With the first two games of the National League Divisional Series in the book, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals are squared away at two games apiece. Now that the series shifts to Los Angeles, what are the five takeaways from the first two games?
- Dodgers earn spilt, but should probably be up 2-0
Most times when you’re the visiting team, you’ll take a spilt in the first two road games and be content coming back to your place tied 1-1. But I’m not sure that’s the case for the Dodgers.
Game two felt like a game they should have had and they let it slip away. They jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead on Tanner Roark and had him on the ropes early. They had a chance to bust the game open a few times but could never get that big hit.
- They had the bases loaded in the second inning with one out, but couldn’t score after Rich Hill struck out and Chase Utley grounded out.
- They loaded the bases with only one out in the top of the third and Yasmani Grandal grounded into an inning-ending double play.
- In the fifth inning, the Dodgers loaded the bases yet again with one out and again failed to score a single run, as Grandal struck out and Howie Kendrick lined out to left.
So, in case you’re scoring at home, that’s three different times the Dodgers had the bases loaded with less than two outs, and didn’t score in any of those opportunities. In total, the Dodgers left 12 runners on base, and went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position in game two.
Meanwhile the Nationals were making the most of their opportunities, scorning four of their five runs with two outs.
These types of games happen from time to time. It’s unfortunate for the Dodgers that it happened in the second game of a key playoffs series. Still though, this game two loss will all be forgotten if they can still win the series. If they can’t, however, people will likely look back at this game as the turning point.
- Rainout could have altered strategy
Yeah, so what was that rainout all about? Major League Baseball decided to postpone game two on Saturday, Oct. 8 after it had been raining most of the day early on. But skies cleared not too long after the game was called and many wondered why it wasn’t just simply delayed instead of postponed. Could it perhaps have been the fear that delaying the Dodgers-Nationals game would interfere with the later game between the Giants and media darlings, Chicago Cubs? Maybe, but that’s a story for another time.
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Regardless of the reasoning behind the postponement, it could definitely have a legitimate impact on the series. Like any team in a five-game series, the Dodgers had the option to bring back their ace on short rest for game four. And while the rainout doesn’t affect Clayton Kershaw’s ability for that game, Dodger Rumors are that it does affect Rich Hill for a possible game four. By pitching on Sunday instead of Saturday, Hill would be forced to go on short rest himself for a game five scenario.
For the past three years in the playoffs the Dodgers have brought back Kershaw for game four, lining up him and Zack Greinke for two possible starts each in the first round. And though they didn’t confirm that was their plan this year with Kershaw and Hill, I suspect it was, no matter if they were up 2-1 or down 2-1. But now with the rainout, it likely changes things. Bringing both guys back on short rest remains a slight possibility, but not likely.
In latest LA Dodger News: Julio Urias is currently scheduled to take the ball in game four, with Kershaw coming back for a possible game five. And that might not be a bad thing at all. I’ve personally advocated for our young arms to play a role in the post season, and this could be Urias’ shot. Still though, the rainout may have altered the strategy for both managers and how they’ll use their starters.
- Clayton Kershaw still has something to prove in the post season
I will be the first one to tell you that the perceived post season “struggles” of Clayton Kershaw are over-blown. Way over-blown. But that narrative isn’t going anywhere until he can shine in the playoffs like he’s shined in his regular season career. And in game one, Kershaw was not on his ‘A’ game.
It’s kind of ironic that Kershaw got the victory in game one, being that he probably pitched worse than some of his previous playoff loses. But that’s baseball. Sometime you win when you aren’t at your best, and sometimes you lose when you are.
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The Nationals gave Kershaw a battle Friday night and it was a struggle for Kershaw to make it through five innings. He just did though, laboring through 101 pitches, his most since returning from a two and a half month layoff due to a back injury. He was consistently in trouble. He was getting hit hard, falling behind hitters, and repeatedly pitching from the stretch.
Undoubtedly, a team win is the most important thing, and Kershaw was happy to get that. But surely he couldn’t have been happy with his performance. Knowing what kind of competitor he is, I imagine that Kershaw can’t wait to get out there again, whether it be in this series with Washington or the NLCS. And when he does, I expect him to be as motivated as ever.
- Bullpens are playing big role
Coming into the series, both bullpens were expected to be a key factor, and so far, that has held true. The Dodgers and Nationals had the No. 1 and No. 2 bullpen earned run average in the MLB, and each team has rode their relievers to victory in games one and two.
Both teams were probably hoping that they might be able to spare their bullpen from overuse in the first couple of games, with No. 1 and No. 2 starters going for each club. But to most people’s surprise, the starters haven’t lasted very long. In game one, Kershaw went only five innings and Max Scherzer only six. In game two, both Rich Hill and Tanner Roark lasted 4 1/3 innings each before being removed.
Each team’s bullpen has been forced to pick up the slack, and thus far, they have fared very well, combining for 15+ innings and only one ER allowed. That positive trend could very well continue with these two groups, and going forward, their success or failure could be the difference in the series.
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- Dave Roberts will continue to employ matchup’s strategy
During the regular season, Dave Roberts employed a lefty/righty lineup pretty regularly. The Dodgers had only four regular starters with Adrian Gonzalez, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, and Yasmani Grandal. That strategy doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon, and the Dodgers will continue to lean on their depth to utilize different matchups in their favor.
Not only has Roberts started a lefty heavy lineup in the first two games against right handed pitching, but he’s also been quick to pinch hit for any of those lefties as soon as the Nationals go to their bullpen, even as early as the fifth inning in game two. In the first two games, Roberts pinch hit for Josh Reddick, Joc Pederson, and Andrew Toles when lefty relievers came in, going with right-handed batters Yasiel Puig and Howie Kendrick. So far, those moves haven’t necessarily shown to be good or bad. Puig walked in all his key at-bats so far, and Howie Kendrick went 0-for-2, but did hit the ball hard when he lined out in game two with the bases loaded.
I’m sure we can expect to see a righty heavy lineup in game three when the Dodgers face Gio Gonzalez. Also, when the Nationals go to the bullpen, I expect to see the corresponding moves for the Dodgers that Roberts has been making throughout the first two games. We’ll have to see if they work out in the end, but it’s something that he’s done throughout the year so far, and it’s not going to change now.