With the top teams out of the mix, it’s on to a most unlikely matchup in the NL Championship Series.
The St. Louis Cardinals are back in the NLCS for the first time since 2014 after a stunner of a first inning in Atlanta.
They’ll face the Washington Nationals, who dispatched their playoff demons with an upset of the 106-win Dodgers.
“We know we can beat anyone at this point,” St. Louis second baseman Kolten Wong said.
The best-of-seven series begins Friday night at Busch Stadium. This was the first time since 2015 that both of a league’s top seeds were eliminated in the division series.
St. Louis was within four outs of elimination against the Braves in Game 4, but bounced back for a 10th-inning victory.
The deciding game in Atlanta was over not long after it started.
The Cardinals became the first team in baseball history to score 10 runs in the opening inning of a postseason game and went on to a 13-1 victory.
“It felt like we blinked and the next thing you know, it’s 10-0,” third baseman Matt Carpenter said.
Washington’s run to the NLCS has been truly improbable, especially for a franchise that had won only one playoff series, in 1981, during its previous incarnation as the Montreal Expos. In four postseason appearances since moving to the nation’s capital in 2005, the Nats came up short every time — usually in excruciating fashion.
Just making the playoffs didn’t seem likely after Washington lost star slugger Bryce Harper in free agency and then got off to a 19-31 start.
But the Nationals went 74-38 the rest of the way to claim a playoff spot, rallied from three runs down to beat Milwaukee 4-3 in the wild-card game, and then pulled off another escape job against the mighty Dodgers in the NLDS.
After again falling behind 3-0, Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto tied it with back-to-back homers off Clayton Kershaw. The Nationals won it in the 10th on Howie Kendrick’s grand slam, becoming the first team to rally from three-run deficits in a pair of deciding games during the same postseason.
The year of the comeback, indeed.
“Oh, man, keep fighting,” Rendon said. “We just wanted to keep believing in ourselves and not worry about what people outside of our locker room were saying, that maybe we might not make it or maybe we need to trade everybody away. We kept on believing in ourselves and just kept on playing ball.”