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Add Anibal Sánchez's NLCS Game 1 start to best performances in Nats playoff history

Add Anibal Sánchez's NLCS Game 1 start to best performances in Nats playoff history

Anibal Sánchez's name can officially be added to the still short, but growing list of Nationals postseason heroes. 

Put him up there with Juan Soto, who had the go-ahead RBI against the Brewers in the NL Wild Card game, and Howie Kendrick, who hit a grand slam in the 10th inning of Game 5 against the Dodgers on Wednesday to push the Nats to their first NL Championship Series. 

Jayson Werth is certainly on there thanks to his walk-off homer in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS. And Stephen Strasburg has already had a few memorable moments, including his Game 4 start against the Cubs in 2017 and his Game 2 start vs. the Dodgers on Oct. 4.

But Sánchez now owns claim to something that cannot be disputed. He has thrown the best start in Nationals playoff history. 

He was surgical on Friday night against a St. Louis Cardinals team that in their previous game put up 10 runs in the first inning alone. He went 7 2/3 shutout innings with only one hit and one walk allowed and two hit batters.

Sanchez didn't allow a single baserunner until the fourth inning and his lone hit was to the very last batter he faced. He was four outs away from just the third no-hitter in MLB postseason history. 

Though he fell short of that distinction, he already distinguished himself in D.C. baseball lore. It was the longest start without allowing a run for a Washington pitcher since Earl Whitehill pitched a shutout in the 1933 World Series against the New York Giants. Walter Johnson also went a full nine without giving up a run in the 1924 World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But that's it, those are the only two pitchers ever to go further in a Washington jersey without giving up a run. Only one other pitcher in franchise history, Ray Burris of the Montreal Expos, threw more shutout innings in a postseason start. He also threw a shutout back in the 1981 NLCS against the Dodgers.

There have been other strong pitching performances by Nats pitchers in October, but nothing qutie like what Sanchez pulled off on Friday night. The candidates for second-best playoff start by a Nats pitcher would be Max Scherzer in Game 4 of this year's NLDS (7 IP, ER), Strasburg in that Game 4 against the Cubs in 2017 (7 IP, 0 ER, 12 SO), Strasburg in Game 1 of that series (7 IP, 2 R, 0 ER, 10 SO) and Doug Fister in Game 3 of the 2014 NLDS against the Giants (7 IP, 0 ER).

But Sánchez clearly has them beat both given the numbers he produced and the fact it was in a deeper round of the playoffs. It also, of course, went way beyond the stats.

The Nationals were desperate to have Sanchez go deep in this game because of the state of their bullpen, which was already a concern before closer Daniel Hudson left the team on the paternity list. With him unavailable, Sánchez's ideal start would include going at least 7 2/3 innings to create a bridge to Sean Doolittle, and that is exactly what he did. The Nats used only two pitchers to escape with a 2-0 victory and only 10 total players because there were no pinch-hitters.

Sánchez stepped up and delivered a gem in the biggest game in Nats history so far. It was the best outing of Sanchez' postseason career, though not by much. He's made a habit of doing this on baseball's biggest stage.

Sánchez also threw seven scoreless frames in Game 2 of the 2012 ALCS when he was with the Tigers. And he took a no-hitter through six innings in Game 1 of the ALCS back in 2013. Scherzer actually started Game 2 of that series and will do the same for the Nats on Saturday.

Sánchez has put together quite the postseason career to this point. While his regular season career ERA sits at a modest 3.98, it plummets to 2.57 in the playoffs. The sample size isn't all that small either, now at 56 innings spanning five different postseasons.

Considering that, one could make the argument the Nats have a Big Four and not just a Big Three when it comes to the playoffs. Sanchez is often overshadowed by Scherzer, Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, but his October results speak for themselves.

Sánchez is now through 12.2 innings this postseason with the Nats having only allowed one run. That should make them feel very good about having him pitch again in this series, which has him lined up to throw Game 5.

