff exit

Murphy's blast to left cleared left fielder Ben Zobrist's head easily, but here the Cubs caught a break -- the ball hit the wall on a short hop and bounced back immediately to Zobrist. It took just 1.3 seconds after the ball hitting the ground for it to be in his glove; it took just a half-second after that for the throw to leave his hand, on its way to traveling 184 feet to the cutoff man. Zimmerman stayed at third, never advancing.

While Zimmerman isn't known for his speed, he's not exactly slow, either. Using Sprint Speed, which we define as a runner's feet per second in his fastest one-second window, we know that the average Major Leaguer's top speed is 27 feet per second, and that's exactly what Zimmerman's average is, too. He's as fast as Ian Kinsler or Joc Pederson, and on this play, he got a little extra, getting up to 27.8 feet per second at his fastest point.

It's that last part that's important, too. Where was Zimmerman's fastest window? Well, we can show you -- it was as he was approaching third. He made it from first to second in 4.19 seconds, despite having that eight-foot lead, but he made it from second to third in 4.04 seconds, even though it was a longer distance than the 82 feet he needed to go from first to second. Zimmerman was already at full speed.

So would a full-speed Zimmerman have been safe? We can estimate, based on what we know about how he runs. In May, Zimmerman scored from first on a Murphy double, with a nearly identical Sprint Speed of 28 feet per second, and a similar lead distance of 10.2 feet. Hitting full speed as he neared third, he got home in 3.45 seconds. We'll use that as an example.

In this case, Zimmerman reached third base almost at the same moment as shortstop Addison Russell received the cutoff throw, 169 feet from home plate. Let's compare this to a play from last year, when Russell received a cutoff throw from left fielder Chris Coghlan, who had tracked down a Stephen Piscotty double.

It's a great comparison, because in addition to it being the same shortstop, we have a situation that's more favorable to the runner. Russell was slightly farther into the field, 186 feet away from home rather than 169 feet. Runner Matt Carpenter was slightly slower than Zimmerman, with a Sprint Speed of 26.5 feet per second, and requiring 3.66 seconds to get from third to home; we're assuming Zimmerman is capable again of the 3.45 he showed in May. And not only that, but Carpenter also had a relatively unimpressive lead, just 9.5 feet.

When Russell received the ball, Carpenter had rounded third and was just 75 feet from home. But it took Russell just 2.4 seconds to deliver the throw, so Carpenter was out, easily. Given that on Thursday, Russell was closer, and that he can get the ball home from that distance in well under three seconds, it's pretty fair to say that Zimmerman would have been out at home with an on-target throw.

Video: STL@CHC: Coghlan, Russell throw out Carpenter

But remember, it didn't have to be that way. Zimmerman slowed as he approached third, knowing he wasn't going home. And due to the short lead, he was six feet behind an average runner to begin with. So this is less third-base coach Bob Henley making a too-conservative choice, and more about the short lead that Montgomery limited Zimmerman to in the first place, plus a nice play on Zobrist's part in getting the ball in. Looking back to the Carpenter play, if a faster runner had been closer to home while Russell was farther away from home, this might have been worth sending the runner.

If this all sounds familiar -- a controversial Washington baserunning decision at third base on a double to left field on a play involving Zimmerman in the sixth inning of a deciding NLDS Game 5 that the Nationals would lose by one run at home -- well, it ought to. Last season, a Zimmerman double led to Jayson Werth being thrown out by a mile in what would become a 4-3 loss to the Dodgers. Since shortstop Corey Seager was 34 feet closer than Russell, and Werth is slower than Zimmerman, with a 26.1 feet per second Sprint Speed on the play, it seemed like a clear mistake at the time, and it's easy to imagine the memory was fresh for Henley this time around. 

Video: LAD@WSH Gm5: Dodgers catch Werth at the plate in 6th

Of Murphy's 43 doubles this year, 16 came with a man on first base, and only seven of them didn't try to score. Obviously, there's a lot that goes into that decision, from speed to game situation to outfielder arm, but there's also this: At the time the ball was released, the average lead distance of the runners who tried to score was 15.3 feet. The average distance of the runners who did not try to score was just 12.9 feet, and at no point did a runner have a lead as short as Zimmerman's eight feet. Leads matter.

If Zimmerman had gone and been thrown out, then for the second year in a row, the third-base coach would have been roasted. But the choice on this play was made long before the runner got to third. It was made when Montgomery held him to a short lead in the first place. After all, the best way to get from one place to another quickly is to lessen the distance between those places. It was a very small thing, but it just may have helped the Cubs escape a wild night.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Washington Nationals, Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman

Nats tip caps to Cubs after falling in NLDS

Washington can't muster another comeback vs. reigning WS champs
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- All they could do was watch from the dugout as the sea of blue jerseys rushed their home turf in celebration. It was a feeling all too familiar for a Nationals team that has been unable to escape the ghost of playoffs past.

