Murphy's near-hit leaves room for 'What if?'

Murphy's near-hit leaves room for 'What if?'

WASHINGTON -- Those who watched the Cubs claim a 3-0 win over the Nationals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile on Friday night will remember Kyle Hendricks' mastery, the Anthony Rendon error that disrupted Stephen Strasburg's gem, and two key base hits.

Hendricks was brilliant as he surrendered two hits and forced his outfielders to account for just two of the 21 outs he recorded. But there is reason to wonder how much differently his seven-inning effort might have evolved had Daniel Murphy's two-out liner not found first baseman Anthony Rizzo's glove in the first inning.

Game Date Matchup TV/Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 6 CHC 3, WSH 0 WATCH
Gm 2 Oct. 7 WSH 6, CHC 3 WATCH
Gm 3 Oct. 9 CHC 2, WSH 1 WATCH
Gm 4 Oct. 11 WSH 5, CHC 0 WATCH
Gm 5 Oct. 12 CHC 9, WSH 8 WATCH

"No, I don't really live in hypotheticals," Murphy said when asked whether he wonders how much different things might have been had his liner landed in the outfield grass.

There's no disputing the reality that the Cubs gained the advantage in this best-of-five series because they manufactured a few late runs and the Nationals were shut out in a postseason game for just the second time in franchise history.

But from a hypothetical standpoint, there is always reason to wonder, what if Rendon had not deterred Strasburg's no-hit bid with an error during what became a two-run second inning. And what if Murphy's liner had dropped for a hit that would have given the Nationals the game's first run?

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"Murph put a great swing on that ball and you never know, when something gets rolling, you can kind of keep it going," Nationals catcher Matt Wieters said. "That's kind of playoff baseball, getting that break at the right time, or that big hit at the right time, and then you carry it on to win a game."

After Bryce Harper delivered a one-out single and advanced to second base on Rendon's comebacker, Murphy turned on an elevated first-pitch sinker and then watched helplessly as the ball smacked Rizzo's glove. According to Statcast™, the 108-mph line drive accounted for the highest exit velocity the Nationals produced against Hendricks, who didn't allow a hit after Michael A. Taylor singled with two outs in the second inning.

"I really wish he wouldn't have caught it to be honest with you," Murphy said. "Runs are at a premium, we saw that tonight. I hit that ball on the button. It was too low. I should have hit it higher."

Had Murphy elevated the ball a little more, or hit it a little more to Rizzo's left or right, the Nationals would have had some momentum, and there's at least a chance the Cubs might have started thinking, "Here we go again," while thinking about the fact Murphy had gone 9-for-17 with four homers while playing for the Mets against them in the 2015 NL Championship Series.

"We had a couple chances early, some runners on -- not great chances, but runners on -- and with the way that Stras was throwing the ball, if we could have pushed one or two across, it would have put the pressure on them," Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said.

Instead, Hendricks found a groove and exited this stellar performance having limited the Nationals to an average exit velocity of 77.4 mph. He has surrendered a lower average exit velocity in just two of the 86 starts he has made since the start of the 2015 season.

"Offensively, we struggled to get some things going," Murphy said. "If you're not hitting the ball in the gaps, it's hard to string that many hits, especially with the way Kyle threw the ball tonight."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.