After a comeback victory in the NL Wild Card Game, the Washington Nationals now get tasked with a five-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team with the best record in the league. Los Angeles, of course, opens the series as sizeable favorites, but they’re not invincible. Can the Nationals ride the momentum from the Wild Card victory to a series upset against the team from Hollywood or will the Boys in Blue roll through Washington in route to the NLCS?
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NLDS Preview: Washington Nationals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
- Date and Time: Game 1 slated for Thursday, October 3, 2019 at 8:37 p.m. ET
- Location: Dodger Stadium and Nationals Park
- 2019 MLB Betting Odds at Betcris: Dodgers -178
- Nationals vs. Dodgers 2019 MLB TV Coverage: TBS
Starting pitching is a strength for those these teams which should give us some epic pitching matchups as the series goes along.
With the Nationals using both Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg to get through the NL Wild Card game, we are likely to see Patrick Corbin start the series opener on Thursday night. From there, Strasburg could come back and pitch in Game 2 after throwing just 34 pitches. That would also make him available for Game 5 if needed.
With Scherzer going 77 pitches on Tuesday, he would be on regular rest for Game 3. After the big three, the Nationals figure to go with Anibal Sanchez in Game 4. He could also come in relief for the series opener with the other three starters possible options for an inning or two between starts.
On the Dodgers’ end, they also have some elite arms and a trio of aces with Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Rich Hill is probably the fourth starter though he would likely to limited to just a few innings, giving the Dodgers’ starters relegated to bullpen work some extra innings in Game 4 should the series get there.
Both staffs are stacked. On the Nationals’ side, Corbin is the No.3 guy though he’ll get the nod in the opener. At 30-years old, the southpaw followed up a breakout campaign last year for the Diamondbacks with a 14-7 season, posting a 3.25 ERA and 1.183 WHIP in 202 innings of work. He pitched to a 141 ERA+ and 3.49 FIP in his 33 starts.
Corbin is experienced against the Dodgers, spending most of his career in the NL West and has a good deal of success against them. He faced them back in May for the Nationals and held the team scoreless on just three hits in seven innings though he did walk four.
Moving on, Strasburg led the league in innings pitched and wins, going 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.038 WHIP in 209 innings. He posted a 3.25 FIP and allowed just 24 home runs and 56 walks to his 251 strikeouts.
The 30-year old right-hander and threw his most innings since 2014. While that causes some concern regarding fatigue, he finished the MLB season strong with three runs or fewer in eight straight to close the regular season. He allowed two or fewer in seven of them. He also was lights out against the Brewers in his three innings in the Wild Card game.
In addition to all of that, Strasburg brings a strong playoff resume to the table. He especially impressed in the 2017 NLDS going 14 scoreless innings. In 22 playoff innings, he’s allowed just four runs—one earned—on 16 hits and four walks while striking out 28.
Scherzer’s playoff resume isn’t quite as impressive though he has a quality 3.83 ERA in 87 innings of postseason play, including a solid NLDS against the Dodgers in 2016.
This season he was limited a bit by injury and has been a bit shaky since coming off the IL in August. He struck out 21 to just one walk in his final two regular season games. Those are Scherzer-type numbers, but the nine runs allowed in 12.2 innings are not.
We saw Scherzer struggle in his first two innings in the Wild Card game, too, causing some alarm going forward. He did stabilize and go three scoreless after that. We’ll see if the first two innings or the final three are more indicative of the Scherzer we’ll see going forward.
All in all, however, Scherzer is still an elite pitcher. A three-time Cy Young Award winner, he still had very good regular season numbers, going 11-7 with a 2.92 ERA and 1.027 WHIP. He also posted a league best 2.45 FIP.
For the Dodgers’ big three, they have a pair of lefties in Kershaw and Ryu alongside the young stud in right-hander Walker Buehler. Buehler is likely to break up the two in the rotation.
Ryu got the Game 1 start in last year’s NLDS almost by default but is more likely to go Game 3 this year. Kershaw could get the opener.
At 31-years old, Kershaw may have already done enough to earn a spot in Cooperstown one day. The three-time Cy Young Award winner and six-time top-3 finisher has a 2.44 career ERA, but isn’t the same pitcher, but is still an elite one.
Kershaw, just like Ryu and Buehler, was an All-Star this season and finished the year going 16-5 with a 3.03 ERA and 1.043 WHIP, those are both higher than his career averages, but still elite numbers.
