Washington Nationals: Momentum Carries Team Towards NLCS

With a win in Game 4 of their NLDS, the Washington Nationals will play in their first NLCS. Here is what to watch for.

The Washington Nationals might be hours away from advancing to their first National League Championship Series since moving from Montreal.

Monday’s 8-3 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers gives the Nats a commanding 2-1 lead and the ability to be the first Washington team in 18 years to move on to a major professional league semi-final.

On what sure is to be a tremendous emotional roller coaster around dinner time, here are a few things to watch out for as Washington hopes to close out this NL Divisional Series:

–Both in Games 2 and 3, the Nats did not beat themselves, but the Dodgers did. In Game 2, Los Angeles stranded 11 runners, including the bases loaded twice. Game 3 watched the Dodgers show weakness on the mound from start to finish. Kenta Maeda could not survive the third inning while Kenley Jansen melted as the sun set over the San Gabriel’s. Rarely has a home team come undone like that.

–The Nats bullpen is the fresher unit. Shawn Kelley tossed 1.2 perfect innings in his playoff debut. We have not seen Reynaldo Lopez in this series. If you figure the bullpen will need another 12-15 outs to secure a win, the Nationals bullpen has all the confidence in the world. With a lead, they can hold it. The Dodgers failed to score again in their last 14 outs in Game 2.

–Momentum plays a role in these short series. Watching Jansen become unglued and the crowd filing out of Dodger Stadium was a kicker for the Dodgers and a huge boost for the Nationals. Remember Game 1 when Washington went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position? Yesterday, they went 3-for-8. The Dodgers were 0-for-4.

–Even if today is not the day the Nationals move on, that home field advantage is precious. Max Scherzer awaits a hodgepodge of Dodger pitchers Thursday in Washington. For all the hand wringing over how long a starter lasts in these games, Dusty Baker has set his poker hand perfectly. Washington has to reinforce that Los Angeles is on the edge.

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–Outside of Danny Espinosa, the offense is in fine form. Bryce Harper’s timing at the plate is better. Jayson Werth’s bomb of 450 feet had him smiling in the dugout and Ryan Zimmerman is hitting .455. Although not perfect, the Nats are showing patience, waiting for the Dodgers to make mistakes.

–For all the talk of Corey Seager having a great series, he is hitting .231. Trea Turner, and his nerves, is hitting .250.

–With the Dodgers fighting to stay in the series, watch to see how long their starter stays on the mound. If it is Clayton Kershaw, he has to go deep. Washington wins Game 4 if he is as uncomfortable as he was in Game 1. Five innings will not cut it.

–Whatever happens, enjoy it. The season will not end in Los Angeles.

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