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.
So much depends on how Kershaw performs Friday night. But given his success in his past four outings, there is reason to believe he can be himself. If he can, the Dodgers should be fine. The Nationals are an excellent team, but the injuries appear to be too much. DODGERS IN FOUR.