The pressure already was on the Washington Nationals due to their previous postseason failures, and now they try to avoid an 0-2 deficit when they host the Chicago Cubs on Saturday for Game 2 of their National League Division Series. Washington recorded only two hits while being blanked 3-0 on Friday in the series opener and is two defeats away from its fourth first-round playoff exit in the last six years.
Nationals star Bryce Harper notched one of his team’s hits but doesn’t have an extra-base hit in six contests since returning from a knee injury. “Yeah, the longer we play, the closer Bryce is going to get,” Washington manager Dusty Baker told reporters after the Game 1 defeat. “But you’ve got to put him out there, and you hope that, you know, surrounding cast of guys comes through.” Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo certainly came through in the opener with a run-scoring single and an RBI double. “You’ve got to be focused. You’ve got to be locked in,” Rizzo told reporters. “Those are situations I want to be up in, and thankfully, I hit the ball where they weren’t.”
TV: 5:38 p.m. ET, TBS
PITCHING MATCHUP: Cubs LH Jon Lester (13-8, 4.33 ERA) vs. Nationals LH Gio Gonzalez (15-9, 2.96)
Lester went 5-1 in September to complete an inconsistent regular season in which he served up a career-worst 26 homers. But the 33-year-old has proven to be a solid postseason pitcher - he is 9-7 with a 2.63 ERA in 22 career appearances (19 starts) - and posted a 2.84 ERA in two no-decisions against the Nationals this season. “Eliminating damage is a huge thing against (Washington’s) lineup,” Lester told reporters. “We all know, obviously, they can hit the ball out of the ballpark at a high rate. So keep them on the ground and give our team a chance to field them and throw them out.”
Gonzalez recorded at least 15 victories for the fourth time in his career but struggled down the stretch, losing four of his last six starts. The 32-year old, who has a 3.93 ERA in four career postseason starts (all no-decisions), lost to the Cubs in his lone meeting this season despite giving up one run and two hits in six innings. “That’s a lineup that can do magic 1 through 9, so you have to respect it, whoever they put out there,” Gonzalez told reporters. “I just want to prepare myself and try and take one hitter at a time, and we’ll see how the outcome comes.”
1. Rizzo is 19-for-54 with three homers and 12 RBIs over his last 14 postseason games after going 7-for-47 with two blasts and two RBIs in his first 13.
2. Washington LF Jayson Werth, who finished the regular season in a 10-for-76 funk, was hitless in three at-bats in Game 1.
3. Chicago RHP Wade Davis picked up his fifth career postseason save on Friday and has allowed just one earned run in 28 1/3 innings over 23 career postseason relief appearances.
PREDICTION: Cubs 3, Nationals 1