In one of the most erratic, roller-coaster rides of a game many of the Nationals said they had ever experienced, Washington fell to the Chicago Cubs, 9-8, on Thursday night in the deciding Game 5 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile. The game lasted four hours and 37 minutes, making it the longest nine-inning postseason game on record.

Full Game Coverage

WASHINGTON -- All they could do was watch from the dugout as the sea of blue jerseys rushed their home turf in celebration. It was a feeling all too familiar for a Nationals team that has been unable to escape the ghost of playoffs past.

In one of the most erratic, roller-coaster rides of a game many of the Nationals said they had ever experienced, Washington fell to the Chicago Cubs, 9-8, on Thursday night in the deciding Game 5 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile. The game lasted four hours and 37 minutes, making it the longest nine-inning postseason game on record.

Full Game Coverage

:: NLDS schedule and coverage ::

Four times in the last six years, Washington has been dealt a first-round exit from the postseason. In three of those opportunities, the club was just one win away from reaching the NL Championship Series presented by Camping World.

It was never going to be an easy task for the Nationals to supplant the defending World Series champions, even with home-field advantage.

"The Cubs are a great team. They're world champs," said Bryce Harper, who went 2-for-4, but struck out to end the series. "They know how to win and go about their business the right way. They've got a great [coaching] staff over there and a great team. We do as well, but they just came out on top this time."

Washington players said all week -- despite trailing 1-0 and 2-1 in the series -- they put prior postseason woes behind them. And perhaps, mentally, they did. This was a new year, a revamped group. They were focused on beating Chicago, not what happened in 2016, 2014 or 2012. 

Ultimately, it was not enough to knock off the reigning champs and get over the hump that has seemingly haunted the franchise since it moved to Washington in 2005.

The Cubs rapidly nixed the upper hand the Nationals began the series with, stealing a victory at Nationals Park in Game 1. Each time Washington fought back throughout the five-game set, Chicago answered, until the well of comeback attempts ran dry.

The Nats had one final chance, trailing by a run in the ninth inning Thursday night with the top of their order coming up to bat against Cubs closer Wade Davis. Trea Turner flied out before Jayson Werth, playing in possibly his final game as a National, struck out.

Harper stepped to the plate, the sellout crowd desperate for one last act of heroism from its star player. The All-Star slugger worked Davis to a full count, but swung through a low-and-inside cutter to end the game.

Joe Maddon's bullpen lacked options late in the game, and so he relied on his best pitcher to record the final seven outs to finish the game. Davis' seven-out save is something only the five players in history have managed to do, last accomplished by the Giants' Madison Bumgarner in 2014.

"That's how you'd draw it up if you could, top of the order, you know, if one of those guys gets on," Turner said. "Wade, he did a heck of a job. He had to do something he'd never done before."

Davis' performance highlighted a gusty effort all-around from Chicago. After falling behind 4-1, the Cubs put up two runs in the third inning and added four more in the fifth to take a commanding lead it would not relinquish.

Maddon got impressive performances throughout the series from superstars Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, among others, but the resiliency of his bullpen -- namely that of Davis, who served up a grand slam to Michael A. Taylor in Game 4, and rebounded in a big way Thursday -- is what pushed Chicago into the next round.

"I thought our guys did a great job battling. They put together some really good at-bats against [Davis] all throughout the series," said Sean Doolittle, who fired two scoreless innings over the course of the week. "He's one of the best relievers in all of baseball, but our guys did not back down. We put the pressure on him and we were hoping that because he made so many great pitches, sooner or later he would run out of gas. It was kind of a bullpen war of attrition for a little while and I thought we were going to be able to get him, but he outlasted us."

Oliver Macklin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @basebollie.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Washington Nationals

Cubs savor moment after hard-fought series

'You live for this right here,' Bryant says of post-victory party
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- Jon Lester doesn't remember who first provided the mindset, but he practices it after each series victory.

Gear up for the National League Championship Series

Full Game Coverage

WASHINGTON -- Jon Lester doesn't remember who first provided the mindset, but he practices it after each series victory.

Gear up for the National League Championship Series

Full Game Coverage

A three-time World Series champion, Lester has found himself at the center of many celebrations like the one the Cubs enjoyed after their 9-8 victory Thursday against the Nationals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile. At 33, he knows the cruelty of the game he plays. He knows his total of 20 postseason starts is not ever-expanding. He knows the joyous moments could end at any time.

NLCS Game 1: Tonight, 8 p.m. ET/7 CT on TBS

So as the music blared, the cheers loudened, and the smells of smoke and champagne filled the visitors' clubhouse at Nationals Park, Lester, as he always does, savored it. He was among the biggest celebrators in the small, square room, further restricted by the plastic sheeting covering the lockers as players doused one another.

:: NLDS schedule and coverage ::

"These moments are always great," Lester said. "I've been a firm believer in that since Day 1. Somebody told me that early on in my career where you don't take these moments for granted. It may be your last.

