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With contractual decisions looming, Nats missed chance at stress-free World Series run

With contractual decisions looming, Nats missed chance at stress-free World Series run

"This is the year."

That's the motto for almost every D.C. sports fan when their team is headed for the postseason.

The Nats led a weak NL East the entire season and clinched a spot to play October baseball early into September.

RELATED: COUNTLESS ERRORS DOOM NATIONALS IN SEASON-ENDING LOSS

The team overcame the obstacle of being plagued with injuries and with pitchers like Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer having a strong bullpen to back them up, the stars were aligning for the team to go all the way.

But now with players like Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy having contracts up for grabs in 2019, Nationals reporter Chelsea Janes says 2017 was really the last chance for the team to win a stress-free title.

"I think those questions you've raised like Bryce [Harper's] contract, [Daniel} Murphy may be leaving, you know Rizzo's contract's up after next year, I think those are the things they didn't have to deal with this year that made this such a free chance," Janes said on the Sports Junkies Friday.

"It was a free chance to just feel good and do it now and not have everyone say this is your absolute last chance, and next year it's their absolute last chance for a little while, I think."

"I mean they're not going to be awful in '19, but they're going to be different and I think they've sort of wasted their free pass here and there's legitimate and kind of unrelenting pressure on them next year to make it happen."

It's hard to make sense of what a team will look like one day after a devastating series loss. One thing that is fairly certain is that time is ticking for the Nats to make it happen with arguably the most talented group of players they've ever had.

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NLDS 2017: Nationals vs. Cubs Game 5 Live Blog

NLDS 2017: Nationals vs. Cubs Game 5 Live Blog

It's time for yet another terrifying tradition on the D.C. sports calendar: an elimination game at home! 

All eyes are on Nats Park tonight as the Nationals, who are playing in Game 5 thanks to Stephen Strasburg and Michael A. Taylor, look to win their first playoff series since moving to D.C. 

Don't forget to follow along on Twitter as we bring you live updates from the stadium. 

NATIONALS-CUBS LIVE UPDATES:

12:45 AM - Cubs 9, Nats 8: It's over. Davis strikes out Harper to get the final out, the Nationals drop Game 5 to the Cubs and their season is done. 

12:35 AM - YOU DON'T MAKE CHUCK TODD ANGRY:

12:30: Top 9: Cubs 9, Nats 8: This has been one of the most absurd baseball games in Nats history. Do they have one more inning of magic left?

12:26 AM - Jose Lobaton gets picked off first, and after an excrutiatingly long reply to prove it, the Nats' inning is over. 

12:20 AM - 

12:17 AM - Cubs 9, Nats 8: Michael A. Taylor answers yet again. RBI single and it's a one-run game. 

12:01 AM - We'll just leave this here:

12:00 AM - Important WMATA information, because it wouldn't be a DC playoff game without it:

11:47 PM - Cubs 9, Nats 7: Harper with an RBI flyout and it's a two-run game again. 

11:30 PM - Bottom 7: Cubs 9, Nats 6: Cubs add an extra run after Kris Bryant beats out a double play, scoring Jon Jay. 

11:11 PM - Top 7: Cubs 8, Nats 6: It ain't over yet! Murphy adds an RBI double and the Nats have life. 

11:05 PM - Cubs 8, Nats 5: Werth scores on a passed ball, and the Nats aren't dead yet. 

10:49 PM - Great!:

10:47 PM - Bottom 6th: Cubs 8, Nats 4: Jayson Werth misplays the final out in left field and the Cubs add another run. 

Don't click this. 

10:34 PM: Top 6 - Cubs 7, Nats 4: Scherzer won't come back out. Brandon Kintzler gets the 6th inning. 

10:24 PM - uhhhhhhhh:

10:22 PM - 

10:05 PM - Bottom 5: Cubs 7, Nats 4: The Cubs rough up Scherzer for four runs and take the lead. It's happening ... 

10:00 PM - 

BAH GAWD THAT'S MAX SCHERZER'S MUSIC. 

The Cy Young winner comes in in relief. Elimination baseball is the best baseball. 

9:30 PM - Top 4th: Nats 4, Cubs 3: That'll be it for Gio. Matt Albers takes over on the mound. Gonzalez's final line is 3 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 4 BB and 5 Ks. 

9:25 PM - THIS BUNT:

9:20 PM - Bottom 3rd: Nats 4, Cubs 3: Control issues come back to bite Gonzalez. Cubs get two across - one on a wild pitch - to make it a one-run game. 

