Now that the Washington Nationals have survived the one-and-done round, they face the daunting but not impossible task of beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in a best-of-five series that begins at Dodger Stadium Oct. 3.
Most experts were fine with Nationals manager Davey Martinez’s decision to start Max Scherzer, his ace starter, in the winner-take-all matchup against the undermanned Milwaukee Brewers. There was just one little problem with the decision: right-hander Stephen Strasburg’s ERA during his past eight starts was 1.74, whereas Scherzer had a 4.74 ERA in his seven starts since coming back from the injured list (back strain).
Martinez rolled the dice with his — when healthy — No. 1 starter. Scherzer was jumped on to the tune of three earned runs on two homers in his first two innings. He settled down and pitched three innings of shutout ball before Strasberg was brought in to pitch three shutout innings of his own. Buoyed by Strasberg’s flawless three-inning stint, the Nats were able to somehow push across three runs against lefty relief ace Josh Hader and escape narrowly with the 4-3 win.
The Nats are better equipped than most with four quality starters, but the oddity of playing in that one-game, winner-take-all match in the wild-card round has essentially burned both Scherzer and Strasburg from starting until Game 3 in D.C. Oct. 6. The Nats do have lefty Patrick Corbin and righty Anibal Sanchez, but their inability to start Scherzer or Strasburg in Games 1 and 2 could easily lead to a 2-0 deficit before either gets into a game.
So, my advice to Martinez and the Nats’ brain trust is to make sure that in Game 2, Strasburg is up and ready to play the key role he played against the Brewers. Strasburg can stem any tide — or put a tide-turning inning to rest before the Nats find themselves down two or three runs.
While this strategy would be in place regardless of whether the Nats win or lose Game 1, it especially becomes a chess move to make in Game 2 if they win Game 1.
Speaking of Game 1, Corbin has a lifetime 5-9 record in 19 starts against the Dodgers with a 3.36 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. Corbin has faced the left-handed-hitting-dominant Dodgers one time in 2019 as a National — Corbin tossed seven shutout innings May 9, allowing just three hits while striking out eight.
The Dodgers finished the regular season with a sterling 105-56 record, but prior to the last week of the season — during which the Dodgers went 6-0 — the boys in blue had gone just 18-15 the previous six weeks.
The Nats were not only pushed the last few days of the season to nail down their ticket into the postseason, they had to perform a Houdini-like escape in the wild-card game with the Brewers.
All of the hard work the Nats have had to put in may just have them playing with a sense of urgency rarely seen from a Washington baseball team.
It’s not a slam dunk, but I think if the Nats can win one of the first two in L.A., they may just have the Dodgers right where they want them.
I’ll take the Nats in four or five.
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