Cleat Geeks

District Dugout: GAME 5 IN D.C.- What To Look For In Tonight’s Do Or Die.

The Washington Nationals are one game away from their first NLCS appearance in franchise history. After being the first team to clinch their division during the regular season, Washington has forced a game 5 at home against the reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs. The path to game 5 hasn’t been easy, Washington faced elimination during game 4 at Wrigley Field yesterday. However, ace Stephen Strasburg, fighting the flu went out and pitched a gem; going 7 innings allowing only 1 hit and striking out 12 batters, a franchise post season record. Stras was electric in the start but Michael A. Taylor was the deciding factor in the game.

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With Washington’s offense again sputtering Taylor was able to deliver the door slamming hit that would send both teams back to the Nations capital. An 8th inning grand slam by the young center fielder was easily the biggest swing of his career and arguably of the Nats season, competing with homers from Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman earlier in this series. Washington can break through and advance with a strong showing that results in a win tonight. Lefty Gio Gonzalez takes the mound for the Nats tonight opposed by Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks who helped blank the Nationals in game one. Tonight will be must see baseball in D.C. Here is what to look for tonight at Nats Park.

The offense: Washington is struggling at the plate hitting under .200 for the series, and is having issues manufacturing runs outside of hitting long balls. Manager Dusty Baker has not made any changes to his lineup outside of shuffling the order, which last night again did nothing prior to the 8th inning. Jayson Werth inexcusably will be hitting second for a second day in a row, Werth who has managed to not hit at all since his return from the DL will once again face right handed pitcher Kyle Hendricks, a task he has not been able to handle well. Over the past three years Werth is managing a sorry .211 average against right handed pitchers and somehow he finds himself in the top third of the order. Assuming he again looks lost the remainder of the batting order will need to step up and produce. A one or two hit game will not get it done tonight and the Nats will need key players like Daniel Murphy who for a second straight season finished second in the NL batting title and former MVP Bryce Harper who will command 450 million next off-season to get back into form and provide some quality base hits to get this offense jump-started.

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Trea Turner: Turner is in the second Post-Season series of his career and has looked small in the big moment. Turner has been Washingtons lead-off hitter since his call up to the big leagues and gives opponents headaches when he is on base. The problem is he hasn’t been on base much this series. Before last night Turner had not reached base once and was an easy out for the Cubs. Turner got his first hit and was able to draw two walks in the game 4 win and will need to do more of the same tonight. Should Turner get on base this evening he will make life for hitters Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper easier, his speed and base stealing ability is key to Washington stringing runs together. A solid game from Turner on the bases could be the difference in what has been a close series and could be the key for the next series should Washington manage to get there.

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Pitching: A heroic effort from Stephen Strasburg extended his teams season, now its time for his team to pay him back. Lefty Gio Gonzales will start tonights game and will need to have a strong showing. I fully do not expect Gio to take his start past the 6th inning so his fist 5 or so need to be his best of the season. Gio’s biggest task will be handling the two headed monster that is Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo  early in the lineup. Another duo to look out for is that of Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark, who both will more than likely pitch tonight. Roark who was slated to pitch in game 4 was scratched once Stras made it known he wanted the ball. Roark has come out of the bull pen before and will probably be the first receiver used should Gio struggle early and if he can start sharp he may go multiple innings in an attempt to be the game 5 hero. Max Scherzer who took a no hitter into the 7th during game three has said he’s ready to go an inning or two if needed, and based off how these games have gone he will be used in later innings. Max will be a shot in the arm for the Nationals with his high intensity and Cy Young caliber stuff. If there is a small lead for either team Max will be called upon to make sure the Cubs aren’t able to run away with it.

Washington has a good chance to extend their season once more and will be supported by a pack house in D.C. tonight. If the bats are able to come alive and the Pitching can shut the Cubs down Washington will be celebrating the biggest Curly W in franchise history. First pitch will be thrown at 8:08 p.m. on TBS.

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