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Starting rotation has been surprise weakness for Nats in NLDS

Starting rotation has been surprise weakness for Nats in NLDS

What many argued were the biggest concerns for the Nationals heading into the NL Division Series have yet to really hurt them.

Their bullpen, even after allowing two runs in Game 4, has been exceptional.

Their offense has not been plagued by the issues that killed them in 2014. And their defense, though not perfect, has largely been good.

No, in fact the biggest weakness for the Nationals so far in the NLDS has been the very thing they are built to do best, the foundation of their roster that is supposed to carry them this time of year. So far, starting pitching has been a major problem.

Even without Stephen Strasburg, they should theoretically be in good shape. They have All-Star Max Scherzer, who has a Cy Young on his record and should contend for the award this year again. Tanner Roark could have easily been an All-Star and posted the sixth-best ERA in baseball this season. 

Gio Gonzalez, though mercurial, had been good against the Dodgers this year and boasts playoff experience. And Joe Ross is a promising young talent who also fared well against L.A. this season.

RELATED: DODGERS' JOC PEDERSON STARES DOWN DUGOUT AFTER ... DOUBLE?

The Nationals had the second-best rotation ERA (3.60) in baseball in 2016. But through four NLDS games, their starters have allowed 13 runs - including five homers - in 17 1/3 innings. Only Scherzer has made it through the fifth inning and Ross on Tuesday couldn't get out of the third.

The Nats have serious rotation issues at the moment and it could cost them their season if they persist. If it weren't for their stingy bullpen and potent offense, their season could very well have been over by now.

"It's put a lot of pressure on my 'pen and on us to make the decisions," manager Dusty Baker said. 

The Dodgers' rotation hasn't exactly been great, either. Their starters have allowed 16 runs in 19 innings so far. The Nats are batting .321 as a team off of them.

It has been an ugly series for starters on both sides, even Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who has now allowed eight earned runs through 11 2/3 innings in two starts. 

But the Nationals have not been able to fully take advantage. Now they have one last chance to change that with Scherzer on the mound for a decisive Game 5 on Thursday in Washington. If there is anyone who can reverse that trend, it's him.

*Quote transcript from ASAPsports.com*

RELATED: GAME 5 TRANSIT IS GOING TO BE A NIGHTMARE

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Nationals Game 5 meltdown yet another reminder why D.C. can't have nice things

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Nationals Game 5 meltdown yet another reminder why D.C. can't have nice things

On Thursday night, a Washington, D.C. pro sports team did something Washington, D.C. pro sports teams are very good at doing: fall short of making a league or championship game.

The Nationals' disastrous fifth inning against the Cubs in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series was the beginning of the end, not to mention yet another in a long line of disappointing playoff results for Washington, D.C. sports teams.

You see, Washington, D.C. is the only city with at least three major pro sports teams to not have a single one make a conference or league championship game since 2000.

To make matters worse, Washington, D.C. sports teams have now lost 16 consecutive playoff games in which a win would've advanced the team to the conference or league championship. 

Think about that for a second. Four teams. Zero conference championship appearances since 1998. 

Here's the list.

Washington, D.C. sports fans are not greedy. We can't be. We've had some very good teams recently, with the type of talent, coaching and intangibles needed to win a championship. 

TRY THIS: 20 THINGS DC SPORTS FANS SHOULD BE HAPPY ABOUT. YES, HAPPY.

The last time a major Washington, D.C. pro sports team won a world championship was in 1992 when the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI.  The last time a major Washington, D.C. pro sports team even made a conference championship game was in 1998, when the Capitals advanced to the Eastern Conference Final, defeating the Sabres to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

Washington, D.C. isn't allowed to have nice sports things.

Sure, we have great players and great teams, but when the playoffs roll around, all the nice things go away. We aren't privy to plucky upstarts who run the table and we aren't privy to dominant teams that make long postseason runs.

Washington, D.C. will have its day, eventually. Sure it may only be a conference championship appearance, but for us, that's fine. We don't expect world championships. We just want something to get invested in.

Early playoff exits are rarely worth the investment.

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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.