Editor’s Note: In his ongoing “Zimm’s Corner” monthly report on the hometown Washington Nationals, HTTD writer Patrick Rice previews the National League Division Series (NLDS) match-up between the Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Stop dreaming of the World Series.
Better yet, don’t even begin to think about the National League Championship Series. No professional sports team from Washington, D.C. has advanced passed the first round of the playoffs since 1998. That’s an 18-year span of torture and futility.
To put that into prospective: there are 22 cities that have at least three major professional sports teams. All of them, have had a team reach a “Conference Final”s since the year 2000… with the exception of Washington.
So here are our Washington Nationals again, with their third trip to the playoffs in five years. Will this year end differently? Or will the Nationals continue to build Washington’s case for most cursed sports city?
After winning 95 regular season games, the Nationals clinched home field advantage for the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, most pundits – by a 10 to 2 margin – picked the Dodgers to win the NL, rather than the Nats.
With the series two days away, what should Nats fans expect?
In speaking to the Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post, Ryan Zimmerman noted:
“By now, we know how it works in October. Pitching, defense and execution. The games are going to be low-scoring and close. You’re only going to have two or three chances a game to score. Whoever comes through in those handful of spots is who wins.”
In other words, it comes down to three key factor: pitching, defense, and execution. Those are the fundamentals. Knowing this, let’s take a look at three additional key factors for this divisional match-up:
Home Field Advantage
Conventional wisdom says that home field advantage is a major difference-maker. But David Schoenfield of ESPN recently did a study on how effective home field advantage was in the deciding game. Since 2006, in the winner-take-all game, home teams are 11-16:
Those are surprisingly poor numbers that discredit the “home field advantage” myth.
But the counter-argument to this would be Los Angeles having to come back east and play in Washington, if a deciding Game Five were to take place. That would require both teams coming back east from LA and play in Washington. That trip going back across the country, and playing very shortly after, is easier said than done.
The Top Of The Rotation
There may not be a better Game One pitching match-up than Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer. Scherzer is a CY Yong Candidate and Kershaw is considered by most the best pitcher in baseball. If there is one chink – and it’s a tiny one – in Kershaw’s armor, it’s pitching on the road:
Kershaw at Home: 8-1 record, 1.08 ERA, .152 opposing batting average
Kershaw on the Road: 4-3 record, 2.31 ERA, .216 opposing batting average
The Nats could survive losing the series opener to Kershaw, but a win would give them monumental momentum. Washington would have the chance to grab control and set up Tanner Roark for Game Two against Rich Hill. Only problem: Hill has a 1.83 ERA in his 6 starts with the Dodgers since arriving from Oakland.
The first two games are critical for any five game series. Facing Kershaw and Hill, Washington has its hands full.
The Washington Nationals set a franchise record with five All-Stars this season. But it looks like two of them will not be suiting up this postseason, and another two of them are still on the mend.
Wilson Ramos’s recent ACL tear costs Washington a major bat in the middle of their line-up. Stephen Strasburg’s achy elbow will again keep him out of the playoffs and put added pressure on Tanner Roark in game 2. Those two are out for at least the NLDS.
The injuries don’t stop there. Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper are battered and bruised. Murphy, who was the main offensive catalyst all season, has not played in multiple weeks. Harper has not been the MVP most expected and has a bad thumb.
Will it all matter? Time will tell, but Los Angeles comes in mostly healthy, behind a well-rested Kershaw.
Outlook: There is a reason most baseball analysts are picking the Dodgers over the Nationals. Washington limped into the playoffs, and plays in a city with a VERY checkered postseason track record.
But, it’s the postseason. Anything can happen. The players know this. Just ask Harper:
“That’s how it is. That’s how the postseason works. It doesn’t matter what you did during the season, what your numbers were or how you did. It doesn’t matter if you had 20 wins or if you had five, or if you hit .220 or hit .350. The postseason is a different animal. It’s a different place.”
Everything changes this Friday evening. A city. A team. A fan base. All with One Pursuit.