NLDS: History on line as Washington Nationals return home vs. Chicago Cubs

By Jeff Arnold, The Sports Xchange  |  Oct. 12, 2017 at 12:07 AM
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CHICAGO -- The Nationals have yet to reach the National League Championship Series, as they were eliminated in the NL Division Series in each of their previous three postseason appearances since moving to Washington.

However, when the Nationals face the Chicago Cubs in the deciding game of the best-of-five NLDS on Thursday night in Washington, their past playoff shortcomings won't factor into their confidence.

At stake is a chance to advance to the NLCS to face the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Washington, after staving off elimination behind a dominant performance by right-hander Stephen Strasburg on Wednesday in a 5-0 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field, will continue to focus on the business at hand.

Anything else -- including attempting to make franchise history -- doesn't matter.

"I've kind of said this all year -- I don't believe in that because it's a different team every year," Nationals shortstop Trea Turner said of the club's past. "You play different teams, different players, trades, free agents -- whatever it may be.

"It doesn't really matter (what happened in prior years). ... Whoever plays better, whoever executes more, you're going to move on."

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said Wednesday he hasn't yet decided who will start for his team Thursday in the winner-take-all game. After Strasburg bumped right-hander Tanner Roark from his scheduled start on Wednesday, Baker said Roark could be a candidate to start Thursday against the Cubs.

But so could Gio Gonzalez, who took a no-decision in Game 2 of the NLDS. The left-hander allowed three runs and three hits over five innings, striking out six and walking two.

"We're going to make up our mind, see the condition of everybody," Baker said.

The Cubs faced elimination during the 2016 World Series after falling behind three games to one against the Cleveland Indians. Now, after failing to close out the Nationals at home on Wednesday night, manager Joe Maddon said he would attempt to keep his players even-keeled as they look to advance to the NLCS for the third straight year.

Chicago right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who got the win in Game 1 when he allowed just two hits and struck out six over seven innings, will start Game 5. Hendricks is 2-2 in five career starts against the Nationals and is 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA against Washington this season, including the victory last week in Washington.

Given the fact his team has staved off elimination before, Maddon and his players are confident heading into Thursday. Yet after scoring just two runs in the last two games, the Cubs know they must be better on offense if they are to give Hendricks the support he needs.

"Our guys are ready to play," Maddon said after the Wednesday game. "It's been a really interesting series. Both teams have reflected one another pretty closely, and they got us tonight, and we have to fly back east and try to get them tomorrow night."

The Nationals face the same challenge.

"As a team, we feel good," said Michael A. Taylor, whose grand slam extended Washington's lead in Game 4. "We talked about it a little before the game about taking it one game at a time, and obviously, today was a necessary step to take it back to D.C. ... We're going back, and we'd just like to have another quality game."

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