Friday June 23: Luis Castillo (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Stephen Strasburg (8-2, 3.28 ERA) 7:05 p.m. MASN Saturday June 24: Homer Bailey (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Joe Ross (3-3, 5.98 ERA) 4:05 p.m. MASN 2 Sunday June 25: Scott Feldman (5-5, 4.20 ERA) vs. Tanner Roark (6-4, 4.88 ERA) 1:35 p.m MASN
The Nationals and Reds face off for the first time this season at Nationals Park this weekend. Don’t forget about tonight’s epic Game of Thrones night! The Nats and Reds will meet seven times this season, three at home and four in Cincinnati. They’ll meet in Cincinnati to begin the second half of the season after the All Star break from July 14-17.
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.
With a win, the Nationals would end a city-wide 18 year drought. Since 1998, no DC team has made it to a conference final. The last team to do so was the 1998 Capitals (NHL), who made their first Stanley Cup final appearance before getting swept by the Red Wings. No other city in North America with at least three major teams has had a longer wait.
This is the first time the Nationals have held a 2-1 lead in a best of five division series and the second time they’ve been a win away from advancing. While the Redskins, Capitals and Wizards have been around much longer, the 11-year old ballclub has had it’s own share of Postseason failure.
Back in 2012 in their own ballpark, the Nats were one strike away from advancing to the NLCS. They couldn’t get the final out and the St. Louis Cardinals completed the epic comeback. Today the Nats have a chance to erase painful memories of that postseason failure and win their first playoff series in team history. The last time a Washington baseball team won a playoff series was in 1924 when they were known as the Washington Senators.
That was the past, now it’s the present. Today the Dodgers will turn to Clayton Kershaw on short rest hoping to keep their season alive. The Nats will go with Joe Ross.
A win tonight would be the biggest win this area has seen in a long time. First pitch is at 5:08
With the Washington Nationals’ win on Sunday, their National League Division Series tie up with the Los Angeles Dodgers has turned into a virtual best-of-3 contest. Now standing at 1-1, the series shifts to the west coast where the Dodgers have home field advantage for the rest of the round.
One of the most crucial matchups of game three will be Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez versus the Dodgers lineup. Gio’s numbers have steadily declined since his first year in Washington in 2012—an all-star season where he finished third in Cy Young voting—and he finished his 2016 campaign with a 4.57 ERA and a career-high 19 home runs allowed.
But the left-handed heavy lineup of Los Angeles has had historic struggles against left-handed pitchers this season with a .221/.299/.345 against all lefties this year, which is good news for the southpaw Gonzalez. Though he may be past his prime, don’t be surprised if Gio earns himself a quality start today.
On the opposite end is Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda. The 28-year-old rookie from Japan has had a quality year after signing an 8-year deal with Los Angeles in the offseason, with a 16-11 record and 3.48 ERA. Maeda actually plays better at Dodger Stadium than on the road, a welcome fact for Los Angeles playing in the confines of their own home for now. The only question is whether Maeda can keep up his form in the postseason.
The Nationals have shifted their lineup slightly in anticipation of the right-hander Maeda. Jayson Werth has been moved up to 2nd, while Daniel Murphy will bat 3rd with Bryce Harper in cleanup. All other spots remain the same. The change resembles one of the most common lineups of the regular season for Washington.
First pitch from Dodger Stadium will be at 4:08 p.m.
The Nats missed opportunities at the plate proved costly in a 4-3 defeat in Game 1 on Friday evening, going 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. While they did do a good job of getting to Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, they couldn’t muster any runs off of their bullpen.
Today Tanner Roark takes the ball looking to help the Nats try to pull even before they depart to LA for Game 3 on Monday.
“I’m very excited,” Roark told reporters yesterday. “I was already nervous before I woke up this morning and I’m not pitching till (Sunday). It’s just the kind of person I am to want to win and the will to win, and to go out there and see everybody succeed is the ultimate goal.”
Los Angeles will counter with Rich Hill.
Many “experts” including each pregame analyst on Fox Sports 1 (including baseball legends Frank Thomas and Alex Rodriguez) picked the Dodgers to win this series. The last thing Washington wants is to head to LA down 2-0, something they did two years ago when they faced the San Francisco Giants.
“I’ve been an underdog most of my life. I have two drawings on my wall by Joe Smith. He was the ‘Underdog’ artist and actually, “Underdog” was one of my favorite cartoon characters,” said Nationals manager Dusty Baker.
Cartoon dog or not, the Nationals certainly are underdogs in this series. A win today would be a good first step in proving the critics wrong.