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Nationals force a decisive Game 5 with 6-1 win over Dodgers

The Dodgers fail to close out the series after giving up four runs in the fifth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Nationals. The series is tied 2-2 heading into Game 5 on Wednesday.

Ryan Zimmerman hit a key home run off Pedro Baez in the fifth to give the Nationals a win in Game 4.
Ryan Zimmerman hit a key home run off Pedro Baez in the fifth to give the Nationals a win in Game 4.
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

After leaning on a big offensive outburst to win Game 3, the Dodgers look to close out the best-of-five series with another victory Monday.

Nationals stay alive and force Game 5 on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium

The baseball rocketed through the harsh crosswind and landed on a patch of grass beyond the center-field wall to an earsplitting rumble. As Ryan Zimmerman trotted around the bases, howling in celebration of his three-run home run, Clayton Kershaw observed from the Dodgers’ bullpen at Nationals Park.

He was available to pitch in Game 4 of the National League Division Series Monday night out of the bullpen, to perhaps replicate what happened three years ago in this same ballpark when he pitched the ninth inning to close out the Washington Nationals, but the fastball Zimmerman clubbed off Pedro Baez annulled that prospect.

The blast busted open a tight game, ultimately handing the Dodgers a 6-1 loss and forcing a decisive Game 5 at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday.

The Dodgers stacked their lineup with seven lefties, including pitcher Rich Hill, to counter Max Scherzer. Matt Beaty, one of the seven, started in left field over A.J. Pollock after Pollock went 0 for 11 with nine strikeouts in the first three games of the series. They confronted an aggressive Scherzer.

The right-hander relentlessly attacked the strike zone knowing his club depended on him pitching deep into the game to stand a chance. The Nationals’ bullpen holds just two reliable options. Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, the Nationals’ other two elite starting pitchers, weren’t available. Strasburg threw a bullpen session earlier Monday. Corbin was rocked in two-thirds of an inning Sunday. A long outing from Scherzer was imperative for the Nationals to survive.

Max Scherzer pitches out of bases-loaded jam in seventh, preserves Nationals’ 6-1 lead

Nationals starter Max Scherzer reacts after a strike out during the fourth inning against the Dodgers.
(MLB Photos via Getty Images)

The Dodgers loaded the bases with rookies -- Matt Beaty at third, Gavin Lux at second, Will Smith at first -- with one out in the seventh and Nationals starter Max Scherzer approaching 100 pitches.

Chris Taylor pinch-hit in the pitcher’s spot and although he battled to a full count, he struck out on a hittable slider over the plate.

Joc Pederson nearly cleared the bases with a line shot down the right-field line, but it landed about one inch foul. He grounded out to second and Scherzer emerged unscathed, the Nationals still leading comfortably, 6-1.

Nationals break game open against Julio Urias and Pedro Baez

Washington Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman hits a three-run home run off Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Pedro Baez in the fifth inning.
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Dave Roberts undoubtedly will be asked why he pinch-hit for Kenta Maeda in the fifth inning after the right-hander sailed through 1 1/3 innings in relief of Rich Hill.

A.J. Pollock struck out (shocker!) and Julio Urias and Pedro Baez were rocked in the bottom of the inning and the Nationals seized a 5-1 advantage.

Trae Turner led off with a single against Urias, was bunted to second by Adam Eaton, and scored on Anthony Rendon’s single to left. With two out, Howie Kendrick singled, and Baez replaced Urias.

Veteran Ryan Zimmerman promptly crushed a 96.6 mph four-seam fastball over the center-field wall for a three-run home run. The next two batters reached base before Baez ended the inning by getting Max Scherzer to ground out.

Kenta Maeda glows again, but Dave Roberts hits for him in the fifth

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda throws against the Washington Nationals during the third inning in Game 4.
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

For the third straight postseason, Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda is providing value from the bullpen. The regular-season starter continued his strong beginning to this October as a reliever in Game 4, throwing 1 1/3 scoreless innings.

Already this this series, Maeda spun 1 2/3 perfect innings in Game 1 and two more stress-free outs in Game 3. Entering Monday, Maeda had a 1.83 ERA and .192 batting average against in 19 2/3 innings in his postseason career as a reliever.

Despite his effectiveness, manager Dave Roberts hit for Maeda in the fifth, and pinch-hitter A.J. Pollock struck out for the 10th time in 12 NLDS at-bats. He is hitless.