Meanwhile, at the stadium:

9:10 PM - Here are your Statcast numbers for both those homers:

9:07 PM - TOP 3rd: Nats 4, Cubs 1: Well, that was fun. Now we just have to get through 6 innings of 2015 NLDS references! 

8:55 PM - MICHAEL. A. TAYLOR. It's a 3-run homer and now the Nats are up 4-1:

8:48 PM - DANIEL MURPHY DINGER. It's 1-1. 

8:38 PM - Javy Baez, man:

8:30 PM - Bottom 1st: Cubs 1, Nats 0: Nats get a leadoff single from Turner but can't do anything with it. 

8:15 PM - Top 1st - Cubs 1, Nats 0: Cubs plate one run in the top of the first. Gonzalez escapes a bases-loaded jam. Control's not looking strong to start. 

7:58 PM - Before we get started, take a look back at how everyone at NBC Sports Washington saw this series playing out. Shoutout to Rich Tandler for coming in *hot* that a Nats in 3 prediction. 

7:55 PM - 

7:45 PM - I wonder what very insightful opinion Marlins Man will have about the Nationals' crowd tonight:

7:30 PM - Just want everyone to remember that Cubs pitcher Carl Edwards Jr. had this to say about Game 5 last night:

Which happened right after this:

7:00 PM - It'll be interesting to see how much Gonzalez mixes his pitches tonight. It's cleary been something he's worked more on as the season's progressed:

The Cubs are a free-swinging group, but Gonzalez has continually had command issues, posting a BB% that was above the league average in eight of his nine seasons. On a night that's expected to remain cold and wet, having a feel for all his pitches might make all the difference. 

6:40 PM - Baseball weather! 

6:30 PM - The lineups for both teams are officially out, and the Nats are going with the same group that kept them alive last night: 

 

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Nationals place faith in Gio Gonzalez, name him Game 5 starter vs. Cubs

Nationals place faith in Gio Gonzalez, name him Game 5 starter vs. Cubs

The Washington Nationals have named Gio Gonzalez the Game 5 starter vs. the Chicago Cubs at Nationals Park on Thursday night.

Gonzalez gets the call in the pivotal winner-take-all contest coming off of normal regular season rest, four days from his last appearance. Originally Stephen Strasburg was the anticipated starter in Game 5 coming into the series, but a rainout on Tuesday evening allowed manager Dusty Baker to change up the rotation. Strasburg got pushed up to the Game 4 starting role, in place of Tanner Roark, after starting Game 1.

It is the second straight game that Roark has been passed over for one of the Nationals top three pitchers. The Wilmington, Illinois native will be available out of the bullpen, looking for his fourth ever postseason appearance.

RELATED: STRASBURG’S GEM, TAYLOR’S GRAND SLAM FORCES GAME 5

Starting Game 2 for the Nationals this past Saturday, Gonzalez pitched a respectable 5.0 innings, allowing three earned runs on three hits and six strikeouts.

Including his postseason start, the 32-year-old is 0-1 in two starts against the Cubs in 2017 with a 3.27 ERA.

Throughout his 10-year career, Gonzalez has five postseason starts all resulting in no decisions and a 4.24 ERA.

This is the second winner-take-all Game 5 Gonzalez has pitched. His first was back in 2012 against the St. Louis Cardinals where the Nationals blew a 6-0 lead after three.

MORE GAME 5: D.C. METRO EXTENDS HOURS FOR NATS VS. CUBS

Gonzalez will duel the Cubs starter, Kyle Hendricks (1-0, 0.00 ERA in 2017 postseason) in Game 5. As the Game 1 starter in this series, Hendricks completely shut down the Nationals to only two hits, while only striking out five. He lasted seven innings handing off the game to Carl Edwards Jr. and Wade Davis to preserve the shutout.

In an all-hands on deck move, the Nationals also have their ace Max Scherzer available coming out of the bullpen in an attempt to advance to the National League Championship Series for the first time as the Nationals..

The D.C. four professional sports franchises have lost their last 12 games with a conference finals appearance on the line, according to the Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg.

Since relocating to Washington, the franchise has ended two of their three postseason runs in a Game 5 situation in the NLDS. Both of those series were at home as well.

MORE MATS: HOW TO WATCH, FOLLOW NATS VS. CUBS, GAME 5