Oct 7, 2016; Washington, DC, USA;(EDITORS NOTE: Time exposure photo) Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer (31) pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the fourth inning during game one of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball series at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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Today, we give you our five storylines to keep an eye on in tonight’s Game 5 between the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers
Tonight is the night that the Washington Nationals will face the Los Angeles Dodgers in a do-or-die Game 5. So far, these two teams have played close games in this divisional series and the two managers (Dave Roberts and Dusty Baker) have been playing their own game of chess.
Both of these teams are one win away from snapping their own division series droughts. A win by the Dodgers would be the first time that Los Angeles has advanced to the National League Championship Series since 2013. Meanwhile, the Washington Nationals are looking for their first NLDS series win and trying to avoid their second Game 5 NLDS loss home loss since 2012.
Due to the Washington Nationals getting home field advantage in this series and their win in Game 3 at Dodger Stadium, Max Scherzer will be taking the mound at Nats Park for the Nationals. Scherzer got the start in Game 1, but gave up four runs in the first three innings as he took the loss in his Nats playoff debut.
On the Dodgers side, they are going to start the game with Rich Hill (who will be on three days rest) since Clayton Kershaw pitched on three days rest Tuesday afternoon.
Before Game 5 gets underway tonight (8:08 p.m ET, Fox Sports 1), here are my storylines to watch and my prediction for which team is going to advance to play the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS.
Oct 7, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer (31) throws against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the third inning during game one of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball series at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Max Scherzer’s Early Game Struggles
For the third time in his career, Max Scherzer will start a second game in a series. His other two times he hs done that were in the 2011 ALCS (Texas Rangers) and 2013 ALCS (Boston Red Sox). He did not win a game in either of those series.
Back in Game 1, Scherzer gave up a first inning solo home run to Corey Seager and a third inning two-run home run to Justin Turner. Scherzer went six innings, gave up four runs on five hits, and struck out five on 91 pitches (60 strikes) in the loss. His game score of 51 was the third lowest in a postseason game during his career (according to Baseball Reference).
While Scherzer appears to be the frontrunner for the Cy Young in the National League, he has struggled with giving up home runs this season. He allowed 31 home runs in the regular season in addition to the two he gave up in Game 1.
The only inning that I worry about regarding Scherzer is the first inning. This series, the Dodgers have scored in the first inning every game and have hit three home runs. If Corey Seager or Justin Turner can homer early, that could quiet what should be a loud crowd early.
If Scherzer can locate his fastball against a predominantly left-handed lineup, I think he can have success in this game. The goal for him should be that he should be the pitcher that gives the ball to Mark Melancon at the end.
Oct 9, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Rich Hill (44) pitches against the Washington Nationals during the fourth inning during game two of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball series at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
While I agree with Roberts bringing Kershaw back on short rest for Game 4, he will have to be creative with the use of his pitchers in Game 5 tonight. Right now, the plan is to start Rich Hill (Game 2 starter) on short rest. Hill has only done that once during his career.
Back in 2009, Hill started on short rest for the Orioles in July 21 after going 1/3 of an inning in relief in his previous outing. In that start, Hill needed 82 pitches to finish three innings. No one should expect Hill to go deep into this game like Kershaw did Tuesday if the Washington Nationals can work up the pitch count.
In Game 2, Hill went 4.1 innings, gave up four runs on six hits, struck out seven, and walked two on 82 pitches (47 strikes) in the loss. Hill had seven strikeouts in the first three innings, but he hung a breaking ball to Jose Lobaton in the fourth and the Nats catcher made him pay for it.
The 36-year-old left-hander did have good success with his breaking ball in Game 2. According to Brooks Baseball, he threw 25 of his 41 curveballs for strikes.
As for Urias, the 20-year-old has never pitched in a postseason game, so you wounder if he might overthrow pitches and be too amped up. Joe Ross was in his first playoff game Tuesday and did not show the same poise that fans are used to seeing from him.
Urias has never pitched on this bright of a stage, but he has done a good job against the Washington Nationals this season. In two starts against the Nats, he gave up three runs and struck out ten in nine innings. The only two players who drove in a run against him were Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa.
Now, the innings won’t be an issue for Urias, but keep in mind he threw fewer than 60 pitches in each of his final two starts of the season and he only threw 7.2 combined innings in his last three starts. With that being said, the goal for Hill and Urias will be to keep the Dodgers offense in the game and hand it to Kenley Jansen with a lead for possibly six outs.
Oct 11, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Washington Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy (20) drives in two runs with a single in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game four of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball series at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Murphy hasn’t hit a home run during this series after he hit three against the Dodgers with the Mets in last year’s NLDS. With that being said, the Washington Nationals second baseman has continued his success against the Dodgers this October.
In the first four games, Murphy is 6-for-13 with six RBI’s and he hasn’t even had an extra-base hit yet. Tuesday afternoon, he had four RBI’s, including the game-tying two-run single against Luis Avilan in the top of the seventh. With Hill likely the starter, Murphy should be hitting cleanup tonight.
