Facing elimination, the Nationals send Doug Fister to the mound against Giants ace Madison Bumgarner.
Start Time: 5:00 p.m. ET
TV: MLB Network
Series: Giants lead 2-0
Of the 66 previous best-of-five postseason series in baseball history to start 2-0, 43 of them ended in sweeps, including both of this year's American League Division Series, which wrapped up on Sunday. In this series, the Nationals, having snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in via the longest postseason game in baseball history in Saturday's Game 2, find themselves in San Francisco hoping to avoid the same fate as the Angels and Tigers. But in order to play another day, the Nats, who hit .160/.225/.245 as a team in the first two games of this series, have to defeat (or at least out-last) Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, who shut out the Pirates in his previous postseason start in the Wild-Card Game. Their chances are not good.
There are some reasons for optimism for Washington, however, and they start with Bumgarner's opposing pitcher, who also happened to throw a shutout in his last start. Fister, whom the Nationals stole from the Tigers in December, missed the first two months of the regular season with a latissimus dorsi strain, but led Washington in ERA after his return in early May. In his final four starts in the regular season, he went 4-0 with a 1.26 ERA, and in his lone start in San Francisco this season, he held the Giants scoreless for seven innings in a 2-1 win over none other than Madison Bumgarner. What's more, in seven previous postseason starts, the last six of which were quality, Fister has posted a 2.06 ERA, and his teams have gone 6-1.
Then again, the Giants got Fister back at Nationals Park in late August, scoring four runs in six innings via home runs by Joe Panik and Buster Posey. Fister’s road ERA this season was 1.33 runs higher than his home mark, and he will be making this start on nine days rest, meaning there might be some rust to shake off, at least in the early innings. He may also need to pitch carefully to Pablo Sandoval, who is 5-for-8 with a double against him in his career, and Panik, who is 3-for-3 with that home run.
Of course, even if Fister pitches well, the Nationals still have to score against Bumgarner. Washington has hit .160 as a team through the first two games of this series, and a full third of their hits have come off Anthony Rendon's bat. The rest of the team is hitting .120/.189/.217. Their collective career numbers against Bumgarner don't suggest they are primed for a break out against the Giants' ace.
Complicating things further, the Nationals have to have some concerns about Drew Storen's mental state. It was Storen who, called in to save a 7-5 lead in the decisive fifth game of the 2012 Division Series against the Cardinals, got the Nationals to within one strike of advancing, only to walk two consecutive batters, then give up a pair of singles that gave St. Louis a 9-7 win. Whether or not that loss haunted Storen in 2013, he got off to an awful start that season and only seemed to recover his previous form after a controversial midseason demotion.
This season, Storen pitched well enough that he easily reclaimed the closer's job when Rafael Soriano, who was signed as Storen's replacement in the wake of the 2012 Division Series, stumbled down the stretch. However, called upon to save a 2-1 lead with two outs in the ninth and a man on first base on Game 2 of this series, his first postseason appearance since 2012, Storen gave up hits to the only two batters he faced to allow the Giants to tie it up, then had to watch as the game stretched on for nine more innings with the Giants eventually winning in the 18th.
Given that, if the Nationals have a slim lead late in this game, knowing that their season will be over if the Giants rally for a walk-off win, is Matt Williams going to have the confidence to go to Storen for the save? If not, will that alter the way he uses his other relievers to get to the ninth inning? The Nationals' other short relievers have all pitched well in this series, with Soriano, Tyler Clippard, Matt Thornton, and Jerry Blevins combining for seven scoreless innings, stranding their only inherited runner. Williams should have confidence in his bullpen in general, but Storen is another story, and the Nationals don't have the luxury of giving Storen a confidence-boosting outing in this game.
Speaking of bullpens, the only pitcher on either team who should be unavailable today as a result of that Game 2 marathon is the Giants' Yusmeiro Petit, who threw 80 pitches in what was effectively a quality start in relief in that game (Petit actually out-pitched Game 1 starter Jake Peavy with a 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 7 K line). No one else on either team threw more than Craig Stammen's 35 pitches, and everyone had Sunday off to recuperate.
The Giants haven't dominated this series. Their two wins have come by scores of 3-2 and 2-1, the latter took them 18 innings in a game they were one out from losing, and they have hit .213/.260/.298 as a team. Still, they couldn't be in a better position heading into Game 3, up 2-0 with their ace on the mound for the potential clincher. On Sunday, the American League's wild-card entrant completed a sweep of the team with the best record in baseball. On Monday, against the team with the best record in the National League, we could see the NL's wild-card entrant pull the same trick.