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Washington Nationals vs St. Louis Cardinals, Game 2 NLCS in St. Louis

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright pitches in the first inning during Game 2 of the National League Championship Series between the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

Adam Wainwright was up to the matchup challenge against Max Scherzer in Game 2 of the NLCS.

But his Cardinal teammates were not. They mustered just three hits and two walks in their 3-1 loss to the Washington Nationals.

So the Cardinals face a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-seven with the series shifting to Washington for three games.

Don't blame Wainwright for this predicament. Other than allowing Michael A. Taylor's lead-off homer in the third inning, Wainwright kept the Nationals off-balance through seven innings.

He struck out 11 batters and carried a 1-0 deficit into the eighth inning before the Nationals got to him for two more.

That late lapse didn't matter because the feckless Cardinals offense failed to support him.

Scherzer picked up where Nationals starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez left off Friday. Sanchez held the Cardinals hitless for 7 2/3 innings in Game 1, then Scherzer carried a no-hitter through six innings.

The Cardinals managed just one hit during a span of 20 playoff innings, dating back to the fourth inning of Game 5 of their NLDS against the Atlanta Braves.

"We can't ignore the fact we've been shut down pretty much for two games in a row," manager Mike Shildt said. "Don't make excuses for it . There are a lot of variables to it. The reality is we haven't been able to get it done."

And . . . 

"We have guys getting some pitches to hit, not a lot of them," Shildt said. "Not a lot of pitches to feast on. I feel like the competition is there, the approach is there. When guys are pitching at that level . . . we have to figure out a way to be that much better. It's challenge right now for us.

"We got the guys in the clubhouse that will figure out what that looks like. But it gets back to getting good pitches to hit and then just putting a good swing on it, not trying to do too much. I really don't feel -- you feel like guys are pressing a little bit, I don't feel like that's the case. Guys are in a pretty good spot but clearly a little frustrated about what's been going on the last couple days.

Here are some other thoughts on the game:

  • Both pitchers benefited from pitching under a bright sun with shadows cutting between the pitchers' mound and the plate. This was not a fun day to hit. "There's a reason it was a crisp game and there's a reason there was the two starters both had 11 strikeouts," Shildt said. "They're very, very talented, they were able to execute their pitches, and they were in an environment today that lent itself to pitching."
  • Paul DeJong was 2 for 4 with a double and two RBIs in the Cardinals' 13-1 closeout of the Atlanta Braves. Other than that, though, he has gone 3 for 20 in postseason play. "I love Paul's at-bats in Game 5 (of the NLDS), very under control, really short," Shildt said. "The ball he hit off (Max) Fried to right, that was a really good sign for Paul waste ways one to left. Staying in the zone. That's who Paul is." Ah, but is it? Shildt once fancied DeJong as a No. 3 hitter, but Paul has whiffed his way down to the No. 8 spot."
  • After scrambling to get through their NLDS, the Nationals got to reset their pitching thanks to their Game 1 victory. The Anibal Sanchez/Sean Doolittle tag team gave the rest of the staff the day off. Now manager Dave Martinez can line up his top three starters and welcome closer Daniel Hudson back from paternity leave. "Yeah, it was huge," Dave Martinez said. "Today we get Huddie back. I haven't talked to Doo yet, but I'm assuming, I think he only threw like 18 pitches yesterday, four outs, which was huge too. So I'm assuming he's going to be good to go, especially with the day off tomorrow. But bullpen's fresh and ready to go."  
  • Shildt rolled with the same lineup that produced just one hit in Friday night's 2-0 loss. And, realistically, what was his choice? Harrison Bader vs. Scherzer was not a matchup to look forward too and playing Jose Martinez in the outfield on this big stage is not a great option.
  • Speaking of Martinez, he got the only hit against Sanchez, but he wasn't surprised to be back in his bench role Saturday. "It's not hard at all because like I said before, this has been my role since the first day of spring training, actually," Martinez said. "I'm just there enjoying my job and I know what I have to do out there and if it's an opportunity for the skipper to get me in the lineup it will be great, but for right now my main job is coming off the bench and try to just get some good at-bats."
  • But he has to get a start in D.C., right?

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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.