The Nats are now up 1-0 on the Cardinals, three wins away from a World Series berth. And they have their rotation lined up to be Scherzer in Game 2, Strasburg in Game 3 and Corbin in Game 4. If necessary, Sánchez would throw Game 5, Scherzer would take Game 6 and Strasburg would be ready for a Game 7.

That doesn't sound good for St. Louis.

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David Ortiz lauds Juan Soto's rare confidence, says Nationals star was seven years ahead of him

David Ortiz lauds Juan Soto's rare confidence, says Nationals star was seven years ahead of him

Juan Soto had all the talent you could hope for as a 20-year-old star outfielder in the major leagues, it was just a matter of him putting it all together. 

In the 2019 World Series against the Astros, the Nationals' phenom did just that, posting a .333/.438/.741 slash line to go along with three homers, seven RBI and a number of clutch hits in the seven-game series. 

Not only that, but Soto raked against the Astros with so much confidence that he caught the eye of Red Sox legend and future Hall of Famer David Ortiz. 

The greatest DH of all time noticed a particular at-bat against Astros ace Justin Verlander. Verlander threw a fastball high for a ball, and his catcher argued the strike zone with the umpire given Verlander's desire to throw up in the zone. 

"And during this argument Soto got in and he said, 'Tell him to throw it a bit lower and I'll show him where's the strike zone,'" Ortiz said in a recent interview. "Believe me, I was watching all of that. Then Verlander threw the pitch he was asking for and Soto almost got the ball way out of the stadium. In my language, as a guy who played baseball professionally for 20 years ... I learned that confidence this kid already has at 21 years old, I got that confidence at about 28 years old. He's seven years ahead of me."

By the time Ortiz turned 28, he had played over seven seasons in the majors (two with Boston) and had hit 130 home runs to go with a .278/.359/.517 slash line. Once he got settled in on the Red Sox, Ortiz began to solidify himself as one of the game's best sluggers. 

Just two seasons into his professional career, Soto has hit .286/.403/.535 with 56 home runs. You don't want to start making impossible comparisons for a player just 21 years old, but Soto's first two years have been incredible. Not to mention the fact he delivered Washington its first World Series championship. 

Once the 2020 season gets underway, we'll see how high Soto can climb. It'll be difficult without Anthony Rendon in the lineup, though he seemed to do fine filling the void left by Bryce Harper.

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Revisiting five trades that shaped the Nationals

Revisiting five trades that shaped the Nationals

Asked a few weeks back if the end of spring training caused the end of trade discussions, Mike Rizzo said that was the case.

The Nationals, like every other team, were trying to figure out what’s next instead of hunting for trade solutions in early spring. Nothing about business was usual.

Though this stall does provide time for reflection. We’ll do some of that today, in the coming days via Nationals Talk Supreme Court on the podcast, and until baseball resumes.

For now, let’s look back on five trades which shaped the Nationals. Most good, one still up for debate and one you might recall with Jonathan Papelbon.

Dec. 19, 2014
In:
Trea Turner and Joe Ross
Out: Steven Souza
Also involved: Wil Myers to San Diego
Overview: It’s hard to now fathom the Nationals without Turner. He’s been in the major leagues for five years -- three of them full seasons outside of injured list time from being hit by pitches. He’s a quality defensive shortstop, multi-faceted top-of-the-order bat, and growing among the faces of the franchise. Turner can’t become a free agent until 2023, right around the time prospect Luis Garcia should be ready to come to the major leagues.

Historically, Turner will be labeled the “player to be named later” in this trade, making him one of the best PTBNLs in baseball history (David Ortiz may be No. 1 there).

Ross’ future will determine what level of swindle this ultimately is. Turner is a 14.1 bWAR player to this point despite losing almost a full season because he was hit by pitches in separate years. Souza has been a 5.9 bWAR player since 2015. Myers has 8.5 bWAR since arriving in San Diego (where he also had injury problems). So, Turner’s performance is on par with what Souza and Myers have combined to do.

Which leaves Ross. The Nationals are wondering if he is heading toward a post-Tommy John breakthrough. The fifth starter spot was going to him or Austin Voth when spring training stopped. Anything he adds makes the trade all the more lucrative.

