Posted on October 13, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
Of the four series in the divisional round of the MLB playoffs, only one is going to a Game 5, but it’s bound to be a good one. The Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers have gone back and fourth through four games, producing a series on the field that has been as close and competitive as it looked on paper beforehand. The Chicago Cubs await the winner of what has the potential to be a classic and unforgettable Game 5 between the Nationals and Dodgers.
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Veterans Stepping Up
Both teams have plenty of young players, particularly the Dodgers, but it’s been the veterans on each side that have stepped up in big spots in this series. Despite having a rough series, Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run home run in the 1st inning of Game 4 to give Los Angeles an early lead, and in the 8th inning, it was fellow veteran Chase Utley providing the go-ahead RBI to keep the Dodgers alive.
For the Nationals, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman have been among the team’s top offensive players after both had rather modest regular seasons. With Los Angeles starting lefties in three of the four games, the Nationals have needed their righties to step up, and Werth and Zimmerman have answered the call. Of course, Daniel Murphy is another veteran player who has continued to cause a world of problems for the Dodgers in the postseason, just as he did last year.
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Game 5 will see Max Scherzer start for the Nationals after he took the loss in Game 1, while the Dodgers will send lefty Rich Hill to the mound on short rest, although the Dodgers have yet to officially name Hill the starter. Scherzer pitched six innings in Game 1, but was hurt by two home runs, allowing four runs on five hits. He’s much better than he showed in Game 1, and he’ll have a chance to gain some redemption against the lineup that hurt him earlier in the series. However, a Los Angeles lineup that’s loaded with lefties will be difficult to face in a big game.
Hill is also coming off a rather lackluster outing earlier in the series in which he took the loss. Despite striking out seven, Hill allowed four runs in 4.1 innings. Nevertheless, he insisted on coming back on short rest to face the Nationals in Game 5. To be fair, Hill looked sharp early in Game 2 before running into trouble in the 4th inning, when he gave up an unlikely home run to Jose Lobaton, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him bounce back and perform better against Washington’s lineup. If Hill does struggle, manager Dave Roberts won’t hesitate to give Hill a quick hook and go to rookie Julio Urias, who was also an option to start either Game 4 or 5.
This series has gone the distance, and so it seems appropriate that depth becomes the X-factor that could decide things. Both teams have proven to have considerable depth in their bullpen, but the Dodgers have received more offensive contributions from the periphery of their roster than the Nationals have. Outside of Clint Robinson, the Nationals don’t seem to have anyone on their bench who could pose a threat as a pinch-hitter late in the Game. Meanwhile, the Dodgers could send up Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Carlos Ruiz, or Howie Kendrick. Several bench players could end up taking important at bats in Game 5, and the Dodgers will certainly have an advantage over the Nationals in terms of depth.
Playing at home, the Nationals are slight favorites to win Game 5, but you might as well flip a coin in this one. A strong argument can be made for either team winning, and either team would be a worthy opponent for the Cubs in the NLCS. A deeper look at the numbers says the Nationals have been a little better over the first four games, and so they are most likely to prevail in Game 5. Scherzer will pitch better than he did in Game 1, and the Dodgers will once again get burned by Murphy. Washington wins 5-3.