"This game is very fickle, to the fact that you never know when your last one may come, so I always try to enjoy them as best you can."

The party was not diluted despite the Cubs needing two more series victories to repeat as World Series champions. For them, there has been plenty to celebrate of late.

Chicago advanced to its third straight NL Championship Series, presented by Camping World, with its wild victory over Washington. The celebration afterward was arguably just as raucous.

Corks, caps and ice cubes speckled the blue carpet. Champagne dripped from the beards of outfielders Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward. Others smoked cigars.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, wearing shorts, sandals and a postseason T-shirt, jumped into the arms of anyone near him. The imprint of the dress socks he had been wearing less than an hour before was still evident on his calves.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Epstein on Game 5 win, advancing to NLCS

"This is why you watch 240 baseball games a year or whatever it is," Epstein said. "Our players grind through a whole year, and our front-office guys pull the all-nighters. This is what it's all about. Now that our guys are establishing that identity of finding a way to win this time of year, there's no better thing to be known for, and they've earned it."

The Cubs next face the challenge of the Dodgers, the best team in baseball, but thoughts of the game took a respite for the night. Chicago has to decide a starting pitcher for the series opener in Los Angeles, a decision Epstein said would be discussed on the team's flight there.

Lester, who won two World Series with the Red Sox in addition to last year's title, is likely not an option, having pitched 3 2/3 innings of relief in Game 4. But at some point, he'll make his 21st postseason start, tying him for eighth all time. There is more to come for these Cubs.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Rizzo discusses advancing to NLCS

For a night, though, they enjoyed what was already guaranteed to be theirs.

"You live for this right here," third baseman Kris Bryant said. "You go through the grind of the year just to make this moment. This feels so good, and I've been fortunate to be a part of a bunch of these so far.

"I don't ever want it to end."

Nathan Ruiz is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Chicago Cubs, Jon Lester

Werth in disbelief after possible Nats farewell

Outfielder emotional after Game 5 loss, reflects fondly on 7 seasons in DC
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- As he tried to make sense of it all, with tears forming in his eyes, Jayson Werth kept coming back to one phrase.

"I can't believe we lost that game," he repeated after the Nationals' heartbreaking 9-8 loss to the Cubs on Thursday in the decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile.

Full Game Coverage

WASHINGTON -- As he tried to make sense of it all, with tears forming in his eyes, Jayson Werth kept coming back to one phrase.

"I can't believe we lost that game," he repeated after the Nationals' heartbreaking 9-8 loss to the Cubs on Thursday in the decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile.

Full Game Coverage

:: NLDS schedule and coverage ::

This was perhaps Werth's final game with the Nationals. He is at the end of a seven-year contract he signed before the 2011 season. From the fact that his free-agent signing aligned with the team's ascent, to his walk-off home run in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS, to the memorable moments in postgame interviews, he became a fan favorite.

Werth had planned on playing more games at Nationals Park. He wanted to bring a World Series to Washington, a place he has started referring to as his home. He knew this was the most talented of the teams that have won four division titles in six seasons.

And yet, he sat at his locker after 1:30 a.m. ET, still trying to process what happened.

"Seriously, I'm still trying to wrap my head around this one," Werth said. "I just keep thinking of different stuff that was happening that was off the wall. I'll probably go watch the whole game back, relive it, torture myself.

"It felt like it didn't matter what happened, I felt like we were going to win. That was the feeling across the team and across the board. It's crazy to think that we didn't win that game."

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Werth crosses the plate on a wild pitch

Werth has endured some ups and downs in Washington. At times he was hurt and at times was not as productive as he would have liked. But he was the unquestioned leader of the clubhouse and in many ways the club's conscience.

There were questions about whether he should start Game 5. Manager Dusty Baker said he considered sitting Werth, but stuck with him in left field because of his ability to deliver in big games. At the plate it paid off, as Werth reached base four times with a single, double and a pair of walks. In the field, however, Werth lost a line drive in the lights that led to a Cubs run. In his seven seasons playing the outfield for Washington, he estimated that he had lost fewer than 10 balls in the lights.

Werth was still kicking himself for that one, especially after he watched the video and saw how close he came to catching it. They were so many moments, he said, so many close calls and what ifs from Thursday's game that he'll relive in his head.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Werth misplays Russell's RBI double

But he had few answers for this game, which he knows very well could be have been his farewell to Washington. No one has officially closed the door, but Werth will turn 39 next season and the Nationals are loaded with young outfielders throughout their system, including the Major League roster.

"I'm proud of what we've accomplished here, this place has come a long way in seven years," Werth said. "No regrets. We gave it all we had. I know I gave everything I had, left it all out there. I'm proud to call myself a National. Before I came here, I don't know if anybody would've said that. Even so, this one's tough to take. We had opportunities and you just still think, man, you can't believe it's over.

