The Nationals had never played in the NLCS, bringing the series to Washington D.C. for the first time in franchise history, and now could clinch a World Series berth with a win Tuesday night.
Before their Wednesday night 8-1 win over the Cardinals, the headlines were about the pitching match-up between veteran Stephen Strasburg and Cardinal rookie Jack Flaherty. Both starters had found dominating success in the postseason and both with immense pressure on their shoulders to once again dominate.
That script flipped early on in Monday’s Game 3 loss for the Cardinals, having to pull Flaherty after the 4th inning, allowing four runs on just five hits. All while Strasburg took the bats out of the Cardinals hands all night, polishing off a 7-inning one-run performance that saw the 31-year-old starter fan 12 St. Louis batters.
But neither the Cardinals or Nationals have truly smashed the ball well. Currently, only Victor Robles and Michael A. Taylor have managed to hit a ball out of the park through three games in the NLCS. Some of that may have to do with the baseball itself, with reports and data-supported thesis’ have come out point towards a different, less-home-run-happy ball is being used in the postseason, but regardless the ball hasn’t left the yard like it did in the regular season.
Teams are scoring their runs by moving the baseball, hitting it where they aren’t — so to speak — but a team like the Nationals are just attempting to string hits together in hopes it drives in runs. And the player that’s embodied that player profile their entire career is veteran infielder Howie Kendrick, who’s turned his 2019 season into a very memorable postseason run.
Kendrick is currently tied with Yankees’ Gleyber Torres at 9 RBI this fall, four of which came via a Grand Slam in Game 5 of the NLDS to eliminate the NL favorite Dodgers. But at age 36, Kendrick is propelling a Nationals club that is filled with young future stars to the postseason promised land by simply just putting the ball in play.
His three doubles on Monday night translated to five runs for Washington, constantly finding gaps against the Cardinals pitching. But for a career .294 hitter and a 14-year veteran like Kendrick, he’s been a crucial run-producer for a team that on paper has no business being in this NLCS.
But with a guy like Kendrick, who doesn’t walk much and owns a .359 batting average on balls in play, he’s been able to barrel up the ball and find a way to put it back into play. It’s nothing special, but it’s been the driving force behind the Nationals offense with runners in scoring position.
But that’s what the postseason does for certain players, things just click into place in the fall and they are able to turn a hot streak at the plate into playoff glory. Kendrick will continue to work at-bats and get on base, but what he’s meant to a Nationals club that was considering trading their best assets a few months, is what turns players into postseason legends. And Kendrick is well on his way to cementing his place in Washington baseball history, sitting one game away from the World Series.