WASHINGTON — It happened again.
The Nationals, for the second time in three games, watched their starting pitcher take a no-hitter into the sixth inning. For the second time in three games, the Nationals failed to score a run in the opening five innings. For the second time in three games, the Nationals lost.
Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer, in Games 1 and 3, respectively, combined for this sparkling line:
13.1 innings, 4 hits, 4 walks, 17 strikeouts, 1 earned run.
That is about as good as it comes in baseball, especially in the playoffs, especially against a lineup as potent as the one the Chicago Cubs boast. If you enter a series hoping to get that line out of your top two guys, you’re aiming too high. And if you somehow get that, you expect to have a pair of wins in the books.
Instead, the Nationals mustered a total of five hits in those games — not just in those 13.1 innings, mind you, but in the full 18 innings — which led to just a single run.
For context: The Nationals were fourth in all of baseball this season with 1,477 hits. That’s about 9.1 hits per game. They’ve managed just 11 total over the three games so far in this series, six of which came in their 6-3 win on Saturday.
The Nationals have gotten outstanding games from their two best pitchers, game-changing home runs from Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, and mostly very good fielding, and they’re down two games to one. The negatives are greater than the positives, however; almost nobody else is hitting (Trea Turner is 0-for-12 with five strikeouts, Matt Wieters is 0-for-8, Daniel Murphy is 1-for-11, Jayson Werth is 1-for-10), the fielding mistakes have come at crucial junctures, the bullpen has been shaky, and, of course, the Cubs are pretty good at baseball.
The biggest thing Washington needs to happen is Trea Turner finding his offense. When he gets on, everything changes for the Nationals. If Turner gets to first, a five-pitch at-bat to Bryce Harper should be enough to let him steal second, then any single pretty much guarantees a run. He can change the game like few others can.
But even if he can’t get going, the Nationals have more than enough firepower to beat Chicago. That firepower just needs to be located. And if the first three games are to be used as reference, the Nationals could be going home early.