The NL Wildcard Washington Nationals have battled all the way to a deciding fifth game of the NLDS against the two-straight National League champions Los Angeles Dodgers. One of the biggest contributors on a very dangerous team so far has been starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg.
He was Washington’s best pitcher of the regular season, pitched three clean innings in relief in the NL Wildcard Game in addition to six one-run innings in Game 2 in LA. His impact could, however, wind up being evaluated only based on his performance in the upcoming start back at Dodger Stadium in the team’s efforts to put an end to the Dodgers’ NL dominance.
The Nationals won Game 2 in which Strasburg started in a pitching matchup against Clayton Kershaw who took his third playoff loss in a row going back to his two World Series starts last fall. Now the 3-time All-Star will face Walker Buehler, a second-year starter who pitched a tremendous seven innings in the 18-inning Game 3 of the 2018 Fall Classic.
While Strasburg’s performance is what will decide the series finale, the Nationals have had much success utilizing less of their traditional relievers and more of their starters in relief. Of course, we’ve seen most postseason teams do that – including the last two World Champions – but the 2019 Nationals have felt different. They’ve used a starter in relief in three of their five playoff meetings so far and have hit the jackpot every time except for the 6 runs Patrick Corbin allowed in Game 3.
As for their other relievers, they’ve limited the workload, giving it primarily to Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle. But if there is a close one going on, Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer or Patrick Corbin could be in at some point.
The Nationals should be very pleased with their answer to a Dodgers offense that has scored 19 runs in the series. Almost half of their scoring has come off Patrick Corbin (8 runs). Buehler’s 2019 splits are speaking volumes about his first All-Star selection but the Nationals have been more than prolific through five postseason games.
The young starting pitcher had tough times in his first three starts against Washington since his debut in 2017, recording 3.38 ERA with an 0-1 record and 5 walked batters. On the other hand, he’s been pretty much perfect at home in the same span with a 2.80 ERA.
Nonetheless, because we mentioned his start against the Red Sox in the World Series, it’s also worth noting that he started his 2018 postseason ways allowing 9 earned runs in 12 innings against the Braves and the Brewers, at the time top-shelf batting line-ups.
But so have been the Nationals. Washington has had more success with the full-time addition of Howie Kendrick, a .344 batter in 2019, in the playoff line-up and a mobilization by the top of the batting order. While the Nats have scored 18 runs in the series, one less that their opponents, Anthony Rendon has driven in 4 runs – no player has more than 6 RBI.
Add that to the pitching staff’s progressive efficiency and there are many players that could make an impact and step up in their most important game of 2019 up to date. The Dodgers offense, on the other hand, actually struggled against Strasburg in the finale of the season series which Los Angeles won 4 games to 3. Strasburg allowed 1 run and struck out 9 in seven for an 11-4 Nationals victory.
The Nationals/Expos franchise has lost five straight postseason series, all of which were Best-Of-Five and four of which went all the way. The Expos last won a series in 1981, over the Phillies in the NLDS. Now in America’s capital, the Nationals have the chance to provide the greatest upset in the ballclub’s 51-year history on Wednesday night.