Here we go! Baseball returned to the nation’s capital, but the action didn’t match the inning-to-inning intensity it had in L.A. The early frames consistently went well for both pitching staffs, but each team’s bullpen scuffled down the stretch in one game. The result: a series tied at 2–2.
This was going to be a Max Scherzer start. But late Sunday morning, the Nationals announced that they would instead turn to Anibal Sanchez. As disheartening as that initially seemed — from a pure baseball fan’s perspective — Sanchez held up his end of the bargain. Aside from a solo home run off the red-hot bat of Max Muncy, he went virtually unscathed (4 hits total, 2 walks, and 9 strikeouts) over five innings. The last part was the problem — more on that shortly.
Hyun-Jin Ryu had a similar outing to Sanchez (5 innings, 4 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts). The only damaged blow for the Dodgers’ southpaw was a two-run long ball by Juan Soto.
But then Patrick Corbin happened. The starter-by-trade gave up a leadoff single to Cody Bellinger, but got two quick outs and set himself up to get out of the inning (until the wheels came off). He surrendered a two-strike hit to Nationals’ nemesis David Freese and a pair of two-run doubles to Russell Martin and Kike Hernandez.
Wander Suero entered in relief, only to surrender a three-run blast to Justin Turner. With that, Washington trailed 8–2 and never rebounded.
That’s not entirely true. Joe Kelly gave up a single and three walks to lead off the bottom of the sixth inning, and Asdrubal Cabrera hit into a pinch-hit RBI double play (that’s really weird to type). But the bats went silent the rest of the night.
The quartet of Julio Urias, Adam Kolarek, Kenta Maeda, and Kenley Jansen only allowed one base runner in the last four (excluding Kelly’s out-less meltdown) innings.
Fernando Rodney and Tanner Rainey threw imperfect frames, but they didn’t compare to Hunter Strickland. The trade deadline addition gave up another home run — his third in two innings — to Martin. If Dave Martinez had any trust left in the depth portion of his bullpen, it disappeared in this game.
Scherzer took the hill for the win-or-go-home game against Rich Hill — see what I did there? Mad Max was the king of the hill on this night (ok, I’m done, I promise). He hadn’t looked like one of the best pitchers in baseball since the All-Star break, but he was his old self on Monday. Scherzer surrendered one run on four hits over seven innings, striking out seven batters.
Rich Hill was much the opposite. Although he only gave up one run, he walked twice as many Nationals (four) as he struck out (two), and he failed to get out of the third inning (granted, he had a 60-pitch limit). Maeda got L.A. through the fourth, but then the game shifted.
Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon singled in the fifth inning off Julio Urias. Then with two outs, Howie Kendrick drove in Turner with a single of his own. Dave Roberts replaced Urias with Pedro Baez, who was promptly greeted by a three-run home run via Ryan Zimmerman.
Rendon later tacked on a sac fly, and the Nationals had a 6–1 lead before turning to the bullpen for six outs (that means two innings remained for the two trustworthy relief arms).
Sean Doolittle retired Muncy, Turner, and Bellinger in order in the eighth inning, then returned in the ninth to sit down Corey Seager. Those are four tough hitters, but three of them are lefties (that’s the formula for him. Then Daniel Hudson sealed the deal, striking out Gavin Lux and forcing Will Smith to fly out.
Here’s what’s on tap. Stephen Strasburg will face off against Walker Buehler, L.A.’s Game One starter. Both will go as deep into the night as their productivity allows, but the bullpens will both be loaded. The Dodgers are almost certain to use Clayton Kershaw at some point, and Ryu may also be available. Washington will likely give Corbin another chance, Sanchez should be an option, and a small dose of Scherzer might even be a possibility.
I think think the lineups will appear as follows:
Dodgers: RF Joc Pederson, 1B Max Muncy, 3B Justin Turner, CF Cody Bellinger, SS Corey Seager, LF Matt Beaty, 2B Gavin Lux, C Will Smith, P Walker Buehler
Nationals: SS Trea Turner, RF Adam Eaton, 3B Anthony Rendon, LF Juan Soto, 2B Howie Kendrick, 1B Ryan Zimmerman, C Kurt Suzuki, CF Michael A. Taylor, P Stephen Strasburg
However, I also think the benches will be emptied as matchups dictate. The first time there’s a weak spot in the Dodgers’ lineup with Corbin or Doolittle on the mound, Freese will pinch hit. Hernandez or Chris Taylor may also enter the game for defense at some point — I’m leaning towards L.A. not using A.J. Pollock, who is 0–12 with 10 strikeouts in this series.
For Washington, my hunch is Cabrera should sit, despite his ability to hit from the left side against a right-handed starter. Zimmerman has seen much more success at the plate so far this postseason, and I think sitting him against a same-side pitcher would be too “cute” in this situation. Plus, Kershaw will probably enter the game relatively early.
With that said, Cabrera will most likely pinch hit. Brian Dozier might also serve as a defensive upgrade at second base down the stretch. The wild card, however, will be Victor Robles. If healthy enough to play, he will be a weapon — although Michael A. Taylor is so locked in at the plate that he might stay in the lineup regardless.
The pivotal Game Five is scheduled for Wednesday at 8:37 p.m. ET (5:37 p.m. PT) from Los Angeles. It will be televised on TBS immediately following Braves vs. Cardinals.
Which Dave (Martinez or Roberts) will cave? Find out on Wednesday night!