Updated 10:46 p.m.
The Nationals know as well as most just how difficult it can be to score runs in the MLB postseason. October has its own way of sorting things out: the pitching improves, nerves come into play and in many cities the temperature drops.
Ask most baseball observers about the 2014 playoffs and they will cite the bullpen and manager Matt Williams as the root of the Nationals' downfall. But they scored just nine runs in four games. Few bullpens or coaches can overcome that.
Through three games in the 2016 NL Division Series, the Nationals have charted a divergent course. They are generating scoring chances consistently and the runs have followed. That success at the plate continued in their 8-3 victory over the Dodgers in Game 3 on Monday afternoon in Los Angeles. Those eight runs were the most ever scored by the Nats in a playoff game and almost what they put up in their entire 2014 NLDS vs. San Francisco.
The Nationals offense erupted to a stellar start, chasing Dodgers rookie standout Kenta Maeda after just three innings. Washington collected four runs in the third inning alone, two thanks to Anthony Rendon's first career postseason homer. It was also his first playoff extra-base hit and run scored. He is now an impressive 10-for-31 (.323) with five RBI through seven career postseason games.
The Nationals' first two runs were plated by Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper earlier in the third. Werth brought in Trea Turner all the way from first on a double to the right field corner, one that gave the speedy Turner a chance against Yasiel Puig's notorious throwing arm. Harper then poked a single to shallow right to score Werth from third.
Werth would add another run to their total in the ninth with a solo homer off vaunted closer Kenley Jansen. The Nats outfielder decimated a 1-0 cutter deep into the left field bleachers. It was his 15th career postseason bomb.
"That one felt pretty good. I played a lot of games here and I've always wanted to hit one out of the stadium," Werth said. "I never thought it was possible, and I still feel the same way. So that ball doesn't get out, I don't think I can do it."
Zimmerman drove in two more later in the ninth on a double off the wall in right field. That scored Daniel Murphy, who walked, and Harper, who was hit by a pitch. Zimmerman redeemed himself for striking out with the bases loaded on three pitches to end the top of the first.
The Dodgers gained an early advantage in the first inning on Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez, once again on a big hit by rookie superstar Corey Seager. After homering in the top of the first of both Games 1 and 2, Seager ripped an RBI double in the bottom of the first on Monday. That scored Justin Turner, who reached with a one-out walk.
The Dodgers got two more runs in the fifth inning to end Gonzalez' day. Those were on a home run by Carlos Ruiz, the fifth of his postseason career. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts originally tapped Andre Ethier to pinch-hit before pulling him back for Ruiz. The veteran catcher then smoked a 3-1 fastball over the fence to score himself and Joc Pederson, who got on with a one-out single.
Pederson and Ruiz landed two of the four hits Gonzalez surrendered on the afternoon. He walked one and was charged with three runs through 4 1/3 innings.
The Nationals' bullpen continued to shine in Game 3. Lefty Sammy Solis made his third straight appearance, this time with 1 2/3 scoreless innings. He's tossed four shutout frames this series on two hits and two walks. Solis has yet to show his inexperience and looks like the unique weapon he was for much of the regular season.
Fellow lefty Oliver Perez then faced two batters in the seventh and allowed one hit. Shawn Kelley finished the frame, capped by a strikeout of Turner in a full count, and returned to toss a perfect eighth. Kelley went 1 2/3 perfect frames with three strikeouts and built a bridge to closer Mark Melancon, who tossed a clean ninth.
The Nats' relief corps has yet to allow a run this postseason through 12 1/3 innings. Collectively, they have 14 strikeouts.
"I tell you, the bullpen was awesome," manager Dusty Baker said. "All the guys contributed. Sammy Solis got the win, but he did an outstanding job. What a job that Kelley did for us. I mean, he went through the heart of the order and that's the best we've seen him in a while, but he was well rested."
"It's exciting. I guess it could be maybe a little boring at times because they get everybody out," Rendon said.
Murphy went 0-for-4 outside of his walk. Turner singled and scored, but struck out three times. He has eight strikeouts through three playoff games. Danny Espinosa also had a rough day with a strikeout and a hit-by-pitch, his third of the series. That's the most ever in an NLDS.
The rest of the Nationals lineup did plenty to compensate for those troubles. Harper had a single, two walks and a run. Werth had three hits - including the homer - and a walk and is now 5-for-13 with four runs scored in the series. Zimmerman walked, singled and doubled. He now has five hits in the series.
With a 2-1 lead in the NLDS, the Nationals are one win away from advancing to the Championship Series. The NLCS would push them closer than any D.C. sports team has been to a world championship in 18 years.
The last D.C. major sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL) team to reach the semifinals of their league was the 1997-98 Capitals, who were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals. No other North American city with at least three such teams has waited longer.
The 1998 Caps are the only D.C. team to get that close to a world title since 1992, when the Redskins won the Super Bowl. That was the last D.C. world championship. Only Minneapolis-St. Paul has waited longer for a title, among U.S. cities with at least three major sports teams.
Put simply, one more win would be the biggest victory for a D.C. team in almost 20 years. The Nationals have been close before. They were one strike away in 2012. Now, they have another chance.
Quotes via SportsNet Los Angeles and ASAPsports.com
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