2019 NLDS Preview: Nationals vs. Dodgers

For seven innings last night, it looked like the Brewers were going to get an NLCS rematch with the Dodgers. Then, Josh Hader imploded and punched the Nationals ticket to Los Angeles in a rematch of the 2016 NLDS.

Here’s how the two teams stack up against each other.

By the Numbers

Offense Nationals Dodgers
Runs/Game 5.39 5.47
AVG .265 .257
OBP .342 .338
SLG .454 .472
wRC+ 103 111
HR 231 279
SB 116 57
BB% 9.3 9.7
K% 20.9 21.6

On paper, these offenses are quite evenly matched. The Dodgers scored 13 more runs than the Nats did over the course of 162 games, hence the 0.08 difference. The Nats — led by MVP candidate Anthony Rendon and budding superstar Juan Soto — put up some impressive numbers of their own. They were better at hitting for average, while the Dodgers own the edge in slugging. LA set a franchise-record in home runs and made more contact this season while posting the same team wRC+ as the 2018 squad.

The biggest edge the Nats have is on the bases. They doubled up the Dodgers in stolen bases, thanks to Trea Turner‘s 35 and Victor Robles‘ 28. Keeping them off the bases — especially Turner — is going to be key for Dodger pitching.

Starting Pitching Nationals Dodgers
ERA 3.53 3.11
FIP 3.72 3.52
xFIP 3.94 3.63
K% 25.9 26.0
BB% 7.6 5.7
SwStr% 12.6 12.1
BAA .229 .222
HR/9 1.11 1.13
WAR 21.4 19.8

For all the talk of the Nats’ trio — Patrick Corbin, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg — Dodger starting pitchers hold the edge in almost every category listed above. Still, that’s as formidable a trio as exists in baseball, so this won’t be a cake walk for the Dodgers.

Corbin figures to get the Game 1 start. He didn’t appear in Washington’s Wild Card game victory, but Scherzer threw five innings and Strasburg was called on to pitch three.

The Dodgers still haven’t announced their Game 1 starter. I think it’s going to be Clayton Kershaw, even if it should be Walker Buehler. I can see the Dodgers wanting to break up Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu, and throwing Buehler in Game 2 would do just that. Ryu has better numbers at home, but it isn’t anywhere near the drastic home-road splits he displayed last season, so I’d be comfortable with him starting a Game 3 in Washington. If it goes to four games, Rich Hill will start that game, but he won’t be able to pitch deep in to the game. Expect a heavy bullpen game.

Relief Pitching Nationals Dodgers
ERA 5.68 3.85
FIP 4.94 4.06
xFIP 5.03 4.25
K% 22.5 25.2
BB% 9.8 8.1
SwStr% 13.1 13.2
BAA .262 .218
HR/9 1.55 1.19
WAR 0.9 4.3

Speaking of bullpens, just look at those numbers. You know, we talk so much about the Dodgers’ suspect bullpen that we forget things can be worse. Markedly worse.

The Nationals’ bullpen isn’t really as bad as it says up there. It just can’t be. The trade deadline acquisition of Daniel Hudson — yes, that Daniel Hudson — has helped stabilize things a bit. Sean Doolittle had a very poor second half and the track record on the remaining Nats’ relievers gives the Dodgers the edge here.

Even without a prime Jansen, the Dodgers’ bullpen is clearly an advantage when pitted against Washington’s. Joe Kelly had a stretch where he looked like the guy who pitched for the Red Sox in last year’s postseason. After Pedro Baez and Adam Kolarek, the rest of the bullpen could be supplemented with starters — Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May, Julio Urias — which has boom or bust potential.

Head-To-Head

The Dodgers took the season series against the Nats, 4-3. The two squads split a 4-game series from May 9-12 at Dodger Stadium. LA lost to Corbin and Scherzer, while the Nats lost to Kenta Maeda and Ryu. At the end of July, the Dodgers took two of three in the nation’s capital behinds strong pitching performances by Ryu and Kershaw. Washington got to Buehler in the third game to avoid a sweep.

Rosters

Note: Rosters not yet official.

Dodgers

Starting Pitchers (4): Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu
Relief Pitchers (8): Pedro Baez, Tony Gonsolin, Kenley Jansen, Joe Kelly, Adam Kolarek, Kenta Maeda, Dustin May, Julio Urias
Catchers (2): Russell Martin, Will Smith
Infielders (6): David Freese, Gavin Lux, Max Muncy, Corey Seager, Justin Turner
Infielders/Outfielders (3): Matt Beaty, Cody Bellinger, Enrique Hernandez, Chris Taylor
Outfielders (2): Joc Pederson, A.J. Pollock

Nationals

Starting Pitchers (4): Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg
Relief Pitchers (8): Sean Doolittle, Daniel Hudson, Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, Hunter Strickland, Wander Suero
Catchers (2): Yan Gomes, Kurt Suzuki
Infielders (7): Matt Adams, Asdrubal Cabrera, Brian Dozier, Howie Kendrick, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Ryan Zimmerman
Outfielders (4): Adam Eaton, Gerardo Parra, Victor Robles, Juan Soto

Likely Lineups

Dodgers vs. RHP

Pederson RF
Muncy 1B
Turner 3B
Bellinger CF
Seager SS
Pollock LF
Lux 2B
Smith C

Dodgers vs. LHP

Freese 1B
Turner 3B
Pollock LF
Bellinger CF
Muncy 2B
Hernandez/Taylor RF
Seager SS
Smith C

Nationals vs. RHP

Turner SS
Eaton RF
Rendon 3B
Soto LF
Cabrera 2B
Kendrick/Adams 1B
Gomes/Suzuki C
Robles CF

Nationals vs. LHP

Turner SS
Eaton RF
Rendon 3B
Soto LF
Kendrick/Zimmerman 1B
Dozier/Cabrera 2B
Gomes/Suzuki C
Robles CF

X-Factor

Who’s the one player on each side — not a superstar — who could help determine the outcome of this series?

Gavin Lux

A month ago, it didn’t look like Lux would be on the roster. Then, Muncy fractured his wrist and the door opened for Lux to make it. He made a solid first impression and isn’t the Dodgers’ No. 1 prospect for nothing. He could get a fair share of starts at second base and should be one of the first players off the bench for LA.

Howie Kendrick

The former Dodger, at 36 years old, had his best season since 2014. He did so in limited playing time, as he logged just 370 plate appearances. In that time, he hit .344/.395/.572, good for a 146 wRC+ and a 2.9 WAR. He played first-, second- and third base this season, and he could see the lion’s share of playing time at first base — especially against lefties. He hit .376/.421/.615 in 126 PA. With three lefty starters and three in the bullpen, Kendrick could get his chance to be a difference-maker in this series.

——

The Dodgers won 13 more games than the Nats, and they are rightly favored in this series. But the Nats’ 3-headed monster in the rotation, combined with a strong lineup (even without Bryce Harper), means this won’t be easy for the Dodgers. The last time they met in the postseason, it went the full five games. It wouldn’t be at all shocking if that happened again.

The playoffs are finally here! Enjoy/dread it.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.