From April through September, there was no better team in baseball than the Nationals when it came to starting pitching. Through injuries to their lineup and bullpen, it was their constant, their guarantee.
But now three games into the National League Division Series, starting pitching is all of a sudden a weakness. Nats starters have barely been able to get out of the second inning without digging a significant hole for their team to get out of. In the Nationals' 8-0 loss in Game 3, Edwin Jackson was no different.
Nats manager Davey Johnson sent Jackson to the mound after two shaky starts by his one and two starters Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann in Games 1 and 2. And despite Jacksons playoff experience, he couldnt buck the trend of starting the game with trouble early on. Jackson, in fact, missed the strike zone by about a foot on each of his first two pitches.
Johnson acknowledged that maybe Jackson and his teammates were a little jumpy after a pregame celebration of Washington, D.C.s first home MLB playoff game since 1933.
Everybody's excited about the opening ceremonies with all of the dignitaries and the flyover.Got everybody excited, Johnson said. If you get behind early, sometimes it takes the wind out of your sails.
Jackson allowed a run in the first inning off back-to-back hits to Matt Holliday and Allen Craig. Holliday scored all the way from first as left fielder Michael Morse tracked down the ball in the corner.
The second inning for Jackson began with a double by David Freese. Daniel Descalso then singled to move Freese over to third. The next batter, Pete Kozma, took the next pitch over the left field fence for a three-run homer.
Jackson was bitten early just as Gonzalez and Zimmermann were in St. Louis. After experiencing it himself he explained why the Cardinals keep finding success in the first two innings.
Theyre just coming out and being aggressive, he said. Theyre not waiting around for you to get strike one. They are coming out and jumping on pitches early in the count.
In Game 1 Gonzalez allowed two runs, including one on a wild pitch, and walked four batters in the second inning. In Game 2 Zimmermann allowed three runs in the second with four straight hits to begin the inning.
Add their outings with Jacksons day and Nationals starters have allowed 11 earned runs in 13 innings, a combined 7.62 ERA. Thats more than double their combined ERAs in the regular season.
Whatever the Cardinals lineup is doing, they are doing it right. Some of the Nationals position players feel they need to get their bats going early to help the starter in any way they can.
We need to put a couple runs up early, Ryan Zimmerman said. We can give our pitchers some leeway and attack their guys so they dont have so much pressure to make perfect pitches all the time.
Pitching his huge definitely. Having guys going out there and throw strikes and doing well is the key to winning, Bryce Harper said. And hopefully we can get some runs up on the board and really get things going early.
Through three games the Nationals have been outscored 10-2 in the first two innings. Heading to the mound for Game 4 will be Ross Detwiler who is their least experienced starter. Johnson hopes the lefty can get the pitching staff back to where it was just a few games ago, the teams backbone and biggest strength.
We have two more ballgames.Det's capable of pitching a good game tomorrow, he said.
That's been our strength all year.These young guys have pitched great all year. Need a couple more goodpitched games this series.