Fans hoped the Cardinals would enjoy offensive carryover from their 13-run outburst in Game 5 of the NLDS.
But they did not.
Nationals starter Anibal Sanchez retired the first 10 batters he saw and held the Cardinals hitless for 7 2/3 innings in Washington's 2-0 victory. Now the Cardinals are up against it with the Nationals starting ace Max Scherzer in Game 2.
Sanchez did a masterful job of keeping the Cardinals off-balance.
"The way he can change speeds, even on his changeup, he can change speeds, I mean, he can slow it all the way down, we call it the butterfly, he can throw a butterfly in there and you get guys just every hitter just waves at it," Scherzer observed beforehand.
Twice the Cardinals got a runner in scoring position against Sanchez and twice he escaped without damage.
Kolten Wong drew a one-out walk in the fourth inning, stole second base with two outs and advanced to third on Yan Gomes' throwing error. Then Sanchez got Marcell Ozuna to pop out.
Cardinals pinch-hitter Randy Arozarena stole second after being hit by a pitch in the sixth inning. He advanced to third on a groundout, but Sanchez got Wong on a lineout to center.
Sanchez has allowed just one run on six hits in 12 2/3 innings in his two playoff starts. And he is Washington's No. 4 starter!
This NLCS is going to be a chore for the Cardinals. They can run, but can they hit?
Manager Mike Shildt got all he could have hoped for out of starting pitcher Miles Mikolas. He held the Nationals to one run in six innings on seven hits. He struck out seven batters and walked two, one intentionally.
"He gave us more than a chance," Shildt said. "I thought he was terrific."
Mikolas flirted with danger in the fifth inning. Gomes led off with a single and went to second on Trea Turner's one-out single. Adam Eaton popped out, but Anthony Rendon walked on four pitches.
When Juan Soto took two balls out of the strike zone, Mikolas was right on the brink of disaster with Giovanny Gallegos and John Brebbia getting loose in the bullpen. But Miles got the fidgety Soto to ground out to strand the bases loaded.
Mikolas has allowed just two runs in 12 innings in two starts and one relief appearance in this postseason. After a disappointing regular season, he has come through nicely in the playoffs to justify his big contract.
After Mikolas, Shildt rolled out his Parade of 1,000 relievers and managed to hold the Nationals to just one more run.
Here are some other thoughts on the NLCS:
– We're always bugging Matt Carpenter to bunt more. So he came out bunting against Sanchez with two outs in the second inning and the Nationals played it perfectly – as if they were prepared for this happen. The Nationals took their game prep seriously it seems.
– Speaking of ineffective bunts, Nationals outfielder Michael Taylor tried to bunt his way on with a runner at first base and two out in the fourth inning. He dropped the ball down right in front of the plate, then stepped on it for an out. You do not see that every day.
– Give a hand to Cardinal Nation for being hardy. Game 1 was an announced sellout at 45,075 and many fans actually sat in their seats for long periods of time in the cold.
– The Nationals played without closer Daniel Hudson, who is away from the team on a brief paternity leave. Hudson is 1-0 with two saves and no runs allowed in four postseason appearances, so that's kind of a big deal. Reliever Wander Suero is filling in on the roster until he returns – which the Nationals hopes is in time for Game 2. Other bullpen changes included the addition of Roenis Elias and Javy Guerra and the subtraction of Hunter Strickland. Elias had been sidelined since Sept. 5 with a hamstring strain.
– Given the bullpen depletion, Dave Martinez was in no mood to pinch-hit for Sanchez in the sixth inning with runners at first and second and two outs. And Sanchez grounded out to strand the runners and keep the game at 1-0.
– Despite that bullpen issues, odds are manager Martinez will avoid using his starters like Scherzer in relief. "Yeah, being in the previous postseasons where that happens in the five-game series, yeah, you got to get creative and you got to take the ball at every single chance you can get," Scherzer said. "In the seven-game series, the way you're set up, this is more like the regular season. You can't be coming out of the pen in the same form or fashion unless you're not going to be making your start."
– Outfielder Victor Robles made the NLCS roster after progressing from a hamstring muscle strain, but Martinez is limiting his role for the time being. Kurt Suzuki is still awaiting clearance to play after getting hit in face by pitch in the NLDS. The Nationals started this series shorthanded but Gomes and Taylor held up as fill-ins.