MLB Playoff Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Washington Nationals
It is October once again which means the return of fall nostalgia. The leaves have begun to fall, pumpkin spice lattes are in peak demand, and Major League Baseball’s Fall Classic is back in full swing. In the coming days, I will be taking a glance at each of the four League Divisional Series and making predictions on who will advance. First up is the Los Angeles Dodgers vs the Washington Nationals.
Dodgers Vs. Nationals
Washington Nationals Record: 93-69
Los Angeles Dodgers Record: 106-56
Most Recent Playoff Matchup: 2016 NLDS, Dodgers win series 3-2
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals meet as two clubs that have never quite lived up to their postseason expectations. The Dodgers have won seven consecutive National League West Titles and have lost two consecutive World Series to the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox. If they make it this year and lose, the comparisons to the 1990’s Buffalo Bills teams may start. Although the Washington Nationals have not had near the postseason success that the Dodgers have (only advancing as far as the League Divisional Series in their four postseason appearances in franchise history), they come in with nearly equal pressure to succeed. After entering the season with low expectations following the departure of superstar Bryce Harper to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Nationals snuck under the radar to take the first wildcard spot. They beat the Milwaukee Brewers in the Wild Card game 4-3 to send them on a plane to Los Angeles for the NLDS.
Can a team have an entire lineup of strengths? The Dodgers boast one of the most complete lineups in the game, led by MVP candidate Cody Bellinger, outfielder Joc Pederson, and third baseman Justin Turner. The supporting cast features players that would headline any other lineup with Corey Seager and Max Muncy. Los Angeles hit 279 home runs on the season and scored 886 runs, best in the National League and 5th best overall. The Dodgers pitching staff is also one of the best in the playoffs with Cy Young candidate Hyun-Jin Ryu, young ace Walker Buehler, mid-career ace Clayton Kershaw, and old ace Rich Hill. Any one of their starters can take over and win a game on their own. Manager Dave Roberts also has the flexibility to send one in out of the bullpen on occasion, similar to how they have done with Kershaw in recent postseason runs.
The Nationals strength lies in the depth of their starting pitching. Although not as complete a staff as Los Angeles, a pitching staff fielding Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Max Scherzer can absolutely steal a game or two. Max Scherzer pitched the wild card game and may not be able to pitch again until game 3 of the NLDS, so it will be up to Strasburg and Corbin to hold down the fort and work to take a game in Los Angeles. The Nationals also have star power in their lineup with Anthony Rendon (34 homeruns, 126 RBIs, .319 BA) and Juan Soto (34 homeruns, 110 RBIs, .282 BA). Soto came up with the key hit in the Wild Card game against the Brewers, knocking a two out, three run double that gave the Nationals the lead for good. Matt Adams and Brian Dozier were also key contributors for the Nationals and will need to be at their best for the Nationals to have a chance.
The biggest knock on the Dodgers all season has been their bullpen. Closer Kenley Jansen has struggled this year for his standards, posting a 3.71 ERA while recording 33 saves. While still an above average reliever, he has been unable to regain his utterly dominant 2016/2017 form. Pedro Baez has been solid for the Dodgers this year but will need to step up in the series to be an anchor for the bullpen. Dave Roberts should also opt for 22-year old Julio Urias out of the bullpen, who posted a 2.49 ERA with 85 strikeouts in 37 games played. The bullpen may be the potential Achilles heel that the Nationals can look to shoot their arrow at.
Similar to the Dodgers, the Nationals had a weak bullpen that can be exploited. Led by closer Sean Doolittle (4.05 ERA) and Tanner Rainey (3.91 ERA), the bullpen leaves a lot to be desired. Manager Dave Martinez will have an interesting challenge in managing the later innings of games, potentially needing to move starters Anibal Sanchez or Erick Fedde to the bullpen If the Dodgers get past the Washington starters early, the series could get ugly.
Why the Dodgers Will Win
The Dodgers have been here before. They know how to win the early playoff series. They know its World Series or bust for them this year. Los Angeles has the experience, the lineup, and the pitching to win this series, the NLCS, and the World Series. The 106 win total speaks for itself. This series is the first step towards another chance at their first title since 1988.
Why the Nationals Will Win
The Nationals are a much better team than their 93-69 record gives them credit for. They only scored 13 less runs than the Dodgers did all season. The top end of their pitching staff rivals that of the Dodgers. They exceeded expectations in their first season post-Bryce Harper and have top end stars in Rendon and Soto. While a difficult test for the Nationals, this team seems to have a little bit extra than Washington teams of the past. It will take a little luck, but it can be done.
Dodgers in four. Los Angeles has the deeper, more complete team, and that matters in the playoffs. If the Dodgers starters can work late into the game and keep the Nationals away from the bullpen, this series may be shorter. Dodgers win game one in Los Angeles behind Walker Buehler but lose game two. They right the ship and take both in Washington to advance to their fourth straight NLCS.