The playoffs have arrived at Dodger Stadium for the seventh consecutive season, this time starting off in the NLDS with a rematch of the 2016 series that the Dodgers won in a dramatic Game 5 over the Nationals.
This game wasn’t anywhere near as tense, but it was close through six innings before the Dodgers opened it up a bit in the 7th and tacked on insurance in the 8th. In the end, it looks a comfortable 6-0 victory in Game 1, though it was closer than it looked.
Walker Buehler strode to the mound to start the game, effectively declared the new ace of the franchise. While it wasn’t necessarily as dominating a performance as his line indicates, it was effective, as he shut the Nationals out through six innings.
Buehler allowed a single in the 2nd but that was erased by a lined double play, so he faced the minimum through three. However, things really got messy in the 4th, when he walked the bases loaded before barely escaping disaster. After he got past that point he settled down considerably, getting the last six batters of the game.
He threw an even 100 pitches in his six innings, surrendering just the single and three walks while striking out eight and giving the Dodgers ample opportunity to score.
Meanwhile, with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg used in the NL Wild Card Game, Patrick Corbin took the mound and had a rocky start in the bottom of the frame. He walked A.J. Pollock, but then did rebound with two strikeouts. Things got messier after that, as Cody Bellinger walked, a passed ball advanced the runners, and Chris Taylor also walked to load the bases. Max Muncy stepped up and also eventually worked a walk to plate a run and score an early 1-0 lead. Unfortunately the threat came to an end there after Corey Seager grounded out to first.
Of course, the bats still weren’t actually hitting Corbin, and he didn’t allow a hit through three frames. That changed quickly in the 4th behind back-to-back singles from Muncy and Seager to put runners at the corners and nobody out. However, the Dodgers didn’t take advantage with Will Smith striking out looking, Buehler himself going down bunting, and Pollock grounding out to end the threat. It was debatable at that juncture whether Dave Roberts should’ve taken out Buehler, but with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that he provided two key scoreless frames after this.
It took until the 5th for the Dodgers to get on the board again, and even that wasn’t even much due to their own hitting. With two down, Bellinger worked a walk and then Taylor scalded a ball down the line in left but it was caught by Anthony Rendon. Thankfully, CT3 was safe with an infield single and Cody took an extra base to put runners at the corners. Muncy followed by hitting a ball hard down to first but still directly at Howie Kendrick, who literally booted it to plate a run and make it 2-0.
Of course, there was the terrible send at the end that got CT3 thrown out by around 50 feet, which was a rare mistake from Dino Ebel.
Howie meanwhile continued his defensive disaster. Other than that error, he also had another one on a Buehler ground ball in the 2nd and missed a potential double play the Seager single in the 4th that got under his glove somehow.
Adam Kolarek took over for Buehler in the 7th, looking impressive again, this time with a three-pitch strikeout of Juan Soto.
Kenta Maeda then followed and was absolutely dominant in the 7th and 8th innings, getting all five batters he faced, including two strikeouts.
While Kenta was doing his thing, the offense got him breathing room in their half of the 7th. Joc Pederson pinch hit for Freese and drew a walk, then Justin Turner followed with bloop behind first to put runners on the corners with one out. After Bellinger inexplicably was guessing with two strikes and took strike three on a fastball over the middle of the plate, thankfully Muncy stepped up and worked a 2-1 count before roping a ball into right to plate two runs and make it 4-0.
Then in the 8th, they got even more insurance. While letting Kenta finish the game was certainly an option, Roberts opted to give Gavin Lux a relatively low-leverage introduction to the playoffs, and all he did was absolutely smoke a ball over the wall for his first playoff homer in his first playoff plate appearance to make it 5-0.
Later, with two outs, Joc announced the arrival of Joctober with an absolute blast down the line that clanged off the foul pole for a 6-0 lead.
Joe Kelly then entered out of the pen to get the 9th and close out the game, hopefully without mess. Things started ominously with a double down the line, but he rebounded to get a ground out and two strikeouts to lock it down.
Straight FILTHY way to end it. 🤮 pic.twitter.com/hc4sL3R3TW— MLB (@MLB) October 4, 2019
In a best-of-five series like the NLDS, the first game seems even more important than usual, and with the matchup of two “aces” on full rest the Dodgers jumping out to a 1-0 lead seems significant.
The Nationals have already announced that Stephen Strasburg will start Game 2 on two days rest after throwing three innings and 34 pitches in the NL Wild Card Game. Opposing him will be Clayton Kershaw, who is worse than Hyun-Jin Ryu, but also has the ability to enter in relief for a potential Game 5. The game will be broadcast on TBS at 3:37 PM HST/6:37 PM PST/9:37 PM EST.