BASEBALL PLAYOFFS: Dodgers vs. Washington Nationals
Reporter Andy McCullough handicaps the National League division series between the Dodgers and Washington Nationals:
2B, Chase Utley, .252, 14 HR, 52 RBIs. – Elder statesman regarded as backbone of club.
SS, Corey Seager, .308, 26 HR, 72 RBIs – Candidate for most valuable player, lock for rookie of the year.
3B, Justin Turner, .275, 27 HR, 90 RBIs – Most reliable source of right-handed powers.
1B, Adrian Gonzalez, .285, 18 HR, 90 RBIs – Even in decline, a valuable offensive contributor.
C, Yasmani Grandal, .228, 27 HR, 72 RBsI – Provides power from the left side of the plate.
RF, Josh Reddick, .258, 2 HR, 9 RBIs – Started slow after August trade, heated up in September.
LF, Andrew Toles, .314, 3 HR, 16 RBIs – Intriguing rookie with deceptive power, useful speed.
CF, Joc Pederson, .246, 25 HR, 68 RBIs– A reliable performer in 2016 after 2015 collapse.
P, Clayton Kershaw, .174, 0 HR, 3 RBIs – Limited as he returns from back injury.
CF, Trea Turner, .342, 13 HR 40 RBIs – Rookie with great speed, capable of wreaking havoc on bases.
LF, Jayson Werth, .244, 21 HR, 69 RBIs – Former Dodger has become one of game's wiliest veterans.
2B, Daniel Murphy, .347, 25 HR, 104 RBIs – MVP candidate has been nursing a buttocks injury for weeks.
RF, Bryce Harper, .243, 24 HR, 86 RBIs – Not considered fully healthy but still dangerous.
3B, Anthony Rendon, .270, 20 HR, 85 RBIs – Nationals need his right-handed power.
1B, Ryan Zimmerman, .218, 15 HR, 46 RBIs – Face of franchise has faded as he has grown older.
SS, Danny Espinosa, .209, 24 HR, 72 RBIs – Solid defender with plenty of pop.
C, Pedro Severino, .321, 2 HR, 4 RBIs – Nationals reeling from season-ending injury to Wilson Ramos.
P, Max Scherzer, .186, O HR, 12 RBIs — Has not faced the Dodgers this season.
The Nationals have plenty of weapons in their lineup, but a series of injuries has slowed their production. Neither Murphy nor Harper, the two most dangerous hitters, appears close to 100% as the playoffs begin. Washington will rely on contributions from right-handed hitters such as Werth, Rendon and Zimmerman against Dodgers left-handers Kershaw and Rich Hill. The Dodgers might have the best offense in baseball — when they are facing a right-handed pitcher. Seager should finish second to Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant on most MVP ballots. Both Turner and Gonzalez provided quality at-bats on a consistent basis, while Grandal and Pederson are power threats. Advantage: DODGERS.
LH, Clayton Kershaw, 12-4, 1.69 ERA – Coming off back injury, can he be himself?
LH, Rich Hill, 3-2, 1.83 ERA – Will his blisters interfere with his performance?
RH, Kenta Maeda, 16-11, 3.48 – Unlikely workhorse who never missed a start.
LH, Julio Urias, 5-2, 3.39 ERA – Possible decoy for Kershaw on short rest in Game 4.
RH, Max Scherzer, 20-7, 2.96 ERA – He's the probable NL Cy Young Award winner.
RH, Tanner Roark, 16-10, 2.83 ERA – He throws a heavy, heavy sinker.
LH, Gio Gonzalez, 11-11, 4.57 ERA – Erratic and unreliable, he might be the key to the series.
RH, Joe Ross, 7-5, 3.43 ERA – Missed two months with shoulder inflammation.
This series turned weeks ago, when Washington starter Stephen Strasburg was diagnosed with a flexor mass strain in his right elbow. With Strasburg unlikely to pitch, the Nationals are at a disadvantage. The Dodgers have their top two pitchers, Kershaw and Hill, relatively healthy and ready to roll. Advantage: DODGERS.