"Maybe as time goes on, I'm sure we'll look back and think about good times and all the accomplishments that we did. This is a great club. These guys are great players. I'm proud to be teammates with these guys and go to war every day with these guys. I can't believe that we lost that game. It's just tough to swallow."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Washington Nationals, Jayson Werth

Nats left waiting for next year after '17 exit

NL East champions unable to get over NLDS hump
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- Clap. Clap. Clap.

Those were the only sounds echoing throughout the Nationals' clubhouse in the aftermath of their 9-8 loss to the Cubs on Thursday night in Game 5 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile.

Full Game Coverage

WASHINGTON -- Clap. Clap. Clap.

Those were the only sounds echoing throughout the Nationals' clubhouse in the aftermath of their 9-8 loss to the Cubs on Thursday night in Game 5 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile.

Full Game Coverage

Another first-round loss meant another long winter of what-ifs for Washington, a team that appeared as well-rounded as it's ever been to make it over that previously unattainable hump.

:: NLDS schedule and coverage ::

Instead of spraying champagne on each other and preparing for a cross-country trip to Los Angeles, Nationals players, coaches and staff spent the first hour of Friday morning saying goodbye.

It felt like the last day of school. Only instead of wishing each other a good summer, it was "Have a good winter. See you next year."

The beige carpet temporarily installed in the home clubhouse at Nationals Park was supposed to soak up the remnants of a party, one representing the first postseason series win since they moved here from Montreal in 2005. All it did was deaden the clapping sound of teammates exchanging handshakes and hugs, wondering how a night that appeared to have so much promise deteriorated into another premature fall farewell.

"They all burn," said Max Scherzer, who was on the mound during the game-changing inning. "This one burns. I don't know how else to describe it. You're just going to be sitting there kicking yourself the whole offseason."

Once Michael A. Taylor -- or as Nationals fans were now referring to him following his Game 4 grand slam, Michael A. Tater -- launched a three-run homer for a 4-1 second-inning lead, the night had a different feeling for the home team.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Taylor crushes a three-run jack to left

Until it didn't. Until it was exactly the same.

Oh, the details of their Game 5 demise didn't resemble their previous ousters in 2012, '14 and '16, but after a while, the losses begin to blend together.

"It's never easy," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "I thought we should have won all four times. We had the talent to win, but it didn't happen."

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Rizzo breaks down Nats' playoff exit

The three-run lead was trimmed to one in the third inning thanks to an ineffective Gio Gonzalez, but as the game moved to the fifth, the Nationals were still clinging to a 4-3 lead.

Here came Scherzer, trying to add his name to that legendary list of aces doing October overtime out of the bullpen.

Pedro Martinez. Randy Johnson. Mike Mussina. Madison Bumgarner. Jon Lester. Clayton Kershaw. Surely Scherzer would add his name to that group and, more importantly, to Nationals lore.

Only he didn't.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Scherzer discusses difficult Game 5 loss

The details were gory; far scarier to a Nationals fan than any Stephen King book. Scherzer quickly disposed of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, allowing the 43,849 to start dreaming big. Then, something happened. A lot happened, actually.

Infield single. Bloop single. Double. It's 5-4 Cubs.

Intentional walk. Strikeout/error/passed ball. Make that 6-4.

Catcher's interference. (Wait, what?) Hit by pitch. Lead up to 7-4.

"That was probably one of the weirdest innings I've ever seen," manager Dusty Baker said. "It was a series of bad events."

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Baker, Wieters on fateful 5th of Game 5

"It was bizarro world," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "There's no question about it."

By the time Scherzer retired Bryant for the second time in the inning, the four-run inning had taken the air out of the ballpark. Scherzer hadn't even pitched poorly -- only Addison Russell's two-run double was a hard-hit ball -- yet things still managed to fall apart. You can't make this stuff up.

"You're just numb," Scherzer said, trying to describe the experience of such a strange inning.

The Nationals battled their way back, entering the ninth needing only one run to extend their season one more inning. Wade Davis, who had come into the game in the seventh to rescue the rest of the Cubs' bullpen, seemed to be running on fumes. He retired Trea Turner and Jayson Werth, leaving the last hope to -- who else? -- Bryce Harper.

Harper worked a full count before swinging through strike three. Ballgame over. Season over.

The sellout crowd had no choice but to fall back on that familiar refrain, the one which used to echo around Wrigleyville at the conclusion of each season.

Wait 'til next year.

Video: Feinsand previews Nationals' 2018 outlook

For the Nationals, next year will be a critical one for the franchise. With Harper entering his final year before free agency, the proverbial window might be closing. Should Harper re-sign with Washington after 2018, that window will be wide open for the foreseeable future, but trying to speculate on his future 13 months in advance feels like wasted time.

Mike Rizzo has heard it all before.

"People have been talking about our two-year window for the last six years," Rizzo said. "We're built for the long haul. We're going to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start grinding again for next season. We didn't play a clean game, but we played a game with passion and effort. We battled to the last out. I'm proud of that."

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Gonzalez discusses Game 5 NLDS loss

The Cubs erased 108 years of goat-riddled frustration last season, so why can't the Nationals figure things out by next October?