Maeda was by far the Dodgers’ best-hitting pitcher during the regular season, batting .250 with two doubles and six RBIs.

Left-hander Julio Urias replaced Maeda on the mound in the fifth.

Rain falls then stops; Clayton Kershaw is loosening in the bullpen

A look at Nationals Park during Game 4 of the NLDS on Monday.
(Getty Images)

Rain began to fall at Nationals Park in the fourth inning with Max Scherzer at the plate facing Kenta Maeda. Scherzer flied out to center field to end the inning.

It’ll be interesting to see how hard it rains and how long the umpires will allow play to continue. This was more than a drizzle but by the time the fifth innings started, the rain had ceased for the time being.

Meanwhile, Clayton Kershaw is in the Dodgers’ bullpen, and he’s not just watching the game. The veteran left-hander was throwing between innings and doing arm stretches. It appears he’ll come into the game in relief at some point.

Starter Rich Hill could get through only 3 2/3 innings after walking four and throwing 58 pitches. Maeda pitched out of the bases-loaded jam he inherited from Hill and sailed through the fourth.

Kershaw was the losing pitcher in Game 2, allowing three runs in the first two innings before settling down and finishing with four scoreless innings.

Dodgers’ A.J. Pollock replaced by Matt Beaty after going 0 for 11

The Dodgers did not sign A.J. Pollock to a four-year, $55-million contract in January to have him come off the bench in playoff games, but that’s where Pollock was for Monday’s Game 4 against the Washington Nationals.

The outfielder wasn’t in the starting lineup after going 0 for 11 with nine strikeouts in the first three games of the series after batting .288 with an .885 on-base-plus-slugging percentage the regular season’s second half. Rookie Matt Beaty, a left-handed hitter, started over him in left field against right-hander Max Scherzer.

“With A.J., I think right now he’s struggling with spin,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. There’s more chase in there than there has been in the second half of the season, for whatever reason. Mechanical, maybe a little bit of pressing.”

Beaty was one of three rookies in the starting lineup for Los Angeles, joining catcher Will Smith and Gavin Lux, and one of seven left-handed hitters in the lineup. He entered Monday one for two in the series and lined out and flied out in his first two at-bats.

“I haven’t at all lost confidence in A.J. and know he’ll figure some things out,” Roberts said.

Rich Hill’s wildness leads to a Nationals’ run in the third inning

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts hoped Rich Hill would make it through four innings in Game 4 of the NLDS. The 39-year-old left-hander couldn’t get out of the third. After two scorless innings, Hill ran into trouble after issuing two walks and a one-out single in the third.

With the bases loaded, Anthony Rendon hit a sacrifice fly to the warning track in left field, and Hill again loaded the bases with a two-out walk to Juan Soto.

Roberts turned to Kenta Maeda, who induced Howie Kendrick to ground out to keep the score 1-1.

Justin Turner gets Dodgers going with first-inning home run

Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner celebrates with teammate Max Muncy, left, after hitting a first-inning home run against the Washington Nationals on Monday.
(Getty Images)

Justin Turner continues to own Max Scherzer. The Dodgers third baseman homered in the first inning of Game 4 on Monday to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead over the Washington Nationals in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, his third home run against the three-time Cy Young Award winner.

Turner is four for seven lifetime against Scherzer and he’s been hit by pitches twice. The run batted in was his sixth against him.

And Turner is hot this postseason. A night after delivering the de facto knockout punch with a three-run homer in Game 3, Turner hammered a high fastball over the fence in left for his second home run of the postseason. He has now hit safely in each of the four games this series.

The pregame odds were with the Dodgers to finish off the Nationals and advance to the National League Championship Series. Three out of every four teams with 2-1 lead in the division series have gone on to win. And teams up 2-1 with Game 4 on the road have won the series 71% of the time.

After Turner’s blast, those odds crept up further in the Dodgers’ favor.

Rain forecast in Washington D.C. could change Dodgers pitching plan

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts watches batting practice before Game 4 of the NLDS on Monday.
(Getty Images)

Rain is in the forecast Monday night in Washington D.C. and the Dodgers’ plans would change if the game is postponed. Manager Dave Roberts said Walker Buehler, currently scheduled to start Game 5 if necessary, would start for the Dodgers if Game 4 is rained out Monday and played Tuesday. Roberts, however, said he doesn’t believe rain will impact the game.

Buehler tossed six scoreless innings in Game 1 on Thursday. He would be on regular rest Tuesday. He would start over Rich Hill, who would ostensibly be available in relief.

