8:05 PM EST, FS1 – Money Line: Nationals -155, Run Line: 7
After a competitive four games, the National League Division Series comes down to a decisive fifth game, as the Washington Nationals host the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Nation’s Capital. There were times during Tuesday’s 6-5 victory that the season looked all but over the Dodgers (91-71, 1st in NL West). Dave Roberts called upon ace Lefthander Clayton Kershaw (12-4, 1.69 ERA) to work on four days rest, giving the three-time Cy Young the opportunity to wash away a rather disappointing postseason resume’, in which the ace has gone a underwhelming 3-6 with a 4.83 ERA in fifteen career starts. It was very much a mixed bag for the 28-year old, who despite striking out eleven Nationals and walking just two, yielded five runs on seven hits in 6.2 innings of labor. Things were moving rather smoothly until the Seventh Inning, in which he relinquished one run hitting Jayson Werth with the bases loaded, followed by a Daniel Murphy Single up the middle, driving home both Trey Turner and Bryce Harper to tie the game at five runs apiece. Fortunately for Kershaw, his teammates in the Bullpen cauterized the proverbial wound, as Relievers Pedro Baez, Luis Avilan, and Joe Blanton (who earned the Win) permitted just one hit before Closer Kenley Janson (1.83 ERA, 47 Saves) closed the deal with a pair of strikeouts in the Ninth. Of course, granting him the opportunity for the Save in the first place was Second Baseman Chase Utley (.252 BA, 14 HR, 52 RBI), whose Eighth Inning Single sent Andrew Toles home for the game-winning run. Taking the mound tonight is the oft-injured Rich Hill (12-5, 2.12 ERA), who was acquired midway through the campaign from the Oakland Athletics. Always a salivating talent, the problem with Hill has always been his health; after starting fourteen games for the A’s before making the short trek south to Los Angeles, the 36-year old was relegated to just six starts for the Dodgers thanks to a variety of hand and finger ailments. Needless to say, Roberts and Co. certainly hope that the lefty rebounds from a miserable effort in Game Two last Sunay Night; Hill only lasted 4.1 innings, serving up four earned runs on six hits, including a homer in what was his first postseason start since 2007, which is coincidentally his only other appearance in the Playoffs. Put it altogether, and it’s a very likely possibility that the Dodgers’ Bullpen will once again be called upon tonight, for there is simply no telling just how long Hill will last one the mound. Jansen aside, this is hardly the most intimidating of groups, as none of them possess the most overpowering stuff. While Blanton (9.0) and Baez (10.1) can strike out plenty, they don’t have the finest of control, as both average over 2.5 walks per nine innings. This would likely mean that Roberts and his Staff will have to resort to utilizing some of their Starters in a relief capacity, particularly Scott Kazmir (10-6, 4.56 ERA).
Meanwhile, the Nationals (96-67, 1st in NL East) are looking to make some franchise history and exorcise some demons in the process. Since arriving from Montreal twelve years ago, Washington has yet to win a Playoff Series; they fell short in Game Five against St. Louis in 2012, followed by a four-game defeat to San Francisco two years later. In fact, you would have to go as far back as the 1924 World Series for the last time that a team located in the Nation’s Capital won a postseason series. Seriously, folks, they were the Washington Senators back then…With that said, the Nationals really couldn’t ask themselves to be better situated for such a significant contest. First and foremost, the Front Office hired veteran Manager Dusty Baker with the postseason in mind; the 67-year old has been around the block many times, with twenty-one years n the profession, having taken his charges to the Playoffs on eight occasions, including a National League Pennant back in 2002 with the Giants. Washington won the National League East by a comfortable four games this season, and with arguably the deepest Rotation in the league, they’ve never looked as poised for a postseason run. Of course, the other reason for Nats’ fans to be confident is the fact that Max Scherzer will be taking the mound tonight. Simply put, this is the guy that Management thought they were getting when they signed the Righthander to a monstrous seven-year, $210 million contract in 2015; after a disappointing campaign last year, the former Tigers’ ace put together a stellar term, going 20-7 with a 2.96 ERA, leading a stacked Staff including the likes of Tanner Rourke and Stephen Strasburg in a number of categories, including wins (20), WHIP (.0968), and strikeouts (284), of which he also lead the league in. He’ll be looking to improve on his performance in Game One of this series, in which the 32-year old was tagged for four earned runs on five hits, including a pair of home runs, in last Friday’s 4-3 defeat. With that said, the Nationals were oh so close to avoiding this scenario altogether; they had the Dodgers on the brink in their own Park Tuesday, rallying back from a three-run deficit to square things away in the Seventh Inning, the Nats knocked Clayton Kershaw out of the game midway through that stanza, before Utley drove home Toles for the go-ahead run in the following inning. Fortunately, Washington’s Lineup has found success against the aforementioned Hill, forcing his exit midway through the Fifth Inning, racking up four earned runs on six hits, including a Jose Lobaton home run in a Game Two victory (5-2). Second Baseman Daniel Murphy (.347 BA, 25 HR, 104 RBI) continues to torment the Dodgers during the Playoffs, following up his stellar 2015 postseason in style, batting .462 with six hits, six RBIs, and a pair of runs scored through the first four games of the NLDS.
Predicted Outcome: Dodgers 4, Nationals 3