Column: Nationals look overwhelmed in playoff opener against Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers won game 1 of the NLDS over the Washington Nationals 6-0. Our reporters discuss the win and ponder if the series is already over.
Fifteen minutes into a cooling Thursday night, the Washington Nationals were already sweating.
They kicked at the dirt. They fiddled with their caps. They stared helplessly at a pitcher who was losing his mind.
Ball four. Ball four. Ball four. Ball four.
Patrick Corbin had never appeared in a postseason game in his eight-year career, but he was in one now, and it furiously rushed over him like a deep blue Malibu Beach tide.
A.J. Pollock walked. Cody Bellinger walked. Chris Taylor walked. Max Muncy walked.
The Dodger Stadium crowd roared in disbelief. The Nationals stood frozen in place. The noise swallowed them. The atmosphere doomed them.
The Dodgers scored the first run in the first inning of the first game of the National League Division Series without lifting a finger. The Nationals allowed that run while wringing their hands. It was that way the entire night, one team embracing oppressive October, another team wilting in a strange new place, the Dodgers’ eventual 6-0 victory a testament to the power of seven years of this madness.
The Dodgers have been here, and it showed. The Nationals have not, and it showed even more.
Dodgers players talk about their 6-0 victory over the Washington Nationals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Thursday.
The Dodgers were patient, the Nationals were panicked. The Dodgers coolly worked the plate, the Nationals wildly chased. The Dodgers pitchers didn’t blink, the Nationals pitchers couldn’t see straight.
The Dodgers were gifted two runs in the first six innings on a bases-loaded walk and a booted grounder, while the Nationals spent that time hacking and hoping at one-hit-wonder Walker Buehler.
The Dodgers’ bullpen then calmly took over while the Nationals bullpen and its 5.63 ERA — the worst bullpen ERA of any playoff team ever — threw up its hands and surrendered four runs late to finalize the margin.
In all, the Dodgers allowed two hits and worked several smart plate appearance while the Nationals gave up seven walks and committed two errors and it looked even worse than all that.
When it ended, the losers trudged from their dugout to the strains of “I Love L.A.” while the Dodgers engaged in a handshake line that included hearty hand slaps from controlling owner Mark Walter, and when have we seen that before?
Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler struts his stuff, tossing six scoreless innings in a 6-0 shutout of the Washington Nationals in Game 1 of the NLDS.
Afterward, Nationals manager Dave Martinez raised his eyebrows and shook his head. He looked like he had just walked out of a horror movie.
“They’re good, they’re really good,” he said of the Dodgers. “That’s why they’ve been in the postseason so many years in a row.’’
He sighed, adding “We didn’t play very well today.”
Meanwhile, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts showed up with a grin that stretched to the Elysian Hills. He was asked if, on this night, experience counted. He couldn’t answer fast enough.
“It counted a lot,” he said.
The Dodgers make it count. This is what they do in the first weeks of this month. This is a big reason they have advanced to consecutive World Series. They overwhelm their younger opponents with their savvy. They spin them with their seen-it-all pitching. They knock them out with their been-there-done-that power.
They did it against the Atlanta Braves in the division series last year. They did it against the Arizona Diamondbacks two years ago. In fact, the score Thursday was the exact same score as last season’s playoff opener against the fledgling Braves, a 6-0 win that drove playoff-new Mike Foltynewicz out of the game in two innings.
Look at Buehler, who has pitched in a Game 7 and a Game 163 and now, another big win.
“He loves this, he thrives on these situations, you can see it again tonight,” said Justin Turner.
There was so much Dodgers experience to see. There was Muncy, who had a couple of hits, three RBIs, the hero of last year’s 18-inning World Series win, nothing bothers him. There was Joc Pederson, coming off the bench and knocking one off the right-field foul pole for his seventh career postseason home run.
Now look at the Nationals, a franchise that has never won a playoff series, and played like it.
Look at Anthony Rendon, their MVP candidate who had previously played in 15 playoff games in his career. Most of the Dodgers played in that many playoff games last year alone. Rendon went hitless with two strikeouts.
Look at Juan Soto, their relentless 20-year-old star who was the hero of Tuesday’s wild-card win over the Milwaukee Brewers. He was playing in his first playoff series, and he managed one single and left three guys on base.
But more than anything, look at Corbin in that first inning, when the Dodgers worked him not only for four walks and a run on a bases-loaded walk to Muncy, but also worked him for 31 pitches that led to an earlier entry for that awful bullpen.
The relievers were supposed to be a problem in this National League Division Series, but who knew the Nationals’ bullpen would be worst than the Dodgers?
“That first inning was the game,’’ Roberts said. “That first inning, to get  pitches… was big for our guys…that really set the tone.”
After A.J. Pollock led off the game with a walk, David Freese and Turner both struck out, but the Dodgers were unfazed.
Cody Bellinger drew a walk on four pitches. Chris Taylor drew a walk after being down two strikes. Muncy drew the scoring walk on five pitches.
Adam Kolarek played in his first MLB playoff game Thursday and he didn’t disappoint, getting a critical out for the Dodgers against the Nationals.
“I thought we took fairly good at-bats, got the pitch count up, worked him,” Turner said. “The game plan all along is to get into the other team’s bullpen, and once we did, we took advantage.’’
Meanwhile, Buehler was occasionally wild, even walking three batters in the fourth, but the Nationals couldn’t calm down enough to make him pay.
“We chased a lot of bad pitches ... that’s uncharacteristic of our team,” Martinez said.
Then, even their experienced players acted like rookies, with former Dodger Howie Kendrick booting a Muncy grounder in the fifth inning that allowed Bellinger to score the game’s second run. Kendrick, by the way, has been involved in one winning playoff series in the last 10 years.
“Sometimes that happens…that’s gonna happen in this game,” Kendrick said. “Unfortunately, it’s in the postseason.”
And now, for Game 2 Friday, the Nationals are going with Stephen Strasburg on two days’ rest after his 34-pitch bullpen performance Tuesday while the Dodgers will counter with their future Hall of Famer named Clayton Kershaw. This best-of-five series could essentially be finished by Saturday morning.
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