WASHINGTON (AP) The Nationals qualified for the playoffs in three of the previous five years, yet injuries have limited Stephen Strasburg to just one postseason start in that span. Left largely without the All-Star right-hander, Washington lost the opening series each time.
If Strasburg keeps up his current level, postseason failures may become a thing of the past.
Strasburg ended his club-record scoreless streak at 35 innings, but two home runs from Ryan Zimmerman helped the NL Cy Young Award contender win his fourth consecutive start as Washington beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 7-1 on Sunday night.
Strasburg (14-4) allowed a run in the second inning on Logan Forsythe’s double, the first against him since Aug. 19. He struck out eight and combined with three relievers to toss a five-hitter.
”Stras’ was awesome,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said.
The Nationals avoided a three-game sweep against the NL front-runners. Their slumbering offense came alive on Zimmerman’s three-run shot in the sixth off reliever Ross Stripling (3-5), and Zimmerman and pinch-hitter Adam Lind homered in the eighth.
Los Angeles had lost 11 in a row and 16 of 17 before ripping off four consecutive wins, including the first two games this series. The Dodgers magic number to clinch the NL West dropped to four when second-place Arizona lost at San Francisco.
They dropped the Nationals in Game 5 of the NLDS in Washington last October with Strasburg sidelined after partially tearing the pronator tendon in his throwing arm.
”He pitched well. He competed,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Strasburg. ”Really couldn’t create much stress towards him or on him.”
The Dodgers ended the series six games ahead of Washington in the race to secure home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.
”Two very good ballclubs. Very similar, very balanced,” Roberts continued. ”I know they have the same respect for us as we do them.”
The Nationals would likely concede home-field if it means having Strasburg, whose only postseason start came in 2014.
Strasburg had two outs in the second before the streak ended. With Yasiel Puig on third base, Forsythe hit a drive deep to left-center field. Michael Taylor raced into the gap, caught up with the flight path and put his glove on the ball, but couldn’t catch it. Puig easily scored for a 1-0 lead.
During the streak, Strasburg allowed 19 hits, walked five and had 42 strikeouts.
”It was going to happen eventually,” Strasburg said of the streak ending. ”So, just tried to minimize the damage.”
Anthony Rendon hit an RBI double in the seventh for Washington, which had lost four of five.
Zimmerman’s solo homer in the eighth matched his career high of 33 long balls.
Following a walk and single against Stripling, Zimmerman powered a drive deep to center field for a 3-1 lead.
”I challenged Zimmerman with a slider and it ended up being up-middle and, obviously, he got a hold of it,” Stripling said.
Washington scored only two earned runs over the first 23 innings of the series before Zimmerman’s first homer.
”We were getting shutout. Having trouble scoring runs. That was a big home run,” Baker said.
Los Angeles starter Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings but was removed after walking back-to-back batters with two outs in the fifth.
Nationals: OF Bryce Harper took batting practice outdoors for the first time since hyperextending his left knee on Aug. 12. The slugger impressed with his power display. The timeline for his return remains unclear, but he’s hoping to be back when Washington begins play in the NLDS on Oct. 6.
Lind’s two-run drive, his fourth pinch-hit homer of the season, set a Nationals single-season record.
Dodgers: Los Angeles opens a four-game series at Philadelphia. LHP Clayton Kershaw (17-3, 2.12 ERA) and Phillies RHP Nick Pivetta (5-10, 6.75) meet in Monday’s matchup.
Nationals: Following a day off Monday, RHP Max Scherzer (16-6, 2.59) starts a three-game set at Atlanta against Braves LHP Luiz Gohara (1-1, 6.30)
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