The Washington Nationals defeated the Saint Louis Cardinals in NLCS Game 4 to complete a sweep and advance to the 2019 World Series.

Washington Nationals sweep Cardinals in NLCS
The Washington Nationals celebrate a sweep of the Cardinals after winning Game 4 of the 2019 NLDS in Washington. (Image: Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

The Nationals will await the winner of the 2019 ALCS between the Houston Astros and NY Yankees. The Astros and their trip aces currently hold a 2-1 edge over the Yankees.

At one point this season, Nationals manager Dave Martinez wondered if he would get fired after a 19-31 start. Martinez and the Nationals turned around the season. Even though the Atlanta Braves locked up the NL East crown, the Nationals held off the Philadelphia Phillies to win enough games to secure a wild-card spot. The rest has been history.

“Often, bumpy roads lead to beautiful places and this is a beautiful place,” said Martinez.

The Nationals became only the fourth team in baseball history to advance to the World Series after dipping 12 games below .500.

The Nationals also savored this victory because they achieved a spot in the World Series without ex-star, Bryce Harper. Harper declined to re-sign with the Nationals in favor of the Philadelphia Phillies. Without Harper, the Nationals finally ended a postseason jinx, and marched all the way to the World Series.

Expos Jinx Over

The Washington Nationals won their first NLCS and advanced to the franchise’s first World Series berth. The Nats, originally birthed as the Montreal Expos, were renamed and relocated to Washington, DC in 2005.  The Expos had never been in the World Series, but came close in 1994. That season, Montreal fielded their best team in Expos history, but a player’s strike cut the season short, and ended their chance at a World Series berth and potential championship.

Twenty-five years later, the Washington Nationals finally advanced to the franchise’s first World Series. And it didn’t come easy. Prior to this October, the Nationals were suffering from a postseason jinx. They advanced to the playoffs multiple times in the last decade, but could never get over the initial hump. With an 0-4 series record in the NLDS, the Nats failed to advance past the NLDS four times in the previous seven seasons, with three Game 5 elimination losses in DC.

This year would be different. With an upset victory over the LA Dodgers in extra innings in Game 5 of the NLDS, the Nats finally ended their hex and moved out of the divisional round.

Once they reached the NLCS, the Nationals were on a mission to run the table and go all the way to the World Series. The Nationals obliterated the Cardinals. It wasn’t even close. In the first three games of the NLCS, the Nationals outscored the Cardinals 13-2. Overall in the NLCS, the Nationals outscored the Cardinals 20-6 to secure the sweep.

Gassed Cards

The Cardinals were in playoff mode for the last month of the season. Heck, you can argue that the Cardinals were under siege since the All-Star Break. The NL Central race was one of the tightest divisional races this century. All five teams had a legit shot at the NL Central crown as late as August. The division marathon eventually thinned out to a three-horse sprint among the Cardinals, Cubs, and Brewers.

The Cubbies shot themselves in the foot with a two-week losing streak to end the season. Things got so bad in Wrigleyville that beloved manager Joe Maddon got the boot.

The streaky Brewers lost their best player, Christian Yelich, after he shattered his kneecap on a foul ball. Despite not having Yelich, the Brewers embarked on a heater to end the season. They almost caught St. Louis, but the Cards held them off in the final weekend of the season to win the NL Central title. The Brewers advanced to the wild card, along with the Nationals.

The Cardinals were underdogs facing the Atlanta Braves. The Braves easily won the NL East, but they struggled to put away the Cardinals after blowing a 2-1 lead. The Cards won two games in a row to clinch the NLDS. The Cardinals made headlines when they scored 10 runs in the first inning of Game 5. The Braves were dunzo before they even stepped up to the plate.

“Of course, we could have played better,” said Cardinals 1B Paul Goldschmidt. “But we didn’t.”

It felt like the Cardinals ran out of gas once they reached the NLCS. It didn’t help that they had to face a trio of Washington Nationals aces. The bats went silent in the NLCS, which contributed to the embarrassing sweep. Overall, the Cardinals batting average sunk to .201 after the Nationals aces shut them down. Goldschmidt had one hit in four games with a .063 average. LF Marcell Ozuna hit .188 with zero RBI.

Washington Aces

In NLCS Game 1, Nationals pitcher Annibal Sanchez had a no-hitter going through seven innings. The Cardinals could only muster up one hit all game against the marvelous Sanchez, and the Nationals won 2-0.

In NLCS Game 2, Max Scherzer allowed just one run in seven dominating innings. The shaky Nats bullpen coughed up a run and two hits, but the Nationals held on to beat the Cardinals, 3-1. The Nationals took a 2-0 NLCS lead by beating the Cardinals on their home turf.

In NLCS Game 3, Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg took the mound in front of a sold-out crowd in Washington. Strasburg struck out 12 batters en route to a 9-1 victory over the Cardinals. Strasburg outdueled the Cards ace Jack Flaherty to put the Nats up 3-0.

In Game 4, the Nationals scored seven runs in the bottom of the first inning against starter Daniel Hudson and Adam Wainwright in relief. The Nats spotted Patrick Corbin a 7-0 lead, and Corbin responded by whiffing 12 batters. The Cardinals finally scored multiple runs for the first time all series, but they could not overcome the Nats. The Nationals won 7-4, and promptly swept the Cardinals to complete the NLCS sweep.

Howie Kendrick, the hero who hit the extra-inning grand slam against the LA Dodgers in NLDS Game 5, won the NLCS MVP. Kendrick hit .333 with four extra base hits against the Cards. He hit .333 overall in the postseason with nine RBI in 10 games.

“We can compete with any team, any time,” said Kendrick. “People always get caught up with the things that are on paper, but the reality of it is you have to go out and play. Once we get out on the field, anything can happen.”

Heading into the World Series, the Nationals won 16 out of their last 18 games, including the NLCS sweep of the Cardinals.

According to William Hill, the Nationals are 6/5 odds to win the 2019 World Series.