For starters, in Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, they have the 1-2 rotation punch all teams covet, though adding another dependable starter should be a priority in the coming months. They'll return Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, who helped turn a woeful bullpen into a respectable one after their midseason acquisition.

The lineup will continue to be paced by Harper, Turner, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy, while Adam Eaton will be back after missing all but 23 games this season. Werth is a free agent, but the emergence of Taylor and the presence of top prospect Victor Robles leave the Nationals very deep in the outfield.

"We have a good core of guys here on the current club, a good core of guys in the farm system to supplement us," Rizzo said. "We feel good about the future."

They're still the class of the NL East, so assuming they win another division title, what can Washington do to avoid a similar first-round fate for the fifth time in seven years?

"Just keep getting there, keep giving ourselves opportunities," Rizzo said. "It's like the Bulls when they had to overtake the Pistons after all those years [in the NBA], then they won six championships in eight years. You have to just keep going, man. Keep grinding, keep building, keep getting quality people in here. We're going to be fine here in Washington."

They'll just have to wait until next year.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Washington Nationals

Cubs tip caps to the Nats after NLDS win

Chicago pushed to brink in five-game series victory
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- In many ways, Thursday night's marathon into Friday morning between the Cubs and Nationals was emblematic of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile as a whole.

Gear up for the National League Championship Series

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WASHINGTON -- In many ways, Thursday night's marathon into Friday morning between the Cubs and Nationals was emblematic of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile as a whole.

Gear up for the National League Championship Series

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Chicago, in the end, took Game 5, winning 9-8, to complete the dramatic series between two teams that have established themselves in the upper echelon of the NL.

NLCS Game 1: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on TBS

"This was such a tough series, just a dogfight," said Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who started the series' opener and finale. "You've got to tip your hat. That club on the other side is really, really good. Lot of tough ballplayers over there. Top to bottom, they're just so deep.

"We're just lucky we were able to come out on top."

:: NLDS schedule and coverage ::

Hendricks stifled the Nationals in Game 1, tossing seven shutout innings, but it was a tougher go on Thursday. After Daniel Murphy smacked a game-tying solo shot off Hendricks' first pitch of the second, Michael A. Taylor increased Washington's lead with a three-run home run later in the inning.

Yet the Cubs created their own rally, striking for a four-run frame in the fifth against two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. The Nationals relentlessly clawed back, continuing to pressure Chicago, the reigning World Series winner.

"Really anxious, almost bemused at some of the things that were happening in that game," said Theo Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations. "It was kind of a surreal game. We got all those runs with only one big hit to drive in runs, and then it was a matter of just holding on, finding a way to get 27 outs. It seemed impossible at times."

The Nationals twice held the Cubs hitless until the sixth. In Game 2, they rallied from a late deficit behind home runs from Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. An ill Stephen Strasburg supplied seven scoreless innings in Game 4 to push the series to its climactic finale.

Video: CHC@WSH: Maddon discusses chipping away at Nats' lead

Kris Bryant, the Cubs' reigning NL MVP Award winner, went 4-for-20 in the five-game set.

"They battled us," Bryant said. "They've got probably the best pitching in the league. [Max] Scherzer coming in today and beating a guy like that, that's probably one of the best pitchers of my time, we feel really good about it."

There was plenty to celebrate, indeed. The Cubs, after all, are the team left advancing to the NL Championship Series presented by Camping World against the Dodgers beginning Saturday, a rematch of the NLCS from a year ago.

"This game was probably more surreal from start to finish than any other game," Epstein said. "We only had one clean hit to drive in a run, and we scored nine, and then we had to find to get 27 outs without throwing strikes. Our guys did an unbelievable job of finding a way to gut through it."

Nathan Ruiz is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Washington Nationals

Nats' 2017 ride ends in 4th NLDS heartbreak

MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- The clubhouse had been prepared for a celebration. Temporary carpet had been installed on the floor and plastic was rolled up on the walls, ready to be unveiled to withstand a champagne celebration that would have washed away the disappointments of years past. Instead, the Nationals sat inside trying to make sense of it all, how such a promising season could end so abruptly once again.

The Nationals spent all season insisting this year's team was different. They were battle tested from this run of four division titles in six seasons. They entered the postseason with their deepest and most talented roster, put together devoid of any clear flaws. But October continued to be cruel to Washington. The latest blow came in the form of a 9-8 defeat at the hands of the defending World Series champion Cubs, who eliminated the Nationals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile on Thursday night.

Full Game Coverage

WASHINGTON -- The clubhouse had been prepared for a celebration. Temporary carpet had been installed on the floor and plastic was rolled up on the walls, ready to be unveiled to withstand a champagne celebration that would have washed away the disappointments of years past. Instead, the Nationals sat inside trying to make sense of it all, how such a promising season could end so abruptly once again.

