LOVERRO: Nationals waste a Strasburg gem

Stephen Strasburg's brilliance can't save Nats from their October issues

He's been writing for ESPN since 2002, and is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.

Hendricks outpitched Strasburg in Game 1 of the NL Division Series, giving up only two hits in seven innings to help the Chicago Cubs open defense of their first World Series title in 108 years by beating the Nationals 3-0 on Friday night. It didn't matter because MVP candidate Anthony Rendon - who committed fewer errors than any third baseman in the majors this season - flubbed an easy chopper that put Javier Baez on base to start the sixth, leading to two unearned runs that seemed more like 20. Saturday, he saw three pitches in his first two at-bats, and hit a weak flyball and groundball to the pitcher when trying to attack early. Despite the lack of production, Baker chose to wash (ington), rinse and repeat by fielding the exact same lineup on Saturday.

Then came the barrage, out of nowhere, a hit from Adam Lind and thunderbolt from Bryce Harper and walk from Anthony Rendon and single from Daniel Murphy and the coup de grace, a three-run home run from Ryan Zimmerman, the longest-tenured of the Nationals. If ever a team was pressing, it was the Nationals.

"I was wondering what we can do from afar", Harper said. "You know, he can pitch". That set the stage for Harper, who by his own admission, hadn't been as ready for the spotlight as he would have liked since coming off the disabled list. Harper also said Saturday's Game 2 was "not got-to-win", that he's "played in a lot of bigger games, I feel like, than this", and that "growing up, playing in front of 15,000 people at 10 years old, it's kind of the same thing to me". "Taking six weeks off, seven weeks off, not seeing live pitching is tough". Anyone who's watched the Nationals in recent postseasons knew, just knew, that they were dead. Despite finding themselves down throughout most of the game, the Nationals had a huge eighth inning which featured five runs to complete a comeback victory. Only four hits in those 16 innings. Edwards came on to pitch the eighth. Lester even escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning to preserve the then 3-1 lead, and there was little reason to doubt the Cubs wouldn't win. And that's all the Nats needed to snap out of their deep lumber slumber. They played small-ball to move a runner into scoring position, and benefited from a ball finally finding its way through when it mattered. When he has waited, he has fallen into bad counts and made no contact at all. One out later, Bryant drove in the first run with a single to right-center and went to second when Harper's throw missed the cutoff man. Plus that, the changeup, it makes him even more effective.

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Relieved and recharged by Harper's 421-foot depressurizer, the Nats' lineup poured it on.

His shot off a 93 miles per hour fastball was hardly the no-doubter Harper's drive was, but on an evening in which balls carried in 12 miles per hour wind - every run scored on a homer - this one barely cleared the green wall in left field.

Maddon was questioned afterward about leaving in the right-handed Edwards, who held left-handed hitters to a.119 average this season, to face the lefty hitting Harper, who hit 26 home runs and had a 1.087 OPS against righties. "You don't do it just to be doing it", Baker said.

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