The southpaw comes into the playoffs throwing well. He tossed a scoreless inning in the Dodgers’ final game as a brush up and allowed no-runs on two hits in six innings in his final start.
On the down side, Kershaw doesn’t have a great postseason reputation, though that’s a bit overblown as he’s been asked to go an extra inning at times which has skewed his postseason ERA.
Buehler followed a 2.62 ERA in his rookie season with an All-Star campaign in his sophomore year, avoiding the sophomore slump.
In 30 games, Buehler tossed 182.1 innings to the tune of a 3.26 ERA. He was 14-4 on the year and the Dodgers went 20-10 in his starts.
The youngster’s last few games were lights out, but he kept the Dodgers in the game and L.A. won six of his last seven starts.
As for Ryu, he was great in the NLDS last year, but stumbled some during the rest of the playoffs. This year, he was lights out in the first half with a 1.74 ERA, but still pitched well in the second half despite showing some signs of fatigue given his 182.2 innings was by far the most he’s thrown since 2013.
Ryu still sported a solid 3.18 ERA in the second half and bounced back from a dismal August to go 2-0 with a 2.13 ERA in four September starts. Overall, he finished the season with an NL best 2.32 ERA and had just 24 walks, giving him an NL best 1.2 BB:9 ratio.
In Game 4, should we get there, we are likely to see a matchup of Anibal Sanchez for the Nationals against Rich Hill for the Dodgers.
The 35-year old Sanchez had a Renaissance season last year with a 2.83 ERA for the Braves last year. He did well carrying that forward, going 11-8 with a 3.85 ERA and 1.271 WHIP in 166 innings this season. That’s a solidly above average starter. Last season, however, he followed that strong season performance with a postseason clunker, giving up three runs in 4.2 innings.
On the other side of this matchup, Hill threw just 58.2 innings in 13 games this season, missing much of the year with injuries. He’s not going to go deep in the game and will be limited to a few innings. Despite the limited sample size, he pitched well when on the bump, going 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA and 1.125 WHIP.
The 39-year old southpaw has a 3.04 ERA in his postseason career, but hasn’t gone more than three innings in a start since mid-June.
With both teams boasting some big-name starters, the bullpen is the difference maker on the mound for these two teams.
The Dodgers, historically, have seen the bullpen be their Achilles Heel in the postseason whether it’s running Brandon Morrow into the ground a couple years ago or struggling to find a bridge to Kenley Jansen, the pen has been a shortcoming, but it’s an advantage in this series.
Los Angeles ended the regular season with the best bullpen ERA in the National League at 3.78. The Nationals had the worst bullpen in the Majors Leagues with a 5.66 ERA.
Washington could use Corbin, Scherzer, Strasburg and Sanchez out of the bullpen on their throw days like other postseason teams have done in recent memory (see, the Astros and Red Sox). But that would run down those starters who are critical to their chances in this series and going forward.
Either way, Dave Martinez cannot get around using the bullpen. We saw how little confidence he and the front office had in the relief arms with just five relievers on the Wild Card roster and only giving Daniel Hudson a chance on the hill in the game.
Hudson has been a huge piece for the pen since he was acquired and has been in the closer role. He has a 1.44 ERA in 25 regular season innings with the Nationals and threw a scoreless frame on Tuesday.
Beyond Hudson, Sean Doolittle had a rough second half, but is a proven reliever. Fernando Rodney, Tanner Rainey, Hunter Strickland and maybe Wander Suero will get looks. We’ll see if they can get the job done.
For the Dodgers, Kenley Jansen isn’t as much of a lockdown closer as he was in years past. Much like Doolittle, he’s run into a few roadblocks. His 3.71 ERA and 3.48 FIP isn’t exactly Jansen like. He’s still getting swings and misses but has allowed nine home runs this season.
Still a quality arm, Jansen just isn’t as automatic as in years past. Getting to him was always the issue in previous seasons. This year, Joe Kelly was brought in to be the eighth inning man but is dealing with a lower-body issue. Even if he’s a full-go, Kelly is insanely inconsistent. When he’s on he’s lights out like we saw last postseason with the Red Sox, but he can also be dreadful when he’s struggling as we saw at the start of the 2019 season. He was on fire in August but cooled down the stretch.