The Nationals spent all season insisting this year's team was different. They were battle tested from this run of four division titles in six seasons. They entered the postseason with their deepest and most talented roster, put together devoid of any clear flaws. But October continued to be cruel to Washington. The latest blow came in the form of a 9-8 defeat at the hands of the defending World Series champion Cubs, who eliminated the Nationals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile on Thursday night.

Full Game Coverage

Four times the Nats have made it to this stage and four times it has ended in heartbreak. An exit so much earlier than they expected.

:: NLDS schedule and coverage ::

"It's just a gut punch again," Max Scherzer said. "Here we are in Game 5. We play our hearts out and everybody lays it on the line and fights to do whatever they can. It was a nail-biter game again. It just sucks because I know how hard everybody played. This game is cruel sometimes."

Nationals Park once again played host as the familiar venue. This was the third winner-take-all Game 5 here, and a sellout crowd of 43,849 was ready to see history. They got one of the most bizarre and entertaining postseason games ever. There were ups and downs, starters turned into relievers, pitchers extending themselves beyond their limits, runs scored in unconventional ways.

For a while, it looked like the Nationals were falling apart following a four-run fifth inning for the Cubs. Scherzer came into the game in relief with a 4-3 lead, hoping to throw two innings. He retired the first two batters. Then came an unlikely sequence that included an infield single, a bloop single, a two-run double, an intentional walk, a dropped third strike that turned into a passed ball and a throwing error to score another run, a catcher's interference and a hit batter to score another run. Chicago was gifted another run in the sixth after Jayson Werth lost a fly ball in the lights.

Video: Must C Crucial: Cubs take lead against Scherzer

The game could have gotten away from the Nationals then, but they battled back as they have so often this season. They scored twice in the sixth, and tacked on runs in the seventh and eighth to cut the Cubs' lead to one. And in the ninth, they ended the game with Bryce Harper at the plate as the potential tying run.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Nationals cut into deficit in the 6th

"It felt like we were in it," Werth said. "It felt like it didn't matter what happened, I felt like we were going to win. That was the feeling across the team and across the board. It's crazy to think that we didn't win that game."

Perhaps at some point they will take solace in the fact that they battled back. Few players were ready to do so in the wee hours of Friday morning, which is understandable because the wounds were still fresh.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Harper on Nats' effort in Game 5 loss

They were ready for a celebration, to finally put to rest questions of postseason demons and past failures. Now, they begin the offseason searching for answers.

"They all burn. This one burns. I don't know how else to describe it," Scherzer said. "You're just going to be sitting there kicking yourself the whole offseason."

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Scherzer discusses difficult Game 5 loss

The Nationals won 97 games, the second most in team history, as they ran away with the NL East. Their lineup was more stacked than ever as they put up record-breaking numbers. They had their two top pitchers, Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, ready to pitch in the playoffs for the first time. Their bullpen was transformed from a weakness in the first half into a strength in the second half.

"Obviously, right now it's easy to say it's a failure," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "It's a failure for every team but one. I think we don't need to lose sight of what this organization has done over the past five or six years. I think there's a lot to be proud of.

"We all want to win. We all want to win the World Series. We all want to do this, that. But to be competitive, to do what we do every year, it's a pretty special organization. I'm not going to say it's a successful season. Every year you win the division, I don't think it's a bad season. I think it just shows how far we've come when you win the division, you win almost 100 games, and you have to ask that question. So I guess I'm proud you have to ask me that question. About five or six years ago, I never thought I'd be standing here doing this pretty much every year."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Washington Nationals

Nats reflect on 'missed opportunity' in NLDS

Club left to make sense of latest early playoff exit
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- As the Nationals dealt with another painful early exit from the postseason, it was seemingly difficult for them to pinpoint exactly why they were not able to fulfill their mission and expectation to dethrone the defending World Series champions and finally experience the thrill of advancing to the National League Championship Series.

"It was a series of bad events," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said after a season filled with legitimate Fall Classic aspirations concluded with Thursday night's wacky and eventful 9-8 loss to the Cubs in Game 5 of the NL Division Series presented by T-Mobile.

Full Game Coverage

WASHINGTON -- As the Nationals dealt with another painful early exit from the postseason, it was seemingly difficult for them to pinpoint exactly why they were not able to fulfill their mission and expectation to dethrone the defending World Series champions and finally experience the thrill of advancing to the National League Championship Series.

"It was a series of bad events," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said after a season filled with legitimate Fall Classic aspirations concluded with Thursday night's wacky and eventful 9-8 loss to the Cubs in Game 5 of the NL Division Series presented by T-Mobile.

Full Game Coverage

:: NLDS schedule and coverage ::

Baker was primarily referring to all that went wrong during this final game, one in which his offense finally showed some consistent life, yet one in which Max Scherzer experienced one of the most frustrating and weirdest innings of his career.

