Nationals and Dodgers Knotted at 1–1 in NLDS

We have ourselves a series! The Dodgers looked like the best team in baseball for most of this season, winning 106 games in the process, but the Nationals came into the NLDS on a hot streak (nine consecutive wins).

The result so far: aside from the last two innings of Game One (when the Nationals’ bullpen simply looked inept), a spectacular series. The teams head to Washington knotted at one win apiece.

So how did we get here, and what does the future hold?

Game One

Patrick Corbin started the opener for the Nationals. He walked four batters in the first inning (including a bases-loaded free pass), but locked in for the next five frames. In fact, that was the only earned run he allowed all night.

Corbin only walked one more batter the rest of the game, while striking out nine and giving up three hits on the night. He looked like himself for most of the night; he may have just been over-amped early — much like Max Scherzer in the Wild Card game).

Walker Buehler looked sensational for the Dodgers. The 25-year-old only allowed one hit over six innings, striking out eight batters. It seemed odd that he was treated as the team’s ace, but he made manager Dave Roberts look like a genius.

Even so, L.A. only had a 2–0 lead entering the seventh inning. That’s when the bullpen disparity showed up. Tanner Rainey got the call first. He struck out A.J. Pollock, but then walked pinch hitter Joe Pederson and gave up a single to Justin Turner.

Dave Martinez pulled the plug on Rainey, but Fernando Rodney did him no favors, allowing two runs to score. then in the following inning, Hunter Strickland gave up solo home runs to rookie Gavin Lux and Pederson. Maybe Martinez should’ve turned to Sean Doolittle.

The Dodgers’ bullpen was the polar opposite. Left-hander Adam Kolarek struck out Juan Soto (the lone batter he faced) to start the seventh inning, Kenta Maeda got them through the eighth with two strikeouts and no base runners allowed, and Joe Kelly threw a shutout ninth inning.

Truthfully, I question whether the opener was partially a hangover performance for Washington’s bats, because the team as a whole seemed a bit sluggish — in the batter’s box and in the dugout. Nonetheless, they recorded two hits all night, and the Nationals suffered a 6–0 defeat.

Game Two

Who would’ve thought seeing Clayton Kershaw would wake the bats up? The Nationals loaded the bases on him in the first inning, and Howie Kendrick gave them an RBI single, ending a 33-inning scoreless streak for L.A. pitchers. They tacked on two more runs in the following inning (off the bats of Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon).

Stephen Strasburg set the tone on Friday night. It was a vintage performance from the ace — hot take? — as he struck out ten Dodgers over six innings. He didn’t give up a hit (or base runner) until the 15th batter he faced, and the Dodgers didn’t score a run until the sixth inning — a Justin Turner sacrifice fly.

The Dodgers’ bullpen was fine, but certainly not as dominant as the night before. The Nationals got two hits off the trio of Pedro Beaz, Kolarek, and Dustin May in the seventh inning, and tacked on a run via a pinch-hit RBI single from Asdrubal Cabrera off May in the eighth.

The real story — aside from Strasburg — was Washington’s bullpen. Doolittle retired three of the four batters he faced in the seventh — a solo home run from Max Muncy (which I would argue doesn’t make it a bad outing) was the only blemish. Then Max Scherzer struck out the side in the eighth inning, topping out at 99 MPH with his fastball.

Daniel Hudson made the ninth inning interesting. Justin Turner hit a leadoff ground-rule double. Hudson retired Pollock and Cody Bellinger, but then intentionally walked Muncy — smart decision, but subsequently walking Will Smith to load the bases made it look more risky than it was. Then up came Corey Seager. With a 2–2 count, the Nationals’ closer had the hobbled slugger swinging on anything that looked further inside than what he was getting — Hudson had forced him to extend the strike zone outside for the entire at bat — so he gave the star shortstop an unhittable pitch inside and off the plate. Seager gave a healthy hack, came up empty, and the series was tied.

Looking Ahead

Hyun-Jin Ryu will start Game Three for the Dodgers. The Nationals’ starter is a bit more up in the air, but Dave Martinez has stated on multiple occasions that it will be Scherzer unless he isn’t ready (following Friday’s appearance).

Game Four will supposedly be Rich Hill, but we’ll see if that holds up if the Dodgers lose on Sunday. Washington hasn’t announced a Game Four starter, but it’s likely Patrick Corbin (one-day short rest) unless Scherzer doesn’t start Game Three. Between these two games, multiple innings from Anibal Sanchez and/or Austin Voth is more likely than not.

The Dodgers will continue to play matchups. Pederson and Lux will likely start against right-handed pitching, while David Freese and Chris Taylor will face lefties. They’ll also continue to play extreme shifts defensively — they’ve worked thus far.

They will continue to use former starters (Maeda, May, etc.) out of the bullpen, and Kolarek will probably continue to enter games to face Soto — who has visibly struggled in two at bats against him).

The biggest change for the Nationals might be an involuntary one in center field. Victor Robles is day-to-day with a “tweaked” hamstring. Michael A. Taylor replaced him for the last two innings on Friday — actually, Saturday morning ET.

Otherwise, the lineup will stay true to form. Kurt Suzuki will catch Scherzer and Strasburg, and Yan Gomes will squat behind the plate for Corbin. The lineup (aside from Robles) remains set in stone, except for the Kendrick/Cabrera/Ryan Zimmerman even two-thirds split I have mentioned previously.

The area to watch will be the pitching staff. Thus far, between the Wild Card game and NLDS, the “Big Three” starters, Sean Doolittle, and Daniel Hudson have thrown 24 of the Nationals’ 26 innings. I don’t think that changes much. Strasburg and Scherzer will continue to pitch whenever possible, Corbin — again — will likely start on short rest on Monday, Doolittle will face the lefties (Bellinger, Muncy, and possibly Seager) in the highest-leverage situations, and Hudson will remain the closer, likely extending beyond the last three outs at some point. If another arm becomes necessary, it will be either Sanchez, Voth, or Rainey (possibly in that order).

Technically speaking, the Nationals hold home-field advantage now, since they stole a game on the road. Game Three from D.C. will start at 7:45 p.m. on Sunday, Game Four is at 6:40 p.m. on Monday, and a hypothetical Game Five from L.A. would start at 8:37 p.m.

If the Dodgers win the series in four games, I’ll be writing a recap of the series. Otherwise, whether there’s a Game Five or the Nationals win in four games, you’ll see another recap/forecast combo story from me.

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