Alongside Kelly, Pedro Baez, Yimi Garcia and Dylan Floro are viable options and Adam Kolarek has shown to be a good situational guy, but the real key will be the starters-turned-relievers. We saw Kenta Maeda thrive in the pen in previous postseasons. He’s back in relief. Ross Stripling, Julio Urias and Tony Gonsolin are amongst the others.
The Dodgers scored more runs and posted a better team OPS than any other team in the National League, but Washington was second in both those categories.
Washington got off to a slow start to the season but turned it on from late May on. The Nationals scored more runs than the Dodgers in the second half and the gap widens when looking at the September numbers.
For the Dodgers, the offense has Cody Bellinger as the cornerstone piece. The MVP candidate had a monster season with a .305/.406/.629 slash line. He delivered 47 home runs and 115 RBI. He also had 15 steals which led the team.
Los Angeles isn’t a big run-manufacturing team. They can steal the occasional base but are more of a station-to-station team and they’ve got the thump to make it work.
Outside of Bellinger, the Dodgers have two other players with at least 35 homers including Max Muncy and Joc Pederson.
In addition to those two, Justin Turner, A.J. Pollock, Chris Taylor and Matt Beaty all hit well. Corey Seager was a doubles machine this year. Will Smith was a huge find behind the plate and we could see David Freese in Game 1 as a menace to southpaws like Corbin.
For the Nationals, Anthony Rendon stepped into a leadership role with Bryce Harper in Philadelphia. Rendon was in the MVP conversation, too, with a .319/.412/.598 slash line. He hit 34 homers and droven in 126 RBI while matching Seager with 44 doubles.
Juan Soto, meanwhile, contributed a .949 OPS and 34 homers of his own as the second part of a killer one-two punch in the heart of the order. Soto was also the hero of the NL Wild Card game with the big hit in the eighth to turn the tide.
The Dodgers have a bit more depth than the Nationals, but Washington does have a better team average, OBP, and more steals. Guys like Trea Turner, Victor Robles, and Adam Eaton offer some speed, allowing Washington a chance to manufacture runs a bit better in a close game.
Of course, Turner has had a nice bat, too, with a 113 OPS+ and .353 OBP along with a bit of pop. Meanwhile, veteran hitters like Howie Kendrick and Asdrubal Cabrera found their way into the Wild Card lineup and could be factors in the NLDS, too, providing quality, professional at bats.
Odds Analysis and Recent Trends
The Dodgers are the heavy favorites in this series and the favorites to go the World Series out of the National League. The reason is clear: they won the most game in the NL, cruised to the playoffs and have the most balanced team, but they’re not indestructible.
While the Nationals just played a do-or-die game against the Brewers in the NL Wild Card game, the Dodgers haven’t played a truly meaningful game since midseason. They’ve had the division locked down. We’ll see if that has any impact or if the off-days make them rusty in the first game or two of the series.
As for the Nationals they had a dismal start to the season and were on track for a 100-losses after a 19-31 start, but finished the year going 74-38 since May 23. Of course, the Dodgers had a strong end, too, but without as much pressure.
Outside of the momentum, however, the Nationals don’t really have an edge in any facet of this matchup. They have a great trio of starters but did have to use two of them to get to the NLDS. They’re offense has been great, but the Dodgers have outscored every team in the NL. The bullpen is the separator for these two teams and that leans heavily in the Los Angeles’ favor.
The Dodgers have home field advantage which could be huge in this series. L.A. had a .728 winning percentage at home this season. The Nationals were just barely over .500 on the road. To win this series, the Nationals will need at least one road victory, a sizeable task.
The Nationals will also need all three aces to pitch lights out given their bullpen woes beyond Hudson and maybe Doolittle. We’ve already seen Scherzer not look himself in the NL Wild Card game which is a cause for alarm.
In the end, look for the big three to pitch well and keep the Nationals in the games, but the middle relief is the difference. The Nationals are too thin in the pen and will either over-extend their aces or over-expose volatile bullpen arms. With the Dodgers sending quality starters to the pen, they’re much better protected bridging to Jansen.
We should see some good offense sprinkled in from the top two lineups in the NL, but this one comes down to the pitching behind the starting rotations and that gives it to the Dodgers.
Washington Nationals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers Series Pick: Take the NL’s wins leader to get the job done over the Nationals and their shaky bullpen.
Washington Nationals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers Series Prediction: Dodgers in Four over the Nationals