But Baker's simple statement could also apply to the totality of this five-game series, within which Stephen Strasburg displayed his dominance. The Nationals capably supported the seven-inning gem Strasburg provided in Thursday's Game 4 while still feeling the lingering effects of the flu. But the gem he provided when he opened Game 1 with five hitless innings went unrewarded by an offense that tallied a run in just four of the series' first 34 innings.

"Anytime you get to the end of a series like this and you don't win it, it feels like a missed opportunity," Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy said.

Without the home runs Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman hit in a five-run eighth that provided a comeback win in Game 2, the Nationals might have been swept. They totaled just two hits in their Game 1 loss and tallied just three more while squandering the nearly flawless effort Scherzer provided into the seventh inning of their Game 3 loss.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Zimmerman discusses early playoff exit

Leadoff hitter Trea Turner's role as a valuable catalyst was not felt until Game 4, when he snapped a 0-for-13 skid with a double that supplied the only run Strasburg and the bullpen needed in a shutout victory. Turner opened Thursday's bottom of the first with a single and was in position to score before being thrown out at the plate on a Bryce Harper groundout against a drawn-in infield.

This was a significant moment that got lost in the shuffle of the zaniness that transpired as the two clubs combined for 17 runs and 23 hits in the series finale.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Baez cuts down Turner at the dish

"Seriously, I'm still trying to wrap my head around this one," Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth said. "I just keep thinking of different stuff that was happening that was off the wall. I'll probably go watch the whole game back, re-live it, torture myself."

Playing what might have been his final game for a Nationals franchise he helped shape over the past seven seasons, Werth reached safely in four of his six plate appearances in Game 5. But his ninth-inning strikeout left him 3-for-18 during the series.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Harper on Nats' effort in Game 5 loss

Maybe this season would have ended differently had Harper not missed most of the season's final two months and entered the postseason still trying to find his timing. Or maybe the more important injury was the right hamstring strain that pushed Scherzer's series debut back to Game 3 and denied him the chance to make two starts during this best-of-five battle.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Scherzer discusses difficult Game 5 loss

There might be some who will question whether Baker should have given the Game 5 start to Tanner Roark instead of Gio Gonzalez, whose latest early exit from a playoff start -- after three innings -- set the tone for this evening, during which the Nationals battled valiantly before experiencing a first-round postseason exit for the fourth time within the past six years.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Washington Nationals

'Stone cold' Davis closes NLDS with 7-out save

MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- A few times during the eighth and ninth innings, Wade Davis glanced at the visitors' bullpen at Nationals Park. No one was stirring. Davis was the last Cubs pitcher standing.

Gear up for the National League Championship Series

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WASHINGTON -- A few times during the eighth and ninth innings, Wade Davis glanced at the visitors' bullpen at Nationals Park. No one was stirring. Davis was the last Cubs pitcher standing.

Gear up for the National League Championship Series

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Thursday belonged to the right-hander, who earned a seven-out save, the longest of his career, to preserve the Cubs' 9-8 win over the Nationals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile. The Cubs advance to play the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series presented by Camping World.

NLCS Game 1: Tonight, 8 p.m. ET/7 CT on TBS

:: NLDS schedule and coverage ::

"The guy has been awesome for us," third baseman Kris Bryant said of Davis. "I love watching him pitch."

Davis was the seventh Cubs pitcher used after starter Kyle Hendricks lasted four innings. Manager Joe Maddon had already called upon starter Jose Quintana, as well as Carl Edwards Jr., who pitched in all five games of the series.

Davis entered with two on and two outs in the seventh, striking out Ryan Zimmerman to end the inning. He walked the first two batters in the eighth, but induced a double play from pinch-hitter Adam Lind. Michael A. Taylor, who had hit a three-run homer in the second, added an RBI single to close the gap to 9-8.

Jose Lobaton singled, but he was picked off by catcher Willson Contreras, although Lobaton was originally called safe. The Cubs challenged the ruling, and after a review, it was overturned.

"All of [the at-bats] felt pretty key," Davis said, unable to pick one. "They put a lot of pressure on. They're such a good team. They're definitely one of the best offenses I've ever faced. We got some lucky outs there, getting the double play was big. Everything fell into place."

"I was prepared to use Wade for six, but what's the difference between six and seven outs, right?" manager Joe Maddon said.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Davis on his seven-out save, Cubs' win

Davis' previous career high was a six-out save, which he did twice in the 2015 postseason with the Royals. He has never recorded a save of four or more outs in the regular season.

"He's one of the toughest guys on this team, and he'll give you whatever you need," Hendricks said. "He's a special guy, and made huge pitches tonight to get that 'W.'"

Davis admitted he struggled a bit in the eighth.

"I was just trying to find some timing," Davis said. "I was rushing a little bit, maybe too amped up. The last inning, I made about 50 percent of the pitches I needed to make, and it ended up working out."

It came down to Davis vs. Bryce Harper for the final out, and the Nationals' right fielder struck out to end the game.

"I was just trying to stay relaxed," Davis said. "He took such an aggressive swing the first swing that I was hoping he'd stay aggressive. Up to the last pitch, he was still pretty aggressive."

