WASHINGTON — For two seasons, Max Scherzer has performed as advertised for the Nationals. He has thrown two no-hitters. He has struck out 20 in one outing. He has taken the ball every fifth day with a crazed vigor unlike any other pitcher in baseball. He has been a premier workhouse worthy of the richest contract in franchise history, the best pitcher on one of the sport's best starting rotations.
But tonight's winner-take-all Game 5 is why the Nationals shocked the industry two winters ago and added Scherzer to their already robust collection of starting pitchers. He is a bulldog. He is big-game dealer. And he will get the ball with the season on the line Park against the Dodgers.
"This is probably the biggest start of my career," Scherzer said. "Biggest start of my life."
It is also perhaps the biggest game in Nationals history. The franchise has played one other high-stakes National League Division Series Game 5 since moving to Washington, against the Cardinals in 2012. The bullpen collapsed in a 9-7 loss at Nationals Park. It was a gut-wrenching defeat, but it was the Nationals' first playoff appearance — and a somewhat surprising breakthrough at that.
A steady stream of opportunities for deep October runs appeared imminent with the team's talented core; the delicate handling of Stephen Strasburg was corroboration. Four years later, sustained regular-season success has yet to produce a playoff series victory.
Gio Gonzalez started that Game 5 in 2012 because Strasburg had been shut down. He was one of the NL's best pitchers that season, but he isn't Scherzer, who led the majors in strikeouts and the league in innings pitched and is in contention for his second Cy Young Award.
"You're never really comfortable until the game is over," said Manager Dusty Baker, who has lost eight straight playoff games with a chance to advance. "But we do have Max."
Scherzer will not oppose Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who started Game 4 Tuesday. The Dodgers will instead have Game 2 starter Rich Hill on short rest.
"Doesn't matter. You're going to get their absolute best," Scherzer said.
Late Tuesday: Cubs stun Giants
SAN FRANCISCO — Kris Bryant tossed his glove high in the air, Jake Arrieta jumped over the dugout railing and the rest of the Cubs rushed to join them.
Pure revelry and a sigh of relief, all at once.
World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs took another step in their championship chase by rallying for four runs in the ninth inning of Game 4 to beat San Francisco 6-5 and win their NL Division Series.
"You could see it coming. You could see little signs. We've done it before and the guys, we don't quit," Cubs centerfielder Dexter Fowler said. "It's a little more special doing it here. They for sure were thinking that they won it. But we play 27 outs and we don't give up until we win."
The team that went a majors-best 103-58 open the NL Championship Series at home Saturday.
"Expectations is a good word. Because normally it means that you have something good attached to it at the other side," manager Joe Maddon said.
PADRES: Mike Dee is out as team president, less than a month after general manager A.J. Preller was given a monthlong suspension for withholding medical information from trade partners.