Washington Nationals

Nationals making it look easy against the Cardinals in NLCS

The Washington Nationals are two wins away from the World Series after another dominant performance on the mound in a 3-1 Game 2 victory.

The Washington Nationals endured years of playoff futility waiting to get to the National League Championship Series. After just two games in St. Louis, the series might already be over, with the Nationals’ sights set on an even bigger prize.

Max Scherzer, a day after teammate Anibal Sanchez held the Cardinals hitless for 7.2 innings, took his own no-hitter into the seventh and pitched seven shutout innings in a 3-1 Nationals victory in Game 2 of the NLCS at Busch Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Scherzer struck out 11 as he and Sanchez became the second pair of teammates in postseason history with a no-hit bid of at least five innings in consecutive games. In a strange coincidence that only seems to happen in baseball, the first pair to do so was — you guessed it — Scherzer and Sanchez when they played for the 2013 Detroit Tigers.

Now leading 2-0 in the series and heading home to the nation’s capital for the next three games, the Nationals are in prime position for their first trip to the World Series in franchise history. They’re getting clutch hitting from the likes of Michael A. Taylor and Adam Eaton, dominant pitching from Scherzer and Sanchez, and matchups in the next few games they must be feeling good about.

Stephen Strasburg will start in Game 3 on Monday, coming off a victorious outing in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Dodgers on Wednesday. Strasburg went into the game with a 0.64 career postseason ERA, the lowest in history for any pitcher with at least 28 innings. Even after the Dodgers got to him for two early home runs, he held them scoreless for the next five innings and set the stage for the eventual Nationals rally.

If Strasburg falters on Monday, they still have Patrick Corbin to rely on for Game 4. The left-hander has dominated Cardinals hitters in his career, holding Marcell Ozuna to four hits in 21 at-bats, Matt Carpenter to three hits in 14 trips to the plate, and Kolten Wong hitless. The Cardinals lineup has 118 combined at-bats against Corbin and have hit two home runs, one each by Ozuna and Harrison Bader.

The Cardinals left their offense back in the first inning of Game 5 in Atlanta. Since that 10-run outburst, the Cardinals have now scored four runs in the last 26 innings. They finally snapped a 22-inning scoreless drought, the longest in their postseason history, on Jose Martinez’s double over the head of Taylor in center in the eighth inning on Saturday. Martinez has two of the Cardinals’ four hits in this series, both of them as a pinch-hitter; the Cardinals starters are a combined 2-55.

St. Louis does have Jack Flaherty, owner of a 0.91 second-half ERA this season, ready to pitch in Nationals Park in Game 3. But the same ailment that has struck them the first two games in this series often pops up when Flaherty is on the mound. Flaherty gave up just six runs over his final seven starts in the regular season but went 3-2 in those games. In five of them, the Cardinals scored two or fewer runs. If they don’t provide Flaherty with any run support on Monday, they will be facing a quick 0-3 series deficit.

Next: Anibal Sanchez’s near no-no puts Nats up in NLCS

The Nationals were 19-31 back in May. They needed a late rally just to beat the Brewers in the Wild Card game, and another to get past the Dodgers in the NLDS. They are beginning to look more and more like a team of destiny, with only two wins separating them from the game’s grandest stage.

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