By Sam Bush
So, the Nats are in the familiar spot of being on a cliff in the NLDS against the mighty Dodgers.
Down two games to one and a loss away from elimination, they get to throw their ace in tonight’s game 3.
Max Scherzer will pitch tonight against a Dodgers lineup that scored 10 runs in the final five innings of Game 3..
“What I do know is that we got Mad Max on the mound tomorrow,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said after the 10-4 defeat, “which I believe puts us in a great position.”
The righty started the thrilling wild-card game victory over the Milwaukee Brewers not a week ago. He struggled early, allowing three earned runs on a pair of homers in the first two frames, but settled in to complete five innings and hand the ball to fellow starter Stephen Strasburg, who would start a potential Game 5 back in Los Angeles.
Before that, though, Scherzer – who owns a 3.78 career ERA in the playoffs across 18 outings – must help ensure there is a flight back to the West Coast.
Los Angeles got its first look of Scherzer this postseason when Martinez deployed him in the eighth inning of Game 2. Scherzer indulged his skipper by striking out the side, but he’ll need to record more than three outs for the Nationals to have any chance of survival.
In both the wild-card and Game 2 outings, Scherzer’s velocity was up a few ticks compared to his regular season starts. Scherzer, who missed nearly a month this summer with back injuries, doesn’t anticipate that changing in Game 4 and attributes that to the heightened environment of the playoffs.
“For me, it’s just a mentality of just going out there with everything on the line,” Scherzer said Sunday. “The atmospheres I’ve pitched in, here with the wild-card game and then there on the road in Dodger Stadium, I mean, it’s been intense.
“So you’re going to get the best out of me. And there’s no regular season environment that I can replicate that.”
Much like the wild-card game, the Nationals’ aspirations of moving on will rely on a successful handoff from Scherzer to Strasburg – except this time it will have to span two games.
The Nationals aren’t jamming the panic button yet. But they realize escape from the brink starts with Scherzer on Monday.
“I think we’re weirdly comfortable right now even with our backs against the wall,” Nationals closer Sean Doolittle said. “We got Max going (Monday), Stras going after him. We’ve played a lot of must-win games here in the last couple months of the season.
“We’ve had our backs against the wall before. Coming in here, looking at guys, talking to guys, nobody’s panicking.”