The Nationals’ plans wouldn’t change if Max Scherzer is deemed available, though Stephen Strasburg could pitch out of the bullpen. Roberts said he doesn’t expect Strasburg will appear Monday because threw a bullpen earlier in the day.

The rain is forecast to reach Washington D.C. about 10 p.m. EDT, more than three hours after the 6:40 p.m. first pitch.

Dave Roberts didn’t consider starting hot Russell Martin over Will Smith

Dodgers catcher Russell Martin hits a two-run double against the Nationals in Game 3 of the NLDS on Sunday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Russell Martin doubled, homered and drove in four runs Sunday, but manager Dave Roberts said he didn’t consider starting the 36-year-old backup catcher in Game 4 in place of rookie Will Smith.

“Not really,” Roberts said.

Smith is one for seven with a walk and three strikeouts this postseason.

Martin caught nine of the 19 regular-season games pitched by Game 4 starting pitcher Rich Hill. Smith caught three.

“I think that Will has seen a lot of Rich and I planned on starting him in Game 4,” Roberts said.

Hill had a 1.64 ERA when pitching to Smith and a 3.02 ERA with Martin behind the plate.

Roberts said of Martin: “I understand it was a really good night at the plate and I expect him, as the postseason goes on, to impact us with the bat as well again.”

Raul Ibanez staying in Dodgers’ front office -- for now

Raul Ibanez during his time with the Angels in May 2014.
(Getty Images)

For the second consecutive year, Raul Ibanez has emerged as a popular name in managerial searches. And, for the second consecutive year, Ibanez has declined to pursue a managerial vacancy.

The San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs were believed to be among the teams interested in Ibanez. He said he would like to manage at some point, but not next year.

“It’s not the right time for me,” he said Monday.

Ibanez, 47, played 19 years in the major leagues and now works as a special assistant in the Dodgers’ front office. He is highly regarded for his communications skills, and he spent time behind the batting cage here with Walker Buehler and Enrique Hernandez. But he is based out of his Miami residence, and for now he said he appreciates the chance to remain home with his five children while learning from president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and senior vice president Josh Byrnes.

Nationals appreciate their accomplishments, just don’t tell anyone

Fans watching Game 3 of the NLDS between the Dodgers and Nationals on Oct. 6 at Nationals Park.
Fans watching Game 3 of the NLDS between the Dodgers and Nationals on Oct. 6 at Nationals Park.
(Alex Trautwig / MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Wherever the Dodgers go, they have to hear how the team has not won the World Series since 1988. Wherever the Nationals go, they have to hear how the team never has gotten out of the first round of the playoffs.

Are the players as frustrated as the fans, or do the players instead how appreciate how hard it is to make repeated postseason appearances in a sport in which two-thirds of the teams do not qualify for the playoffs?

“I think as players we definitely appreciate it,” said Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, “but, if we say anything about it, we get killed for it.”

The Nationals have made the playoffs five times in the past eight seasons. They made it this year despite falling 10 games out of first place and 12 games under .500 before Memorial Day.

“This year has been pretty special for us, with the way that we started,” Zimmerman said. “Not to say that we’re satisfied. I don’t think anyone is satisfied. But any year you can make the playoffs, I think — some people would be hesitant to say it — but I think it’s definitely a good year. We have had years in the past where we were supposed to make the playoffs, and you don’t make it and it’s disappointing.

“Obviously, everyone wants to get past the first round. Everyone wants to win the World Series. But, yeah, it’s hard to be successful at this level.”

Max Scherzer starts at the ‘perfect’ time for Nationals

Max Scherzer pitches during the eighth inning of Game 2 on Oct. 4.
Max Scherzer pitches during the eighth inning of Game 2 on Oct. 4.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

With the Nationals faced with a win-or-go-home game on Monday, they had three-time Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer lined up to start.

“In my perfect world, Scherzer goes 7, 8,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said, “and then we get to Doo and Hudson [relievers Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson].”

In a perfect world, how come Scherzer would not pitch nine innings?

“We’ll see. That would be nice,” Martinez said. “If I get the ball to Doo or Hudson, I’ll take that. He’ll fight me to pitch, I can tell you that. It might be an ugly situation but, yeah, he’ll fight me for sure.”

Scherzer did not pitch a complete game this season, but he led the National League in complete games in 2017 and 2018 — with two each season.

