The Los Angeles Dodgers will be starting the NLDS in Washington against the Nationals Friday, Oct. 7. Plenty of storylines for this series, but what it comes down to is the fact that both of these teams may have to rely on some players who aren’t necessarily their stars. But the question now becomes, who?

We’ve already took a look at some key match-ups for the upcoming Dodgers-Nationals series. Here, we’ll examine some possible x-factors that could be the difference in the series.

X-Factors:

Third & (maybe) Fourth Starters:  The Dodgers are hoping their two top guns, Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, will be their reliable selves in the postseason. The same can be said for the Nationals and their expectations for Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark. After those guys though, more unpredictable pitching match-ups await and whichever team has their mid-tier rotation guys step up, will likely be the team moving on to the NLCS.

The probable matchup for Game three is Kenta Maeda and Gio Gonzalez. We’ve talked about Gonzalez already, and L.A’s struggles against left-handed pitching. Maeda lines up as the third starter for the Dodgers and has been pretty solid overall in his rookie campaign. He posted a 3.48 ERA and logged 175 innings over 32 starts this year. Maeda didn’t end the season on a very pleasant note, however, getting rocked by the Giants for five earned runs in two-plus innings in the season finale.

Dodgers’ Kenta Maeda Getting Rewarded for Great Season

Game four (if necessary) could go a variety of different ways. One option for both teams would be to bring back their ace on short rest. Dodger Rumors are to bring in Kershaw on short rest. The Dodgers have done it with Kershaw for the past three years and with the exception of one swing by Matt Adams, it’s worked out pretty well.

Here are Kershaw’s post season starts on short rest over the last three years:

 

Year Game Opponent Innings Pitched Hits Earned Runs Strikeouts
2013 4 Atlanta 6 3 2 6
2014 4 St. Louis 6 4 1 9
2015 4 N.Y. Mets 7 3 1 8

Not bad numbers for someone who supposedly struggles in the playoffs. This year, however, the Dodgers might want to be cautious with Kershaw. Coming off a serious back injury that sidelined him most of the season, they may decide not to bring him back for game four. Obviously, how the series stands at that point will be a likely factor in that decision as well.

As far as Scherzer goes, the Nationals haven’t made any indication that he would come back on short rest, and have actually sounded hesitant about the idea. Still, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them use Scherzer in game four, especially if they happen to be facing elimination.

If either team decides against bringing their aces back for game four, the alternative could be a couple of young pitchers on each side. Joe Ross is a likely candidate for Washington, and the Dodgers could turn to 20-year-old Julio Urias. Both guys would be on pretty strict pitch counts, and for L.A, fellow rookie Ross Stripling could provide long relief in game four, if needed.

With two young guys going at it in a big playoff series, who knows who has the upper hand. Nerves could be an issue for both pitchers, and playoff baseball is a totally different atmosphere than either guy has experienced before.

Both teams will need their No. 3 and perhaps No. 4 guys to step up in a big way this series. They don’t need to pitch complete game shutouts, but they need to keep their team in it for a good five-six innings. If they can, perhaps they can turn it over to their respective bullpens, with a chance to win the game.

Speaking of which…

Bullpens: One of the most critical components to any playoff team. Over the last two post seasons, the Kansas City Royals showed us firsthand how far a very good bullpen can get you. Both the Dodgers and the Nationals will lean on their bullpen at some point in the series, and each unit could play a big role.

Relief pitching has been a strength for both clubs this year. Both bullpens are No. 1 and No. 2 in ERA, with the Dodgers at 3.35, and the Nationals right behind them at 3.37. The Dodgers unit has allowed 28 percent of IR (Inherited Runners) to score while Washington’s group has permitted only 25 percent, putting both teams in the top four in the league for that category.

Is the Dodgers Bullpen Ready for The Playoffs?

Each team has a premier closer in Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon, but the middle relief could be the most essential aspect to each unit. Bridging the gap between the starters and those closers is going to be key. Playoff baseball is filled with close games and tight scoring, and a dependable bullpen may be one of the biggest attributes a team can have in the post season.

Clutch hitting:  Not to sound too cliché here, but sometimes you just need a clutch hit. You know, that one with two outs and the tying or go-ahead run at second base? And sometimes it’s not even a hit so much as you just need to get a crucial run home. Moving the runner over, getting the sacrifice fly or whatever it takes to get the runner home from third with less than two outs. That type of little execution could be the difference in a close game.

Personally, I don’t put much stock in “pressure situation” stats for individual players. I don’t believe that professional ballplayers just somehow get better or worse because runners happen to be on base. Sure, some hitters may be more overly aggressive than others, which could definitely affect their numbers. But overall, I think the outcome is still based on many factors, and predominantly circumstantial.

For example, Manny Machado’s .255 average this year with runners in scoring position ranks behind fellows players like J.J Hardy, Matt Wieters, and Jonathon Schoop, among others. Does that mean I’d rather have any of those guys up in a key situation over Machado if I’m an Orioles fan? Of course not.

But while individual stats may be misleading, I think team stats in these situations can be telling. The Dodgers are hitting .250 as a team with RISP this season, 12th in the league. The Nationals are at .259, and fifth in the league. With two outs and RISP, the Dodgers are hitting.206. That’s good for 28th in baseball, with only the New York Mets and Minnesota Twins hitting worse. The Nationals come in a 20th, hitting .225 in those situations.

There’s nothing more frustrating than continuously leaving runners on base, and not scoring runs when you have a golden opportunity. The team that can cash in on these opportunities and make the most of their scorning chances, could very well be the team moving on to the next round. Stay up to date with Dodgers news and more!

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About The Author

Originally from Southern California, and currently stationed in Northern Virginia, Brian is a devoted Dodgers fan, and has been since he was a kid. He's an Active Duty member of the U.S Air Force, and has been serving for the last 16 years. While he loves all things sports related, and supports all his teams (Lakers, Steelers, L.A Kings, & USC) his true passion is the Dodgers, and loves writing about the boys in blue.

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