Going into the postseason, most MLB experts laid it all out like this: The two far-and-away best teams in the National League are the Dodgers and Braves, and the Nationals are the only team with a chance to take them down.
Well, when Nationals veteran starter Max Scherzer started the NL Wild Card game by walking the leadoff man before giving up two homers within the first six batters to go down 3-0, it looked like Washington would never get its shot to pull a big upset.
Despite the rocky start, the Nationals proved their grit by coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the eighth inning. In the end, it took three strong innings of relief from Stephen Strasburg, a huge bases-loaded hit from Juan Soto on which Anthony Rendon scored the go-ahead run from first, and a scoreless ninth from closer Daniel Hudson.
Although Rendon and the Nats were only able to go up 4-3 on Soto’s hit because Milwaukee outfielder Trent Grisham charged in too hard and misplayed Soto’s knock, Washington deserves a ton of credit for slogging through a three-run eighth inning against All-Star reliever Josh Hader.
With their ninth straight win, the Nationals earned themselves a date with the Dodgers in the NLDS. When it all kicks off on Thursday, does Washington stand a chance?
Washington Nationals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
It felt like the Dodgers led the National League for the entire season. Yet all that’s good for in October is home-field advantage and nothing more.
However, Los Angeles claimed the top spot in the NL for a reason: Being one of the most complete teams in baseball.
Offensively, the Dodgers scored a total of 886 runs in the regular season, which was good enough for fifth in the majors. The Nationals were right behind them with a sixth-best 873 runs scored.
On the back of MVP candidate Cody Bellinger’s 47 dingers, Los Angeles hit the fourth-most home runs in baseball with 279. The Nationals don’t have quite as much power, hitting only 231 homers throughout the season (13th).
The real advantage comes from the pitching staff, where the Dodgers own a 3.37 ERA, which is tops in the majors. Washington entered the postseason with the 13th-best ERA of 4.27.
Yet when these two clubs step on the field, we’re going to see a lot of similarities.
First of all, both teams have an NL MVP candidate. Bellinger hit 47 homers to go with 115 RBI and a .305 batting average for Los Angeles. Rendon batted .319 with 34 home runs and 126 RBI for the Nats.
Both teams also have strong starting pitching, with an ace who struggled towards the end of the regular season.
For Washington, Scherzer (11-7, 2.92 ERA), Strasburg (18-6, 3.32 ERA), and Patrick Corbin (14-7, 3.25 ERA) make a strong trio, although Scherzer didn’t look his usual great self with a second-half record of 2-2 with a 4.81 ERA.
The Dodgers have a deadly trio of Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-5, 2.32 ERA), Clayton Kershaw (16-5, 3.03 ERA), and Walker Buehler (14-4, 3.26 ERA). Ryu is the one who struggled at the close of the regular season but managed a 4-3 record with a 3.18 ERA after the All-Star break.
The big difference could be the relief pitching of Washington, which has been very poor. With a bullpen ERA nearing 6.00, the pitching staff beyond the starting rotation is Washington’s fatal flaw.
What the Odds Say
Entering the NLDS, the Dodgers have the second-best odds in the majors to win the World Series at +300. You’ll find the Nationals all the way down sixth, where they hold +1400 odds.
But let’s take out the American League teams and focus on the odds to win the National League Pennant.
Heading into October, Los Angeles is the favorite to represent the NL in the World Series with odds of -120. You’ll have to look past the Braves (+290) and Cardinals (+560) in order to find the Nationals and their +740 odds to win the National League.
So, it’s fair to call the Nats a big longshot. However, if they can get deep performances from their starters and continue showing the grit they had in the eighth inning against the Brewers in the NL Wild Card game, don’t count Washington out just yet.