WASHINGTON – Mike Shildt took the ball from Dakota Hudson and patted him on the back of the neck.
Hudson was out of the game after recording one out on 15 pitches against eight Washington Nationals batters, and the St. Louis Cardinals were on the receiving end of what they did to the Atlanta Braves in the last round.
The Nationals put up seven runs in the first inning to beat the Cardinals 7-4 in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series on Tuesday and sweep them out of the playoffs in unceremonious fashion. St. Louis was outscored 20-6 and never was ahead at any point.
“We proved – and this doesn’t require advanced sabermetrics – you have to get a lead to win a game. So we weren’t able to do that,” Shildt said.
Hours after the manager said his team “has always believed in itself” and will continue to do that, it was like the Cardinals forgot how to play baseball. Hudson didn’t have his best stuff but was done in by a succession of baffling errors and defensive blunders from the Cardinals – the majors’ best fielding team during the regular season.
Second baseman Kolten Wong dropped a routine throw from third baseman Tommy Edman. Wong, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and right fielder Jose Martinez converged before watching an easy fly ball drop between them. And left fielder Marcell Ozuna made a minimal effort to catch a line drive and stop the bleeding.
All of those plays happened in the first inning. Given their total offensive ineptitude, the Cardinals were down and out less than 20 minutes after the first pitch of the night.
Of course, that continued, too. Washington starter Patrick Corbin became the first pitcher in to strike out 10 in the first four innings of a playoff game. The Cardinals pushed across three runs on two hits in the fifth and threatened in the eighth with the bases loaded but couldn’t come all the way back.
They struck out 14 times, all swinging.
For the fourth consecutive time out, the Cardinals looked nothing like the team that put up 10 runs in the first inning of Game 5 of the NL Division Series at Atlanta to advance to face Washington. Leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler went 0 for 11 with six strikeouts before being benched, and Nos. 3 and 4 hitters Goldschmidt and Ozuna at one point combined to strike out in 10 consecutive at-bats.
When the losses piled up, the explanation kept changing.
After crediting Nationals starters for their wizardry through the first two games, the Cardinals lamented not having a lead after they went down quietly in Game 3. St. Louis didn’t hold a lead for a single pitch of the NLCS and was swept for just the third time in franchise history.
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