An inside look at the most important factors of the Nationals-Dodgers NLDS matchup
It’s time for October baseball, and that means seeing great pitching matchups, high powered offenses, and of course some dramatic finishes. The wild-card games provided a great start, with both decided after the 8th inning. The Dodgers-Nationals series is sure to hold similar appeal, though LA dominated the season series with a 5-1 record. Here are four things to watch for when the series starts in Washington tonight:
1) Rookies of the Year
Corey Seager of the Dodgers and Trea Turner of the Nationals are by most accounts the two best rookies in the league. Seager has absolutely transformed the Dodgers lineup by batting .308/.365/.512 in 157 games, and set a record for the most home runs ever hit by a Dodgers SS with 26. He’s a runaway for the ROY Award, and is in the conversation for NL MVP. Even at 6‘4”, he plays solid defense according to UZR which pegs him at 10.9 runs above average. To have a rookie playing SS and batting second or third every night in the lineup is nothing short of remarkable; but lets see how he holds up in his first October.
Turner is likely the runner up to Seager for NL ROY
. Since coming up for good on July 10th he has been a spark-plug Nationals
, filling a huge need in CF
and the leadoff spot. He slashed .342/.370/.567, including 33 SB
(out of 39 attempts) which were second most behind Billy Hamilton in the second half. He even had to switch off his two best positions in SS
and 2B midseason to find a spot on the roster. Good thing he did, or else the Nationals would be in even more trouble given their recent injury woes, which brings us to…
2) The Injury Toll
Injuries have been the story of the Dodgers season, as they placed a MLB record 28 players on the disabled list. Almost every starting pitcher outside of Kenta Maeda — who ironically has injury provisions in his contract that would have limited his earnings had he gotten hurt this season — has spent time on the DL. However, their most important player in Clayton Kershaw has been healthy for a month now, and he can team up with blister-prone Rich Hill to form arguably the most dominant top of the rotation in this postseason by 2016 statistics. Other players such as Andre Ethier and Kike Hernandez have returned to the team recently, leaving the Dodgers as a relatively healthy club for how injured they have been all season.
The Nationals, on the other hand, were healthy most of the season until September. Since then Wilson Ramos, Stephen Strasburg, and most recently Daniel Murphy (strained buttocks) have been out. Murphy might be the biggest factor here, as he had kept up his torrid pace all year following his 2015 playoffs breakout performance where he hit .329 with seven HR
in 64 PA
. Murphy should be good to go for the series
, but even with Murphy in the lineup there are still big question marks. The Nationals will have a tough time with sparsely used backup Jose Lobaton behind the plate, and replacing Stephen Strasburg is impossible. But Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez make for a good compliment to Max Scherzer, giving both teams rotations that stack up pretty well against each other. Also note that Bryce Harper has allegedly been dealing with a shoulder injury
, that could perhaps explain why he’s hit .226/.336/.373 post all-star break.
3) Dodgers against left-handed pitching
As many have noted, the Dodgers have greatly struggled against left-handed pitching this season. They hit a dismal .213/.290/.322, finishing last in MLB in all three categories. The Nationals have one lefty in Gio Gonzalez (11-11, 4.57 ERA, 1.34 WHIP), but he has been inconsistent this season and could blow up at any time. Accordingly, they’ve also stocked their pen with three lefties for the series to help in late game matchups.
However, the Dodgers have recalled Yasiel Puig from the minors to help with this issue, and he has responded by hitting .281/.338/.561 since his return. It could be up to him to get a key hit off one of the Nationals relievers. Many would expect Justin Turner to be the big bat against lefties, but he runs a reverse split, with an OPS of .640 against lefties as opposed to .919 against righties. This could be why the Dodgers pulled the trigger on the controversial AJ Ellis trade, where they removed a clubhouse favorite in order to add Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz, a playoff veteran in his own right, has hit .271 with a .793 OPS against lefties this season. The Dodgers decided to carrying three catchers, giving them versatility that can allow Ruiz to pinch hit, or replace Yasmani Grandal if they’re looking
to get on base instead of power.
4) Which Ace will carry his team?
Typically, a short series will boil down to the strength of each team’s starting pitching
. Much like their rookies, both teams have arguably the top pitchers in the league. With the ability to throw aces like Scherzer and Kershaw twice, this matchup will likely determine who wins the series. Scherzer is an NL Cy Young favorite
, with Kershaw’s only not considered a run-away winner because he missed two-plus months with a back injury. Kershaw of course has a spotty record in the postseason with a 2-6 record and a 4.59 ERA
. Scherzer is perhaps the only pitcher that can match Kershaw in terms of consistent no-hit stuff. That being said, Scherzer hasn’t by any means been dominant in the postseason as he has posted a 4-3 record with a 3.73 ERA
in his career. Whichever ace steps up and dominates will likely lead their team to the NLCS
against either the Cubs or Giants.
Edited by Jazmyn Brown, Julian Boireau.