The Washington Nationals are now in full panic mode.
After losing 2-1 on the road Monday to the Chicago Cubs in Game 3 of the best-of-five National League Divisional Series, the Nationals face elimination Tuesday, all the while knowing they’ve squandered another outstanding pitching performance.
Washington ace Max Scherzer, back from a late-season hamstring injury, was brilliant in his return, holding the Cubs hitless through 6⅓ innings. But as in Game 1 when Stephen Strasburg carried a no-hit bid into the sixth but received no run support, the Nats’ bats went cold again, and manager Dusty Baker questionably pulled Scherzer with a 1-0 lead after surrendering his first hit in the seventh.
From there, the world champion Cubs seized the momentum. After Ben Zobrist’s double off Scherzer, Albert Almora Jr.’s RBI single off Nats reliever Sammy Solis tied the game, and Chicago scored the eventual game-winning run the next inning on an Anthony Rizzo RBI single off Washington closer Brandon Kintzler.
Meanwhile, Cubs starter Jose Quintana baffled Washington through 5⅔ innings, allowing just one run on a Ryan Zimmerman RBI double in the sixth. The Chicago bullpen blanked them them rest of the way, as the Nationals were held to just three hits on the night.
The Nationals, which became the fifth team in MLB postseason history to have a starting pitcher who allowed one hit or fewer in at least six innings and lose the game, now must win Game 4 in Chicago Tuesday in order to keep their season alive. Tanner Roark will hit the mound for Washington, while Jake Arrieta will suit up for the Cubs.
A loss would mean yet another disappointing end to a promising season for Washington and undoubtedly raise some tough personnel offseason questions — particularly regarding Baker, who hasn’t signed an extension through next season. His future may be contingent on the success, or lack thereof, of the Nationals postseason run.