For the fourth straight year, the Dodgers enter the post season as the N.L West division champs. On Friday, they will get set to square off with the Washington Nationals, who claimed the N.L East crown this year. We take a look here at some key matchups that could determine the outcome of the series.
Kershaw vs. Scherzer: Ace vs. ace here. Two of the best in baseball will be going up against one another in game 1 when Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer take the mound. Both players are All-Stars, who have Cy Young awards and no-hitters under their belt. Kershaw is considered by many to be the best pitcher in the game, and the case could be made that Scherzer is right behind him. Safe to say that runs may be hard to come by in Game 1.
Starting pitchers don’t actually square off with each other, but rather the opposing team’s offense. Still, we seem to always envision it as the two pitchers going head-to-head. And some guys will tell you that the opposing pitcher does influence how they pitch. Going up against another ace may put added pressure on you to be that much better, and make each pitch that much more perfect. Knowing they don’t have much room for error could affect each pitcher’s performance, either for good or for bad.
Kershaw faced the Nationals once this year, back in June. He went 7 innings, giving up 1 ER, while striking out 8 in the win. Last year, in two starts, he had even more success against them, going 2-0 while pitching 16 scoreless innings and striking out 22 batters. Scherzer didn’t make a start against the Dodgers this year, but had one start against them last season where he pitched 6 innings, giving up 1 ER and K’d 8.
Which guy will blink first? Who will give up that first run of the game? Both Kershaw and Scherzer may make a mistake or two over the course of their start, but they probably won’t make many. So, the question is, which offense will capitalize? It may just be that one pitch over the plate, that hanging curveball or poorly located fastball that hitters need to take advantage of. If they don’t, they might not get another opportunity.
Taking Game 1 is always key, but even more so to do it by beating your opponent’s #1 pitcher. Kershaw and Scherzer is a battle that could set the tone for the series.
Gio Gonzalez vs. Dodgers Offense: We all know about this year’s struggles for the Dodgers against left-handed pitching, and I’m pretty sure the word has got out to the Nationals as well. Unfortunately for Washington, they only have one starting lefty to turn to in the division series, and that guy is Gio Gonzalez, who will likely be their Game 3 starter.
Gonzalez hasn’t had a great season this year, posting a 4.57 ERA over the course of 32 starts. But he does pitch left-handed. And therein lies the problem for the Dodgers.
There’s no need to beat a dead horse here, and we’ve covered this many times. But the Dodgers are the WORST hitting team in baseball against LHP. They are dead last in BA (.213), OPB, (.290), Slg % (.332), OPS (.622.) Those aren’t good numbers.
One big question is how Dave Roberts will construct the starting lineup against Gonzalez. More times than not in the regular season, he’s gone with a righty-heavy lineup, sitting guys like Joc Pederson, Chase Utley, Josh Reddick, and Andrew Toles. That approach hasn’t helped much and it will be interesting to see if he continues to employ that strategy in the post season. However, this past weekend in San Francisco, Roberts started Pederson a couple of times against lefties, which may have been Joc’s audition for the playoffs. And being how Kike Hernandez is not of the NLDS roster, it seems likely that Pederson could get the start in CF against Gonzalez in Game 3.
Gonzalez isn’t a dominate lefty, but neither is Jeff Locke, Matt Moore, Tyler Anderson, Brandon Finnegan, or Ty Blach, who are just some of the lefties that have stymied the Dodgers this year. In his lone start against the Dodgers this year, Gonzalez got the win, pitching 6 innings and giving up one run.
The Dodgers need to be better against lefties, and at least give themselves a chance. There’s really no simpler way to say it. As bad as they’ve been against LHP in the regular season, they still have a chance for redemption if they can turn it around in the playoffs.
Dave Roberts vs. Dusty Baker: Both Roberts and Baker are in their first year with their team, although there’s a huge difference in overall experience. Roberts is a rookie manger, whereas Baker has been around over 20 years, managing four different MLB teams. Both guys have fared well this season, and are expected to be in the running for N.L Manger of the Year.
As far as managers are concerned, success is vastly measured off of how their team fares overall (i.e wins & loses.) And that makes sense. Not too many are going to judge a manager’s specific decisions over the course of a 162 game season as much as they’ll judge the overall outcome of the team.
But the playoffs are a different animal.
Every decision will be scrutinized. Each move questioned. All of a sudden, “X’s and O’s” become a lot more important. When should you pinch hit or double switch for your starter if they’re cruising? How should you manage your bullpen? What’s a good sample size to base matchups on? Both managers will face big questions throughout the course of the series, and whether or not they make the right move, could have huge implications on the outcome.
During some instances in the past three years, many Dodgers fans thought Don Mattingly may have been out-managed in the playoffs. Hopefully, that won’t happen this year, and Roberts will be able to push the right buttons when the time comes.