WASHINGTON (AP) — Jayson Werth's Washington Nationals were as good as it got during the regular season, compiling a majors-high 98 wins.
That doesn't count for much come the postseason, where the St. Louis Cardinals excel. So what if manager Tony La Russa retired after last year's World Series title? Who cares that slugger Albert Pujols left via free agency? Just like in 2011, the Cardinals are a wild-card club that finds a different player to lead the way each game, it seems.
Heading into Thursday's Game 4 of their best-of-five NL division series, the Cardinals built a 2-1 lead by outscoring the Nationals 22-7.
"It's going to be tough to score if you don't hit," Werth said after St. Louis starter Chris Carpenter and three relievers shut down Washington 8-0 in Game 3 on Wednesday. "But I believe in this team. I believe in these guys. We've been here all year. Over a 162-game season, we were the best team in baseball. I still feel that way."
The Cardinals like their chances, too.
"It's the biggest game of the year," center fielder Jon Jay said. "We all know how important it is. You can't look ahead."
Kyle Lohse, who beat the Atlanta Braves in last week's one-game, wild-card playoff, gets the start for St. Louis. Ross Detwiler pitches for Washington, which is sticking to its long-stated plan of keeping Stephen Strasburg on the sideline the rest of the way.
"We're not out of this, by a long shot," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "Shoot, I've had my back to worse walls than this."
Perhaps. Will be tough for Washington to win and extend the season if it can't get its offense going, though.
The Nationals didn't do much at all Wednesday against Carpenter, who finds that even something as simple as breathing can feel odd on occasion now that he's missing a rib and two neck muscles.
Taking the mound for only the fourth time in 2012 after complicated surgery to cure numbness on his right side, the 37-year-old Carpenter spoiled the return of postseason baseball to Washington by pitching into the sixth inning.
"To go from not being able to compete, and not only compete but help your team, to be able to be in this situation," Carpenter said, "it's pretty cool."
Carpenter allowed seven hits and walked two across his 5 2-3 innings to improve to 10-2 over his career in the postseason. The 10 victories tie the righty for seventh-most, behind Andy Pettitte's record 19.
"If the baseball world doesn't know what an amazing competitor he is by now," Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday said, "they haven't been paying any attention."
Rookie Pete Kozma delivered a three-run homer, and a trio of relievers finished the shutout for the Cardinals.