Dec. 23, 2011
In:
Gio Gonzalez, Robert Gilliam
Out: Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole, Derek Norris, Tommy Milone
Overview: Gonzalez was a needed arm in the Nationals’ rotation and became one of the young franchises important pieces -- until the end.

He racked up 21.6 bWAR before being traded to Milwaukee after his starts became laborious and ineffective. Gonzalez was one of the more affable players in the Nationals’ clubhouse while in Washington. He’s addicted to Jordan brand anything, once brought a giant boom box to his locker and surprisingly befriended Jonathan Papelbon when the enigmatic closer worked in Washington.

Gonzalez was also one of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball while part of the Nationals’ push toward relevancy.

Norris is out of Major League Baseball. Cole is a non-roster invitee with the Blue Jays. Milone is a non-roster invitee with the Orioles and has not pitched well since 2014. Peacock has bounced between the bullpen and starting since the trade, amassing just 4.6 WAR after joining Houston following another trade in 2012.

July 16, 2017
In:
Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler
Out: Blake Treinen, Jesus Luzardo, Sheldon Neuse
Overview: You may have heard: The Nationals had a bad bullpen in 2017. And the next year. And last year.

To fix this, Rizzo brought in three veteran relievers. Doolittle, who is now one of the team’s main voices and its closer, can be a free agent at the end of the year. Madson and Kintzler both pitched well when first arriving.

Treinen dominated for a year in Oakland before falling flat last season. Luzardo’s future will ultimately decide how this trade is viewed. He’s still just 22 years old and appears ready to be a lethal threat in Oakland’s rotation for years to come. He’s precisely the kind of prospect the Nationals’ current farm system lacks. But, as Rizzo would argue, you have to give to get. And the Nationals were desperate at the time to fix the bullpen. Treinen was not pitching well, either.

Rizzo sent a chunk of the future for a patch since Madson and Kintzler were gone the following season. Doolittle may not be far behind them.

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Dec. 8, 2016
In:
Adam Eaton
Out: Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo López, Dane Dunning
Overview: How much does winning the World Series change the perception of this trade?

Hard-liners could argue acquiring Eaton -- even under the assumption Bryce Harper was leaving -- can never be worth trading three starting pitcher prospects. His 2017 knee injury doesn’t help his defense, but there’s also no way for an organization to predict an acute injury like that.

The assessment revolves around Giolito, who became an all-star last season, and Eaton’s 2019 World Series performance. His .993 OPS produced an argument for his series MVP consideration. Giolito was also one of baseball’s worst pitchers in 2018, when he led the American League in earned runs allowed and walks.

So, Giolito still has work to do to prove he’s an elite pitcher. López has fluctuated between solid and putrid. Dunning is coming off Tommy John surgery (but was pitching well prior).

Eaton has never performed as expected outside of the World Series. Is that enough to declare this a Washington win? It may be.

July 28, 2015
In:
Jonathan Papelbon
Out: Nick Pivetta
Overview: We can’t talk about recent trades and not mention this one.

Papelbon’s arrival was a jolt. He instantly became a clubhouse influence -- in both directions. His pitching in 2015 was so-so, but, again, the Nationals needed bullpen help. Which made Papelbon the new closer and lead participant in one of the strangest acts in franchise history.

Papelbon choked Bryce Harper on the dugout steps when the two got into a late-game fight. Manager Matt Williams claimed not to see the fight and sent Papelbon back to the mound to pitch the ninth inning. The fight also coincided with the “Jersey off their backs” giveaway and yoga in the outfield. While reporters typed away their stories covering the in-fighting, a yoga instructor was talking about peace and breathing over the stadium’s PA system with dozens of people stretching across mats in the outfield.

As if that mix wasn’t odd enough, Papelbon returned the next season. He held one press conference in spring training to discuss the situation, saying he would answer anything asked at the time, but wouldn’t talk about it again. He was released Aug. 13, 2016. He hasn’t pitched since.

Pivetta has been a subpar pitcher since arriving in Philadelphia.

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