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Would the Nationals have won the NLCS?

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Would the Nationals have won the NLCS?

If you've been able to muster up the strength to watch this year's NLCS -- and it's perfectly understandable if you haven't, given how Game 5 of the NLDS ended -- you've seen quite a compelling series between the last two World Series champions, each of them making a desperate push to reach the Fall Classic again.

You also might have emerged from all this contemplating a simple, and perhaps painful, question: Would the Nationals have won this thing had they simply not blown a six-run lead to the Cardinals 10 days ago?

There's legitimate reason to believe they would, in fact, have won the pennant and secured a date with the Tigers in the World Series.

There's obviously no way to know how a series that never took place would have played out. But given the way they handled the Giants during the regular season, and given the way that potential NLCS would have set up, the Nationals certainly would have been in a favorable position.

The Giants, make no mistake, are a resilient bunch and got some fantastic pitching performances from Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong to win Games 5 and 6 and stave off elimination. But they haven't done much of anything at the plate, aside from Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval, and will enter Game 7 with a .241 team batting average and paltry .369 slugging percentage in the series.

The Nationals, meanwhile, feasted on Vogelsong during their only encounter this season, racking up eight runs on nine hits Aug. 13 against what was then the NL's ERA leader.

But the biggest advantage the Nationals would have had in this phantom NLCS would have been their home-field advantage. The Giants' pitching staff fared far better at AT&T Park this season (3.09 ERA) than it did away from that spacious ballpark along McCovey Cove (4.29 ERA).

And unlike the case in the actual NLCS against the fourth-seeded Cardinals, third-seeded San Francisco would not have held home-field advantage against Washington. Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 would have been played at Nationals Park, which you have to believe would have favored Davey Johnson's club.

Not only because of the Giants' road struggles this season, but because of history. Home-field advantage may not mean much in the best-of-five Division Series, but it means a whole lot in the best-of-seven Championship Series and World Series.

There have been only 23 Game 7s played in baseball over the last 30 years. And in those winner-take-all showdowns, the home team is 18-5.

History, then, would have been on the Nationals side had they found themselves in position to host Game 7 of the NLCS tonight.

That game, of course, isn't being played on South Capitol Street. It's being played on the other side of the continent, in front of a rabid San Francisco fan base that figures to aid the Giants' cause.

That may still be a bitter pill for the Nationals and their fans to swallow, recognizing just how close they were to finding themselves in this very position right now instead of watching it all unfold on television.

But if you've refused to partake yourself over the last week, do yourself a favor and tune in to Game 7 tonight. These classic October battles, as pointed out above, simply don't happen that often. And they typically produce some of the most memorable games in baseball history, whether it was rookie David Price preserving the upstart Rays' ninth-inning lead against the mighty Red Sox in 2008 or Aaron Boone taking Tim Wakefield deep into the Bronx night in 2003 or Sid Bream sliding in just ahead of Barry Bonds' throw to the plate in 1992.

Yes, it may still be painful to realize the Nationals could -- perhaps should -- have been the ones playing tonight. But nothing is going to change that now. Might as well enjoy the high drama of a Game 7 involving two franchises that have been staving off elimination all month and now meet in the ultimate pressure cooker of a ballgame.

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Nationals win 6-2 after Stephen Strasburg leaves in second inning

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals win 6-2 after Stephen Strasburg leaves in second inning

PHOENIX -- Stephen Strasburg left after struggling with his control in the second inning, and the Washington Nationals wrapped up a successful nine-game trip with a 6-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.

There was no word from the Nationals during the game explaining the standout right-hander's departure.

Strasburg, 10-3 with a 3.31 ERA entering the game, uncharacteristically walked the No. 8 and No. 9 batters in the second inning before departing with a 5-0 lead. He threw 51 pitches, 29 strikes.

Brian Goodwin's leadoff homer ignited a four-run first inning off Robbie Ray (9-5), who lasted five innings, allowing five runs.

Bryce Harper singled in the first to extend his hitting streak to 16 games.

Wilmer Difo hit his second home run of the season off reliever T.J. McFarland in the seventh.

Joe Blanton (1-2) got two outs and earned the win.

The NL East-leading Nationals took two of three in Arizona to go 7-2 on the trip.

Nine players batted for Washington in the opening inning. Goodwin started it with a booming shot high above the home run line across the batter's eye in straightaway center.

