WASHINGTON -- Everyone knew the Cardinals' potent offense would make life difficult for the Nationals' power pitching staff this series, but even the Nats will admit to being surprised by how tough the bottom of St. Louis' lineup has proven to be.
The middle-infield duo of Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma, the seven- and eight-hole hitters, stepped up in big spots over the past two games, creating a lineup that is essentially without a weak spot. And in two losses, that's proven to be too much for Washington's pitchers to handle.
"You can't beat having eight guys in that lineup ... who were putting tough at-bats together. There's no room to breathe," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's been pretty well-rounded, and we hopefully just keep that going."
Nationals manager Davey Johnson joked that Descalso, who hit .227 in the regular season, has looked like Rod Carew "with power" in this series. The second baseman has three hits with a homer, three RBIs and three runs scored in Games 2 and 3. Kozma, a career .236 hitter in the Minors, broke open Wednesday's game with a three-run homer in the second, clobbering a first-pitch fastball from Edwin Jackson.
Johnson noted that both Descalso and Kozma are capable fastball hitters, and they've been able to take advantage of the way Washington has been grooving fastballs inside and over the middle of the plate all series.
"You can get by if you keep the ball on one side of the plate, at times, when there's not a lot of good hitters in the lineup," Johnson said. "You have to use all your weapons when you face a good club. You get to this time of year, and all the clubs are good -- balanced offense, good defense and pitching -- and you have to make adjustments to be successful. That's the name of the game. There's no softies out there at this time of year."
That's why, to keep the Nationals' season alive, Game 4 starter Ross Detwiler was going to have to keep the Cardinals off-balance and shut down surprisingly effective hitters like Descalso and Kozma.
"They were aggressive when they needed to be, especially the bottom of their lineup. That's what's been killing us most of the time," said Gio Gonzalez, who started Game 1 and will start Game 5 if the Nationals win on Thursday. "That's the adjustment we have to make. We have to attack these guys as much as possible. They're not going to let you walk all over them."