For the past two seasons, the Washington Nationals have suffered agonizing losses vs. the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2012, after an exciting walk-off win in the NLDS, there was the agonizing, gut-wrenching loss that was Game 5, and then the Nationals went 0-6 against the Cardinals in 2013. This snowballed into Washington struggling mightily against any other playoff team, and these losses became a major narrative for the Nationals.
So, when the Cardinals came into Nationals Park and pounded the Nationals, 8-0, that narrative came up again as the Nationals looked absolutely listless against Adam Wainwright. Needless to say, things looked pretty rough for the Nationals after the opening game. Then the Nationals won the following game, 3-1, taking advantage of mistakes made by St. Louis, capped off by a wild pitch that got past Yadier Molina, easily the game’s best catcher.
The Nationals proceeded to split this four-game set and took a major step forward both confidence-wise and in how they’re perceived around the league.
The two games they won were hotly-contested games where the Nationals grinded out at-bats, working counts and making the Cardinals’ pitchers earn every out. Their first win was against Michael Wacha, who had a no hitter with two outs in the ninth inning in his only other start against Washington. The Nationals were able to take advantage of a wild pitch by Wacha and beat him for their first win against the Cardinals in almost two years.
The Nationals know that if they are going to be a playoff and World Series contender, they need to beat teams like St. Louis and they need to play consistently against them. Washington cannot let the Cardinals get a three-run lead early then have their offense get shut down. Washington needs to do what they have done against the subpar teams they have played like the Miami Marlins and New York Mets; work counts, get the starter out, and exploit inconsistent bullpens.
Obviously, the Cardinals’ bullpen is much better than Miami’s or New York’s, but the Nationals were able to tie the game off them and then win on a sac fly. It may not look like it now, but the Nationals’ split with the Cardinals is a major step forwards, and we will see that as the season progresses.