Difo and Harper singled and Ryan Zimmerman's sacrifice fly made it 2-0. Daniel Murphy walked and Anthony Rendon singled in a run. Jose Lobaton capped the scoring with a two-out RBI single before Strasburg bounced into a fielder's choice to end Ray's 39-pitch inning.

Arizona broke through with two runs in the fifth.

Chris Iannetta had a pinch-hit single with one out and David Descalso walked before Ketel Marte and David Peralta each singled in a run. With runners at first and third and one out, Blanton came on to strike out Paul Goldschmidt and got Chris Owings to ground into a fielder's choice.

The Diamondbacks had runners at second and third with one out in the sixth but Enny Romero struck out A.J. Pollock and Descalso bounced out to second. Romero left the game in the seventh with an apparent injury.

Arizona, 3-6 since the All-Star break, stranded 11 runners.

Washington's Andrew Stevenson, called up from Triple-A Syracuse, was 0 for 2 in his major league debut.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: Washington placed OF Chris Heisey on the 10-day DL. Heisey strained his left groin in Saturday night's 4-3 victory. Additionally, OF Ryan Raburn was placed on the bereavement list.

Diamondbacks: J.D. Martinez appeared in his first game in Arizona as a Diamondback after missing three games with a bruised wrist, the result of being hit by a pitch in his Diamondbacks debut. He walked as a pinch hitter in the seventh.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Washington has Monday off and hosts Milwaukee on Tuesday. RH Edwin Jackson makes his second start for the Nationals.

Diamondbacks: Arizona begins a three-game home series against Atlanta on Monday night. Zack Greinke (11-4, 2.93 ERA), 9-0 with a 2.41 ERA in 11 home starts, goes for the Diamondbacks. R.A. Dickey (6-6, 4.14) counters for the Braves.

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Bryce Harper powers Nationals past Diamondbacks

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Bryce Harper powers Nationals past Diamondbacks

PHOENIX -- The newest additions to the Washington bullpen came through when called upon to help deliver a victory to their new team.

Sean Doolittle stranded the potential tying run by escaping a jam for his second save for Washington, and Ryan Madson tossed a scoreless eighth inning as the Nationals held off the Arizona Diamondbacks 4-3 on Saturday night.

"The game can really speed up on you once you start getting guys on base," said Doolittle, who with Madson arrived in a trade with Oakland earlier in the week. "The crowd and the energy of the stadium can kind of take over and ... you have to be mindful enough to step off the mound, slow the game down a bit, kind of press reset."

Bryce Harper homered and drove in two runs, and starting pitcher Tanner Roark struck out a season-high 11. Roark (8-6) gave up two runs and three hits in seven innings for the NL East-leading Nationals.

"Curveball felt good. Just keep the hitter guessing," Roark said.

Harper hit his 25th home run on a full-count offspeed pitch from Anthony Banda (0-1), who lost in his major league debut.

Chris Iannetta hit a two-out RBI double in the bottom half, but the Nationals opened a 4-1 lead with a three-run sixth.

Harper hit a run-scoring double and scored on Ryan Zimmerman's double, and Anthony Rendon beat out an RBI single that sent Zimmerman home.

"They had a young guy out there that throws the ball really hard, has good command. He's going to be really good in the next couple of years for sure," Harper said of Banda. "Just got him this time and got a few runs up there."

A.J. Pollock tripled in the bottom half and scored on Jake Lamb's groundout, and Arizona reliever Jorge De La Rosa got out of bases-loaded trouble in the seventh when he struck out Harper and Zimmerman.

Doolittle, acquired from Oakland last weekend, walked Lamb leading off the ninth. Iannetta hit a broken-bat grounder to third, and Rendon's throw to second went into right field for an error that put runners on the corners.

Paul Goldschmidt hit a sacrifice fly, Chris Owings flied out and Doolittle struck out Ketel Marte for his second save with the Nationals.

"Madson's been great for us. Doolittle ... he never panics. It was great to see. It's a lot of fun to have a back end like that," Harper said.

Banda allowed four runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings, struck out five and walked none. He was optioned back to Triple-A Reno after the game.

"I felt confident. I threw the ball in the zone and kept attacking hitters," Banda said. "I made a couple of mistakes, Harper and the middle of the lineup."