RH, Kenley Jansen, 1.83 ERA – Due for a mega-payday this winter, one of the game's elite closers.
RH, Joe Blanton, 2.48 ERA – Retired two years ago, Blanton has become the team's best setup man.
RH, Pedro Baez, 3.04 ERA – Maddening but talented, he's back in the back end.
LH, Grant Dayton, 2.05 ERA – He's a 28-year-old rookie with a deceptive fastball and Dave Roberts' trust.
LH, Luis Avilan, 3.20 ERA – Another left-hander to combat Harper and Murphy.
RH, Josh Fields, 2.79 ERA – He's all high heat, all the time.
RH, Ross Stripling, 3.96 ERA – The rookie may be the team's best bet for a long reliever.
RH, Mark Melancon, 1.82 ERA – Former Pittsburgh closer is quietly one of game's best.
RH, Shawn Kelley, 2.64 ERA – Generates lots of strikeouts, but prone to yielding the occasional homer.
RH, Matt Belisle, 1.76 ERA – Likely to give up more hits than his ERA would suggest.
RH, Blake Treinen, 2.28 ERA – Ridden hard in regular season, but generally reliable.
LH, Sammy Solis, 2.41 ERA – Will see plenty of action against Seager, Gonzalez and other left-handed hitters.
LH, Oliver Perez, 4.95 ERA – Mentored Julio Urias in Culiacan, Mexico.
LH, Marc Rzepcyznski, 1.54 ERA – Veteran out of UC Riverside nicknamed "Scrabble."
RH, Reynaldo Lopez, 4.91 ERA – Looks like he'll be the long reliever.
Jansen or Melancon is a toss-up. But Jansen is more likely to pitch multiple-inning stints, and Manager Dave Roberts has shown a deft, creative hand with his bullpen in his rookie season at the helm. Nationals Manager Dusty Baker will be relying on a group with more than a few unreliable members, Perez especially, as he tries to disarm the Dodgers lineup. Advantage: DODGERS.
OF, Yasiel Puig, .263, 11 HR, 45 RBIs – After tumultuous season, now a vital cog against lefties.
IF/OF, Howie Kendrick, .255, 8 HR, 40 RBIs – Caught in slump, lost playing time to Toles.
IF, Charlie Culberson, .284, 1 HR, 7 RBIs – Ended Vin Scully's last game at Dodger Stadium on joyous note.
OF, Andre Ethier, .208, 1 HR, 2 RBIs – Still trusted off the bench despite five-month layoff.
C, Carlos Ruiz, .278, 0 HR, 3 RBIs – Managed to replace A.J. Ellis without incident.
C, Austin Barnes, .156, 0 HR, 2 RBIs — On the roster as backup catcher to allow Carlos Ruiz to pinch-hit.
C, Jose Lobaton, .232, 3 HR, 8 RBIs – Switch-hitter who will start against right-handers.
OF, Chris Heisey, .219, 9 HR, 16 RBIs – Former Dodger with some power off the bench.
IF, Stephen Drew, .266, 8 HR, 21 RBIs – Versatile infielder provided a solid year at the plate.
IF, Clint Robinson, .235, 5 HR, 26 RBIs – 31-year-old veteran who could pinch-hit against right-handers.
OF, Ben Revere, .217, 2 HR, 24 RBIs – His speed has dimmed, and he lost his spot to Turner.
The Dodgers might make wholesale changes to their lineup if a left-handed pitcher starts for Washington, meaning Puig and Kendrick will see some important at-bats. Ethier could be the X-factor for the group. He has more hitting talent than anyone on either bench, but he's missed nearly the entire season after suffering a broken leg in March. The Nationals bench does not feature many fear-inducing pinch-hitters, and Revere's speed isn't even much of a worry as a pinch-runner. Advantage: DODGERS.