By Will Beverina
And so here we are. A Chase Utley single in the eighth inning of game four in the National League Division Series has led us to the most frightening words in sports: winner-take-all elimination game. The Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers will play game five in Nationals Park on Thursday in primetime.
That’s the bad news. The good news is Dodgers ace and generally just best-pitcher-in-baseball-right-now Clayton Kershaw has already pitched twice. And depending on how you look at it, there is even more good news in the fact that Max Scherzer will be on the mound for Washington against either Rich Hill or 20-year-old rookie Julio Urias. Some—meaning all—Nationals fans would have preferred to win game four and save Scherzer for game one of the NLCS, but losing two games to the aforementioned Kershaw is fair enough.
No matter who Scherzer is facing, Washington needs one important thing out of him: to stop giving up home runs. This problem has plagued the right-hander, as he surrendered a career-high 31 home runs during the regular season and gave up two more in game one of this series. So far no starter has stood out or dominated their outing through the first four games. Scherzer bucking that trend would go a long way for the Nationals’ hopes of advancing.
As for the offense, Washington needs to keep doing what it’s been doing. The bats for the Nats have so far produced just over five runs a game this series. If they stay on that track it should give Scherzer and the bullpen a good amount of breathing room. Where they’re getting that offense from has also been important. The top of the order through the middle of the lineup has been fruitful, with batters one through six all coming up with regular hits and important RBI’s. The bottom of the lineup has been rather bad, save for a Jose Lobaton home run, with Danny Espinosa in particular being a black hole of production, but if the batters before them can produce, a lucky hit here or there from the seven through nine spots will serve the Nationals well.
It’s game five. It’s Max Scherzer. It’s Nationals Park. If you look at the situation you’ll probably think the Nats have a good shot at this. Although, it is playoff baseball, where the unpredictable can and will happen, and history says this DC sports team will lose in gut-wrenching fashion. But let’s put aside those fears for a bit—until at least, say, the ninth inning maybe.