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 DC on October 7th and 8th, with a return to Dodgers Stadium on October 10th and, if necessary, October 11th with a finale scheduled for October 13th 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 concluding here with positional players.
A few years ago, this may have been a marquee match up between two top tier players. Zimmerman, once a strong offensive producer, has declined offensively in 3 consecutive years. Adrian Gonzalez had one of the least productive years of his strong career, but still posted some solid consistency. The big thing missing from both players games this year was a strong decrease in power production, as Zimmerman’s slugging was 97 points below his career mark of .467 and Gonzo’s slugging was 57 points below his career mark of .492. Gonzalez is producing at a stronger clip this year and he’ll look to continue to be the Dodgers “butter and egg man.”
Chase Utley has filled in at second quite admirably for the Dodgers, but Daniel Murphy has suddenly turned into peak-level Jeff Kent. Of course, the elephant in the room is the absolute and utter dismantling that Murphy dealt the Dodgers in the NLDS last year as a member of the Mets. Murphy more than made up for his shoddy defense with a career year offensively that could result in a top 5 finish in the MVP race. Utley has been a driving force on the Dodgers, and his intangible value can’t be undersold, but Murphy beats him in every offensive category and this one isn’t close.
Big Advantage: Nationals
Seager is likely heading towards a unanimous rookie of the year award and will also likely be found in the top 5 of MVP voting. Danny Espinosa started the year strong, but was supplanted often by Stephen Drew and Trea Turner toward the end of the year as his offensive tailed off. Like the situation at second base, this one isn’t even close.
Big Advantage: Dodgers
At first glance, this match up looks like another huge Dodgers win. However, Anthony Rendon has put up some solid, above-average offensive numbers to go with quality defense to help solidify the hot corner as Ryan Zimmerman moved to first. Justin Turner, after starting the year slow, has primed himself to receive a dump truck of money in the offseason. Before that, he’ll likely be one of the Dodgers strongest postseason contributors.
Former Dodger Jayson Werth has had better years, both offensively and defensively. He has a wealth of postseason experience, winning a World Series with the Phillies in 2008. He doesn’t provide strong defense any longer, but he has had a decent rebound offensively from last year. After starting the year in the dumps, Howie Kendrick came into a grove defensively in left field, and produced right about average offensively for his career. Andrew Toles, in a small sample size, has done nothing but rake. Expect to see him get starts versus righties, with the utility swinging this in the Dodgers favor.
Slight Advantage: Dodgers
It’s not likely that he sees much time versus lefties, but Joc Pederson has had a solid sophomore season that helped ease some concerns about his 2nd half falloff in 2015. His skillset will play up against a Nationals team that can be homer prone at times, and Joc has a strong ability to draw a walk. Trea Turner has shown solid offensive skills while playing multiple positions for the Nationals. He is also really, really fast. Michael Taylor hasn’t done much of anything, and could miss the roster completely if Baker prefers Revere. Joc’s experience helps swing this ever-so-slightly toward the Dodgers.
Slight Advantage: Dodgers
Josh Reddick has picked it up in September, batting .382 with a .961 OPS. Yasiel Puig has been his ever-entertaining self, but he’s also performed with a .900 OPS during September. Expect to see a solid platoon between the two, even though Puig doesn’t really have pronounced platoon splits. Bryce Harper, even though he’s likely injured and easily having a down year, is still the reigning MVP from 2015 and capable of turning it on in a big way. The upside and potential for damage here sways the decision to Washington over the recent performances of Reddick and Puig.
Slight Advantage: Nationals
The Nationals bench will likely consist of former Dodger Chris Heisey, Ben Revere, Stephen Drew, Pedro Severino and Clint Robinson. It’s not a great group, but its not bad either. Drew is having a decent resurgence and Chris Heisey is just above replacement level. Ben Revere has had a terrible year and could be replaced by Brian Goodwin, who hasn’t produced much better than Heisey. Pedro Severino is the back up catcher and could see time versus the Dodgers lefties, and Former Dodger Clint Robinson hasn’t given them much either.
The Dodgers bench will consist of whoever isn’t platooning (Reddick/Puig, Toles/Kendrick), Charlie Culberson, Austin Barnes, Carlos Ruiz and Andre Ethier. The presence of Barnes frees up Ruiz to pinch hit against lefties. The 4 platoon outfielders are all quality late game options. Charlie Culberson is a going to go down as a cult hero, and Ethier already has been known by the moniker “Captain Clutch.” The amount of talent and versatility on this bench easily swings this for the Dodgers.
Overall, it should be a competitive series focused mostly on pitching. The entire series could hinge on the first game. If Clayton is on and the Dodgers squeak a few runs off Scherzer, this could be a sweep. Overall, I think the Nationals have a chance to put up a strong fight and shouldn’t be overlooked. I think it’s strongly plausible that they could steal 1 game at Dodger Stadium, which would set up a game 5 in Washington between Kershaw and Scherzer.
Prediction: Dodgers in 4.
(* Small Sample Size Caveat)