The lone pitcher this century to complete at least 10 games: James Shields, with 11 for the 2011 Tampa Bay Rays.

Dodger’s lineup for Game 4 of NLDS

Dodgers' Matt Beaty stretches before Game 3 against the Washington Nationals on Sunday.
Dodgers outfielder Matt Beaty stretches before Game 3 against the Washington Nationals on Sunday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers will send seven left-handed batters against Nationals starter Max Scherzer, with Justin Turner and Will Smith the only right-handers. The only mild surprise is that rookie Matt Beaty will play left field in place of A.J. Pollock, who is slumping badly.

How badly? Pollock is hitless in 11 at-bats with nine strikeouts. Beaty, who is not as proficient defensively as Pollock, is one for two in the division series. Beaty had a solid rookie season, batting .265 with nine home runs and 46 runs batted in. He tailed off in September and was three for 27 in his last 15 regular-season games.

Veteran catcher Russell Martin is back on the bench after supplying heroics in the Dodgers’ Game 3 victory Sunday. Smith, a rookie who won the starting job in July, is one for seven in the series. Martin drove in two runs with a double to trigger the Dodgers’ seven-run sixth inning Sunday and added a two-run home run in the ninth.

Here’s the entire lineup for Game 4:

Joc Pederson RF

Max Muncy 1B

Justin Turner 3B

Cody Bellinger CF

Corey Seager SS

Matt Beaty LF

Gavin Lux 2B

Will Smith C

Rich Hill P

Dodgers haven’t fared well against Max Scherzer in the past

Washington pitcher Max Scherzer walks to the dug out after striking out all three batters he faced during the eighth inning of Game 2 between the Nationals and Dodgers on Oct. 4. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
(John McDonnell / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Current Dodger players have a cumulative batting average of .161 against Game 3 starter Max Scherzer. Their on-base percentage is a paltry .248 with a slugger percentage of only .371. Basically, the three-time Cy Young Award winner treats L.A. like he treats every other team.

Justin Turner has homered twice against Scherzer in 10 plate appearances that include three hits, two hit by pitches, one walk and a sacrifice fly. Max Muncy is three for nine with a home run. Joc Pederson, Corey Seager and A.J. Pollock have each homered once against Scherzer, but are batting well under .200.

The Dodgers have struck out a staggering 44 times in the first three games, and that number should continue to climb even if they score runs in Game 4. Scherzer is one of the most prolific strikeout pitchers in baseball, whiffing 243 batters in 172 1/3 innings this season and 2,692 in 2,290 innings in his career.

Scherzer’s has always been a power pitcher, but his four-seam fastball had extra life during his one-inning relief stint in Game 2. He averaged 98.2 mph on the pitch and struck out the side on 14 pitches. He averaged 97.2 mph during his wild-card win over the Milwaukee Brewers, a significant tick higher than his regular-season average of 95.2 mph.

It’ll be interesting to see whether he can sustain the extra velocity during what is expected to be a 100-plus pitch outing against the Dodgers.

Dodgers’ creative bullpen plan more effective than Nationals’ in NLDS

On the last day of July, Dodgers head of baseball operations Andrew Friedman was not a popular man among fans.

The Dodgers needed bullpen help. He knew it. You knew it.

The casual Dodgers fan at a sports bar complained, or called into talk radio. The typical retort included a reference to 1988, the last time the Dodgers won the World Series, the apparent lack of urgency in the front office, and a verbal glance at the Washington Nationals.

This was the sentiment, more or less: “They traded for three relievers! Why not us?”

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Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill talks about starting opposite Max Scherzer in Game 4

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Dodgers starter Rich Hill talks about going up against Washington’s Max Scherzer in Game 4 of the NLDS on Monday.

Russell Martin the unlikely hero as he saves Dodgers from the brink of disaster

Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, left, gets a pat on the chest from Max Muncy after the Dodgers' win over the Nationals in Game 3 of the NLDS on Sunday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Standing on second base, Russell Martin clapped his gloved hands and howled into the October night.

In one breathtaking moment, the season was saved by the unlikeliest of heroes, a 36-year-old backup catcher with only three hits in his previous 35 postseason at-bats.

Martin’s two-run double in the sixth inning changed the trajectory of the game, and very possibly this best-of-five National League Division Series, as the Dodgers went on to claim a 10-4 victory over the Washington Nationals to take a two-games-to-one lead.

The lopsided score masked how close the Dodgers were to disaster.

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