If the Washington Nationals lose in the NLDS for the fifth straight time this October, they can look back at one inning from their bullpen in Sunday’s Game 3 as the reason why
Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez has so little faith in his battered bullpen that, for the second straight game in the NLDS, he turned to a starter to pitch in relief.
In Game 2 on Friday it worked, as Max Scherzer came in and struck out the side in his one inning of work. During Sunday’s Game 3 it was Patrick Corbin’s turn, but this time it turned out so disastrously that the series might have turned in a single inning.
Corbin, who pitched six innings in Game 1 and surrendered just one earned run, came in to relieve starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez in the sixth inning on Sunday with the Nationals leading the Dodgers 2-1 at home. He got two quick outs, striking out Corey Seager and A.J. Pollock after giving up a lead-off single to Cody Bellinger, but he wouldn’t be around for the third out.
Dodgers catcher Russell Martin doubled to left field off Corbin to drive in Bellinger and David Freese, giving Los Angeles a 3-2 lead.
Two batters later, Kike Hernandez drove in two runs with a double and, after Max Muncy was intentionally walked, Corbin was removed in favor of Wander Suero. The first batter Suero faced, Justin Turner, hit a cutter 418 feet to left-center field for a three-run home run to increase the Dodgers lead to six.
Corbin was charged with six earned runs in just 0.2 innings of work. He’s only the second relief pitcher in postseason history to give up that many runs in less than an inning, joining Franklin Morales of the 2007 Rockies in that ignoble group. He gave up six runs in an inning just once in the regular season, back on April 29 against the Cardinals. He had one game with six runs allowed since the middle of June.
The Dodgers weren’t through with victimizing the Nationals bullpen. In the ninth inning, Martin hit a two-run home run off Hunter Strickland, the ninth home run Strickland has allowed in his postseason career, already the most by any relief pitcher and two more than Armando Benitez and Ryan Madson. The Dodgers went on to win Game 3 at Nationals Park 10-4 and take a 2-1 series lead, moving one win away from advancing to the NLCS for the fourth straight year.
The struggles of the Nationals bullpen this series is all the more frustrating because their starters are giving them a chance. Corbin, Stephen Strasburg and Sanchez have combined to pitch 17 innings and surrender only three earned runs, good for a 1.59 ERA. The bullpen, though, has been a trainwreck, giving up 14 earned runs in nine innings through three games. The Nationals finished the regular season with the worst bullpen ERA in baseball at 5.66 and have found no solution to the problem now that the calendar has changed to October.
The Nationals have lost in the NLDS four times since 2012 and are now in danger of yet another early postseason exit. Odds are not on their side, moreover. The Dodgers, winners of a franchise-record 106 games during the regular season, haven’t lost consecutive games in a month.