The Washington Nationals got bad news when Max Scherzer was scratched but that wasn’t the only reason they lost Game 5 in the World Series.
Blame it on Max Scherzer’s stiff neck. Blame it on a young pitcher who had played just one game in the past 28 days. But the reason why the Washington Nationals now find themselves in a 3-2 hole heading back to Houston extends well beyond Game 5 starter Joe Ross.
Ross, who’s only prior appearance this postseason came in Game 3 and who last started a game on Sept. 29, was forced into emergency duty on Sunday after Scherzer was scratched with neck spasms. He was solid, going five innings while giving up two-run home runs to Yordan Alvarez and Carlos Correa. The pitch to Correa in the fourth inning was a hanging slider, Ross’ biggest mistake of the night. The home run to Alvarez, though, was a good 95 mph sinker on the outside corner the powerful Alvarez managed to muscle over the fence in left-center field.
Ross wasn’t the Nationals main problem in Game 5. The Astros starter Gerrit Cole, and their only inability to generate any kind of offense was. Cole avenged his Game 1 loss, his first defeat since May, with seven innings of three-hit ball. His only blemish came on an opposite-field home run to Juan Soto in the seventh. Cole and the Astros beat the Nationals 7-1, their third straight victory at Nationals Park, and are now a game away from winning the franchise’s second World Series title in the last three seasons.
It’s a stunning turnaround for a Nationals club that was riding high after taking the first two games of the series in Houston. But the entire team seems to have left their bats back in Texas. Since erupting for 12 runs, six of them just in the seventh inning, in Game 2, the Nationals have scored three runs in the last 27 innings at home. Ryan Zimmerman, who had the franchise’s first World Series home run in Game 1, is 0-8 since hitting the ground while facing a high fastball from Josh James in Game 3. Leadoff man Trea Turner is one for his last 14. The Astros couldn’t get Adam Eaton out the first two games; he’s 0-7 in the last two.
The Nationals have scored just one run in the last three games. That’s something they didn’t do once all season. Only one time did they even have two straight games with one or fewer runs scored, back in an August series in Pittsburgh. The Nationals are the first team to score no more than one run in three straight World Series games since the 1985 Cardinals.
Those Cardinals also won the first two games of that series on the road before eventually falling to the Royals in seven games. In order for the Nationals to avoid that same fate, they must beat Justin Verlander in Game 6 on Tuesday. A tough task, but they only have to go back two years to find it can be done. In 2017, Verlander took the mound for the Astros in Dodger Stadium with a chance to close out the series in six games but lost 3-1.
They also have to start taking advantage of their scoring chances. Opportunities against Cole come few and far between, but the Nationals had one in the second inning. Soto and Howie Kendrick led off the inning with consecutive singles, putting runners on first and third with nobody out. The next batter, Zimmerman, struck out swinging on a slider that was four feet off the plate. Speedy Victor Robles, who hit into only six double plays this season, then did it for the seventh time. The Nationals would only get one more baserunner off Cole before Soto’s homer in the seventh.
Washington is now batting 1-21 with runners in scoring position the last three games. They’re hitting .175 overall after batting .307 in the first two games.
The Nationals complained to home plate umpire Lance Barksdale all game but they only have to look in the mirror to find the culprit for the situation they’re now in. They left Houston three days ago with a two-game series lead and an eight-game postseason winning streak. They’re going back facing a must-win game on Tuesday, and for that, they only have themselves to blame.