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Davis fans Harper to send Cubs to NLCS

Davis' teammates were impressed.

"To me, in the ninth inning, it looked like he just came out of the bullpen and he refocused, locked in and stayed in the moment," right fielder Jason Heyward said. "That's the testament of our season. You have to stay in the moment."

Pedro Strop, who pitched one inning of relief, was rooting for Davis, too.

"He's such a great man," Strop said. "I'm really happy for him, and for the team, the way he did that. I know he used to be a starter, but I've never seen him throw that many pitches in an outing. That was huge for us as a team. Hopefully, that doesn't happen again for us."

Ben Zobrist was teammates with Davis in Tampa Bay from 2009-12 and again in Kansas City in 2015.

Video: MLB Tonight: Zobrist talks Davis, plate approach

"I've seen him throw a lot," Zobrist said. "I've always known he's got a lot of mettle in his soul. The guy really just shows up. He's got ice in his veins. When you extend a closer that long, he has to get up a couple different times like that and try to shut down a hot team that's really coming back in the game. It was a very tough moment. He really hung tough there for us and pulled it out for us."

Said first baseman Anthony Rizzo of Davis: "He's stone cold. He doesn't have a heartbeat. He goes out there, does his thing and lays it all on the line. That's what this team builds on."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Chicago Cubs, Wade Davis

In crucial spots, Cubs believe they will prevail

Epstein, Maddon laud players for persevering in face of adversity
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- Standing in the visitors' clubhouse at Nationals Park, soaked in beer and champagne as the club he assembled took part in a familiar celebration, Theo Epstein reeled off all the reasons the Cubs should have been heading home for the winter.

Gear up for the National League Championship Series

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WASHINGTON -- Standing in the visitors' clubhouse at Nationals Park, soaked in beer and champagne as the club he assembled took part in a familiar celebration, Theo Epstein reeled off all the reasons the Cubs should have been heading home for the winter.

Gear up for the National League Championship Series

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Stephen Strasburg no-hit them into the sixth inning in Game 1 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile. Max Scherzer carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning of Game 3. Their pitching plan for Game 5 fell apart as they gave up 14 hits and walked nine, and they managed exactly one hit with runners in scoring position in the 4-hour, 37-minute elimination-game slugfest.

NLCS Game 1: Tonight, 8 p.m. ET/7 CT on TBS

But there the Cubs were anyway, celebrating their third straight trip to the National League Championship Series presented by Camping World -- a rematch with the Dodgers that starts Saturday in Los Angeles -- after Thursday night gave way to Friday morning during their wild, harrowing 9-8 win over the Nationals.

:: NLDS schedule and coverage ::

"It says a ton about our guys and their belief," Epstein said.

The Cubs believe their series of unlikely victories also says a lot about the way they reached the postseason and why this year's club is different than last year's World Series championship team.

Last year, the road to the World Series was relatively smooth. The 103-win Cubs of 2016 cruised to an NL Central title, lost once in the NLDS and beat the Dodgers, 4-2, in the NLCS. It was never so easy this season, when they found themselves below .500 at the All-Star break and fighting for the division lead in late September. They didn't expect this series to be easy, either.

"We don't really have a choice," outfielder Jason Heyward said. "We haven't had the luxury of being able to say, 'OK, you can dwell on what's happened.' This year's been different for us.

"In our eyes, this is what we've had to do all year. That helped us prepare for this moment, and we know there's more ahead."

Video: CHC@WSH: Maddon discusses chipping away at Nats' lead

The series seemed to shift in the Nationals' favor when Strasburg and Michael A. Taylor silenced Wrigley Field in their 5-0 Game 4 victory over the Cubs on Wednesday. And "different" doesn't do justice to what manager Joe Maddon described as a "bizarro world" clincher.

"Give the boys credit," Maddon said. "That's one of the most incredible victories I've ever been a part of."

Held to eight runs in the first 35 innings of the NLDS, the Cubs broke out for nine runs in Game 5. They did not hit a home run in any of their three victories. Particularly when Strasburg and Scherzer shut them down with what Maddon called "Gibson, Koufax kind of stuff," the Cubs had to find different ways to win.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Epstein on Game 5 win, advancing to NLCS

Their starting pitching picked up the slack -- Kyle Hendricks in Game 1, Jose Quintana in Game 3. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo led the way offensively in those victories, then Addison Russell stepped up with four RBIs in Game 5.

Down by three runs after two innings Thursday, they rallied against Gio Gonzalez and Scherzer. Asked for a seven-out save, Wade Davis delivered. For all they overcame this season and in this series, the Cubs are nonetheless four wins away from another Fall Classic.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm5: Davis on his seven-out save, Cubs' win

"We've been through it," Ben Zobrist said. "In those situations, we tend to start believing we're going to get the job done even if it doesn't look like we are. ... We've done it so many times in the past now that you start believing it's going to happen again."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Chicago Cubs