- - Saturday, October 26, 2019

You didn’t think this was going to be that easy, did you?

Only three other teams have won eight straight postseason games besides the Washington Nationals. None have won nine straight.

After Friday night, it’s still none. The Houston Astros took enough small bites out of the Nationals’ baby shark carcass Friday night for a 4-1 win in Game 3 of the World Series.

QUIZ: Can you pass this World Series trivia test?

This means that with a 2-1 Washington lead in the best-of-seven series, there will be a Game 5 Sunday night at Nationals Park. That means if he follows through on his statement, President Trump will be in attendance.

Let us not forget that in June 2017, when the champion Chicago Cubs made their visit to the White House, Cubs executive Todd Ricketts told the president that they would probably be meeting the Nationals in the playoffs later that year and “you’ll see them crumble.”

To which Trump reportedly replied, “They probably will.”

Never mind that they did. Plan accordingly.

The Nationals guaranteed a Game 5 with their worst game since their last loss — 10-4 in Game 3 of the National League Division Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

They won the next two to clinch the division series, swept the St. Louis Cardinals in four games in the NL Championship Series and then won the first two games of this World Series in Houston.

They came home to Washington knowing that the odds of a team coming back from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series are like 20%.

The Astros knew that too, but they didn’t seem to care.

This was Washington’s first misfire since the Dodgers loss.

Anibal Sanchez, who carried a no hitter into the eighth inning in his last start in Game 1 against St. Louis, struggled with home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom’s strike zone and gave up four runs on 10 hits and one walk over 5 1/3 innings pitched.

The Astros worked over the Nationals one run at a time — an RBI single by Josh Reddick in the second inning, an RBI single by Michael Brantley in the third, another RBI single by Brantley in the fifth and a solo home run by Robinson Chirinos in the sixth.

The powerful Nationals offense made it easy for Houston starter Zach Greinke, with their big bats like Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto going after balls early in the count.

It was a rough 21st birthday for Soto, who had one error in left field and went 0 for 4 at the plate, including the final out, looking at a third strike from Astros closer Roberto Osuna. Washington scored once in the fourth inning when Ryan Zimmerman walked and Victor Robles brought him home with a triple to left.

The Nationals came into Game 3 hitting 7 for 21 with runners in scoring position. They left 12 runners on base Friday night.

The sold-out crowd of 43,867 was primed for more.

The atmosphere on Half Street leading up to the centerfield gate was as energized as I’ve ever seen it before the game — loud and raucous, with street performers dressed in sparking suits singing Ray Charles to a fan standing on a folding stool in an umpire’s costume reading out loud the baseball rule book.

It was crazy, befitting the first World Series game the city has hosted in 86 years.

This wasn’t Houston’s first rodeo, though. The Astros may not be as lovable and fun as the Nationals, but they have their own culture of winning that has brought them three straight 100-plus win seasons and a 2017 World Series title.

Here’s how Astros manager A.J. Hinch described that culture before the game. “We have a great vibe in our clubhouse and chemistry amongst our guys,” he said. “If one guy is down the next guy steps up. If one guy is struggling the next guy helps him. Part of that is just the experience. We’ve been around a lot of winning. But winning doesn’t come for free. It’s not easy. It’s not just throw the balls out there and end up at the end of the game doing well. It’s a lot of preparation. It’s a lot of dealing with some adversity. It’s about dealing with slumps or not a lot of people just lay fastballs right down the middle for these guys.”

The Astros won 107 games this season in the American League. They had winning streaks of 10 games twice and one eight-game streak during the season.

If Washington can win eight straight playoff games, then Houston can win four out of five.

Of course, that would qualify as crumbling — even at this late stage of the postseason, farther than any of the four previous Nationals playoff teams have gone.

What Washington has to avoid crumbling is a safety net of quality starters, with lefthander Patrick Corbin (14-7, 3.25 ERA, 238 strikeouts) on the mound for Game 4 Saturday night. Houston is out of quality starters and will go with a bullpen game — four or five relievers stitching together a start.

The Astros could find themselves fraying at the edges.

⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast. 

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