Last season, Murphy had a great game 5 at Dodger Stadium to help the Mets secure the road win. He went 3-for-4 with two RBI’s. He had a RBI double in the first, showed great baserunning in taking third due to the shift and scored in the fourth, and he had the game winning home run off Zack Greinke in the sixth.
In a winner take all situation, Roberts should be looking to get any left-handed pitcher against Murphy. But, at the same time, Murphy is 6-for-10 and has all six RBI’s against the Dodgers left-handers. Back in Game 2, he had RBI singles against a pair of lefties (Hill and Grant Dayton).
While Murphy hasn’t gone on the home run streak he did last October, he still remains a threat in the postseason and should be the hitter Nats fans trust in a key situation with men in scoring positon (4-for-7, six RBI’s). If Murphy has a big game tonight, the Washington Nationals should be on their way to Chicago, a place where Murphy played well in last year’s NLCS.
Oct 10, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon (6) hits a two run home run during the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game three of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball series at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Which Bottom Of The Order Steps Up?
Coming into this series, the top four in the order was considered a strength for both of these teams. So far, that trend has held true after four games. The Dodgers top four hitters (Chase Utley, Seager, Turner, Adrian Gonzalez) are 14-for-58 (.241) with four home runs and ten RBI’s.
On the Washington Nationals side, Trea Turner, Jayson Werth, Harper, and Murphy are 22-for-59 (.373) with one home run and 11 RBI’s. When you look at these two teams, most likely somebody from the top four of these orders is going to have a good night.
When looking at a winner takes all kind of game, you want to look at somebody who might emerge from the bottom of the lineup. For the Washington Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman has gotten better swings this series and Anthony Rendon is hitting only .188, but he has a home run and four runs batted in.
As for the Dodgers, I would focus on Andrew Toles. The left fielder was hit by a pitch in the eighth inning of Game 4 and scored on the Utley single. Toles is only 1-for-7 this series, but if he gets on base, he is a threat to steal a base and one of the only Dodgers who might try to steal. Also, Joc Pederson is 3-for-12, but he’s coming off a RBI double from Game 4.
It’s always exciting to see which players are going to come up big in a Game 5 occasion besides the normal superstars. Tonight, we will see which players are going to become a part of history.
Oct 11, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Kenley Jansen (74) delivers a pitch in the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals during game four of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball series at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
How Quick Do Closers Come In?
With a day off in between games 4 and 5, you would have to think both closers are going to be ready to give their teams multiple innings if needed. Both Mark Melancon (Washington Nationals) and Kenley Jansen (Dodgers) have appeared in three games for their teams.
Out of the two closers, Jansen has given up the only runs in the series. He gave up four runs in 1/3 of an inning in Game 3, but that was in a non-save situation. In his two save opportunities, he has struck out five and given up one hit in 2.2 innings.
Meanwhile, Melancon has appeared in one save opportunity and converted it in Game 2. In this series, he is 1-for-1 in saves and has given up three hits while striking out four and walking one in three innings.
When it comes to saves, these are two of the best closers in the National League. Both of them have blown only one save since August 1. If Jansen or Melancon get the ball with a lead late, it’s going to be tough for the opposing team to mount a comeback.
So far this series, these two bullpens have combined to give up seven runs (five of them by the Dodgers). If I had to name a key setup reliever for both teams, I would go with Joe Blanton for the Dodgers and Shawn Kelley for the Nats.
During this series, Blanton has one win (Game 4) and has given up only one hit while striking out five and walking one in 3.2 innings. Over his last 25 innings in the regular season, the 35-year-old gave up three runs (all in August).
As for Kelley, he may be the freshest reliever in either of the bullpens. He only pitched 1.2 innings in Game 3, when he struck out three of the five batters. Kelley has given up one hit over his last 12 appearances dating back to the regular season. However, he only went more than one inning four times during the season.
Now, if Scherzer can go eight innings and give the ball to Melancon, then that would be perfect for the Washington Nationals. However, in a series where the bullpen has needed to get key outs, I would expect the same in Game 5.
Oct 9, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcher Mark Melancon (43) celebrates after their win over the Los Angeles Dodgers during game two of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball series at Nationals Park. The Washington Nationals won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
With the Washington Nationals winning Game 3, they get the advantage of saving their ace for a pivotal Game 5. It’s tough to see Max Scherzer having two bad starts in a row since it usually doesn’t happen during the regular season.
Early in this game, I think the Washington Nationals will work the pitch count up against Hill and make Dave Roberts use more of the bullpen than he would want to. The key will be can Bryce Harper continue to take pitches and make an impact in one of his at-bats.
Roberts has done an excellent job managing this series for the Dodgers, but this might be the game where the experience of Dusty Baker pays off. As I wrote yesterday, this is a game the Washington Nationals need to win as a franchise. Unlike 2012, they now have a closer they can trust with the ball in the ninth inning in Melancon.