Dodgers: Taking a breath, taking stock of position in Game 5
The Dodgers won a franchise-record 106 games this season. They breezed through the regular season despite nagging injuries up and down the roster.
Unlike the 2018 season, there was no game 163. There was no pressure on the team to put distance between themselves and the opposition like there was in 2017. The Dodgers looked as good and as deep and as talented as they have at any point since they started putting NL West titles under their belt with ease.
None of that matters now. One game is all that matters now. How did we get here? Did anyone see it coming? Wasn’t the Wild Card winner supposed to be a team easily taken down?
Apparently not. The Nationals have a top-heavy rotation, bullpen, and lineup, and in a best-of-five series, that’s all you really need. The rest of the playoffs is an endurance test, but the short series presented in the Divisional Round of the MLB playoffs tests not only desire to win, but if a team has the stars to carry a team to win three out of five games.
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The Yankees completely overmatched their first-round opponent, the Minnesota Twins. A better starting rotation, a deeper lineup, and one of the best bullpens in all of the sport ensured the sweep and a berth in the ALCS for the Bronx Bombers. Why couldn’t the Dodgers do that to the Nationals?
For starters, the Nationals have the starting pitching that is built for a short series. In a seven-game series, Scherzer would not have the chance to pitch two separate times, in the span of three games, because you need to spread your resources thinner.
That is the kind of series this Dodgers team is built for, especially with the stars struggling. The Dodgers are widely regarded as the deepest team in the game, with plenty of MLB-ready bats off the bench to face a righty or lefty. That’s part of the reason they thrive off of relievers in the late innings because they create matchup problems. Plus the lineup is already deep, even if it is not star-laden.
The one thing this team lacks is a powerful right-handed bat. But Justin Turner looks locked in, and Max Muncy is picking up the slack Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager have left behind them. A.J. Pollock’s strikeout woes kept him limited to pinch-hitting duties in Game 4, and he probably should sit again in Game 5.
But to go beyond strategy and Game 5, let’s just take stock of where we’re at once and for all. The Dodgers have outscored the Nats 18-14 so far this series. The Dodgers have been held to two runs or fewer twice, losing both games. The Nats have scored four or more runs in every game since the Game 1 shutout. That would point to the Dodgers offense being colder than that of the Nationals, especially when the Dodgers scored almost all 18 of their runs in one game, and even in one inning (thank you Patrick Corbin and the Wander Suero).
The Dodgers did win 106 games though, so Game 5 is at home. That should help the offense, though it didn’t last time they faced Strasburg.
Ultimately, there are a lot of unknowns heading into this winner-take-all, like who should pitch and who should start in the outfield, and more. But in the end, it’s going to come down to who brings more intensity and who is able to rise above the noise and execute on the biggest stage. It’s an elimination game, and there is no more nerve-destroying thing in the entire sports world.