The Dodgers and Nationals will meet in the playoffs for the first time in this year’s NLDS. The Nationals hold home-field advantage in the best-of-five series, so the first two games will be played in Washington, D.C. Oct. 7 and 8. With a return to Dodgers Stadium Oct. 10 and if necessary, October 11. The potential finale is scheduled for Oct. 13 back in Washington.
The Dodgers won the season series 5-1, but each team is a little different now than they were when they met. Since teams will need contributions from the entire diamond, we’re going to do a two-part positional preview starting with the pitchers and the catchers.
Let’s take a look at the starting pitching. Below, I’ll list the likely starters for each team, and then compare each individual match up.
Both teams boast a lot of quality in regards to their starting pitching, but its hard to argue that the Nationals’ top three are better than the Dodgers’. As it always does in the playoffs, each game will likely come down to timely hitting and the losing team making a critical error that becomes their undoing.
Game 1: Kershaw vs. Scherzer
Scherzer is good, in fact, he’s actually really good. Also, he has a very good chance to win the Cy Young award this year. However, Kershaw remains the best pitcher on the planet, even if you want to try and hype the false narrative that he “chokes in the playoffs.” With Kershaw having had two and a half months off, I think his arm will have a little more life during these playoffs than it has in the past. And while Scherzer is elite, he’s had a problem with the long ball this year, something the Dodgers’ lefty lineup could very well exploit.
Game 2: Hill vs Roark
Rich Hill has been saved for this moment, so I fully expect Dave Roberts and Rick Honeycutt to take the reigns off and let him throw the ball. Tanner Roark is a candidate for comeback player of the year, as he turned in a phenomenal year, which helped Washington mitigate the loss of Stephen Strasburg. The Nationals are a quality squad versus lefties, but they lost one of their biggest threats in catcher Wilson Ramos, as he is out for the year. However, this game could turn on Roark’s ability to minimize hard contact, as he has been among the best in baseball at limiting hard hit balls. The Dodgers will swing a mighty stick against this Nationals righty, but if Hill’s curve is biting, it could be a long night for Washington.
Game 3: Maeda vs. Gonzalez
While Gio Gonzalez has been a bit underrated this year due to his high ERA, he’s still a quality pitcher that was worth nearly three Wins Above Replacement per fangraphs.com and we all know the Dodgers aren’t very strong versus left handed pitching. Kenta Maeda, likely the runner up for the Rookie of the Year award, has been quite strong in his own regard. But if the Dodgers offense can’t muster some offense against Gonzalez, it’ll be all for naught. It will be up to Kenta to ensure he minimizes the damage and keeps the Dodgers competitive.
Game 4: Urias vs. Ross
Slight Advantage: Nationals
Throwing a 20-year old pitcher in a deciding game of the playoffs can be a risky bet and I don’t know that this is how it goes down if either team is staring down the barrel of a first round exit. For arguments sake, lets say it does go down like this. The Nationals have seen Julio Urias twice this year, with Urias allowing three runs in nine innings pitcher with 10 strikeouts and one walk. Joe Ross has been a strong pick up for the Nats and he’s done a great job of minimizing the long ball. With both pitchers likely on a short leash, I’d expect this to be a bullpen game by the fifth inning.
Slight Advantage: Dodgers
The Dodgers bullpen strikes out batters roughly 26.1 percent of the batters they face, while the Nats strike out about 23.8 percent. The Dodgers bullpen walks 8.4 percent of the batters they face while the Nats walk 8.0 percent. The Nationals induce more ground balls (46.4 percent to 41.1 percent), while the Dodgers generate more fly balls (39.4 percent to 34.3 percent). While the Dodgers’ bullpen is going to have overcome some fatigue, the ability to strike out more players during the postseason can be a huge strength. The Nationals are a team that doesn’t strike out much compared to the rest of the league, so the Dodgers bullpen will need to step up to make it happen. The Nationals picked up Mark Melancon from the Pirates at the trade deadline, and he has helped solidify a pretty good unit that includes underrated names like Shawn Kelley and Matt Belisle. Washington has the depth to be able to include up to four lefties in their pen, so it could pose problems for Los Angeles. Coming back in the late innings will be a daunting task for either team, but I put the edge slightly in the Dodgers favor, as strike outs become more influential outs during the post season.
|Jose Lobaton||.232||.319||.374||.692||5.4 RAA|
|Pedro Severino||.321||.441||.607||1.048||-0.8 RAA|
|Yasmani Grandal||.228||.339||.477||.816||24.1 RAA|
|Carlos Ruiz||.278||.350||.333||.683||-8.8 RAA|
Prior to Wilson Ramos’ injury, the Nationals held the edge. Ramos has had a career year and absolutely destroys left handed pitching. Unfortunately his season ended, sadly to the benefit of the Dodgers. Jose Lobaton is likely to see the lion’s share of the work, as Pedro Severino is a rookie that has seen a grand total of 38 career at bats. While his numbers are strong, it’s not like Dusty Baker to throw a rookie out there to catch his pitching staff. Lobaton has actually been quite a solid framer in his limited time, as evidenced by his 5.4 RAA, or Runs Above Average, a statistic that tries to quantify how good a catcher is stealing strikes, losing strikes, etc. The Nats could deploy a platoon, with the switch-hitting Lobaton playing against righties and the right-handed Severino starting against lefties.
Yasmani Grandal has been an absolute dinger machine, leading the league in home runs among straight catchers, but he’s also been the second best catcher in baseball in RAA behind Buster Posey. Grandal has a phenomenal walk rate to supplement his power, which could come in hand against the Nationals pitching. I don’t foresee Ruiz getting many starts, but his bat could come up crucial in the late innings and his extensive playoff experience could help benefit the team overall.
Overall, the scales tip toward the Dodgers in the first few categories. However, the Nationals can’t be counted out, as they have a strong position player group. Join us for Part II of our Positional Preview!