Washington took the series opener Sunday, 3-2, in the first playoff game for the franchise since it moved from Montreal.
The Nationals escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning, Tyler Moore blooped a two-out, two-run single in the eighth for the win. The Nats have just four players with postseason experience on the roster.
Rookie reliever Ryan Mattheus needed just two pitches to bail out the Nationals in the seventh with St. Louis ahead 2-1. Moore, another rookie, put them ahead soon after that, Tyler Clippard worked around an error in the eighth and Drew Storen saved it with a 1-2-3 ninth.
Moore had struggled recently both as a pinch-hitter and with runners in scoring position with two outs. Moore was 6-for-29 with 12 strikeouts as a pinch-hitter this season, with one hit in his last nine at-bats. His only go-ahead pinch-hit RBI all season was a two-run homer against R.A. Dickey on September 11. Moore was 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position and two outs in 2012. He had struck out in each of his three previous at-bats in that situation prior to the go-ahead hit.
The Cards were held to three hits in the opener but drew enough walks (Gio Gonzalez issued seven) to go 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and leave 10 men stranded. The Nats go for a 2-0 series lead Monday when Jordan Zimmermann opposes Jaime Garcia.
With a 2.94 ERA over a career-high 32 starts and 195 1/3 innings pitched this season, Zimmermann earned his Game 2 assignment on merit. More than perhaps any Nationals pitcher, Zimmermann may have benefited from the nine days between his final regular-season start and his first playoff outing.
Pitching deeper than six innings in a game just four times since June 27, Zimmermann said he threw an extended bullpen session recently to avoid any rust.
The Nationals are not overly concerned about the right-hander’s health because, since an eight-run debacle at home early last month, he went 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA over his final five starts. The only issue is that the aforementioned eight-run outing came against the Cardinals, who knocked Zimmermann out in the fourth.
Matt Holliday and David Freese hit two-run home runs against him that day. Freese and Matt Carpenter smacked key doubles. And largely because of it, the 13 hitters on St. Louis’ NLDS roster have combined for a .397 career average off Zimmermann, with nine extra-base hits in 73 at-bats.
On the evening of Aug. 30, in the bottom of the first inning at Nationals Park in Washington, Garcia walked leadoff hitter Jayson Werth, then went 2-0 to Bryce Harper. On the next pitch, Harper lined a home run deep down the right-field line. The Nationals romped, 8-1. t. But there are reasons to suppose that Monday will be, literally, a whole new ballgame, even though Garcia’s ERA was 4.52 after that game.
For one thing, that was only the lefty’s third start after coming off the disabled list with a shoulder impingement. Another is that he was considerably more effective down the stretch. After that game in Washington, Garcia went 4-1 with a 2.50 ERA in his last six starts. His last four outings were even better, as he posted a 2.10 ERA.
Vegas trends: Over is 4-0 in Zimmermanns last 4 starts vs. Cardinals. Over is 9-2 in the last 11 meetings. Nationals are 8-3 in the last 11 meetings. Over is 5-2 in the last 7 meetings in St. Louis. Nationals are 8-24 in the last 32 meetings in St. Louis.