The Washington Nationals are looking to pull off an upset that was considered unthinkable after free agency disappointment as they head to Los Angeles with the opportunity to eliminate the 106-win Dodgers. The Dodgers have been the runaway leaders of the National League over the entire season, winning their division by 21 games and securing the first seed in the playoffs nine games ahead of the second-place Atlanta Braves, but run the risk of another playoff disappointment as they face off against the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg, as reported by Sports Illustrated.
The Nationals bounced back from a difficult start to the season as they coped with the loss of former MVP Bryce Harper, but have turned things around and are one win away from going farther than Harper had ever taken them. With the Dodgers seeking to make their third consecutive World Series, a Los Angeles loss would be a massive disappointment for a team seeking their first title since 1988.
The matchup will see two of baseball’s top pitchers facing off with Strasburg (18-6, 3.32 ERA in the regular season) up against Walker Buehler (14-4, 3.26 ERA). While Buehler is a talent that can be depended upon in an elimination game, this couldn’t have been the occasion the Dodgers expected him to be in so early in the postseason. In his first postseason appearance in Game 1 of the series, Buehler held the Nationals to a one-hit shutout over six innings with eight strikeouts, another great performance from an incredible year. Buehler is also no stranger to elimination games, one-hitting the Colorado Rockies in last season’s Game 163 to win the National League West before holding the Milwaukee Brewers to a single run in Game 7 of the National League championship.
While Buehler’s appearance isn’t ideal for a Dodgers team that had hoped to rest him until the National League Championship, this is the perfect situation for Strasburg. The former all-star will be making his third appearance so far in the playoffs, after securing wins in a 4-3 victory in a relief appearance in the Wildcard round against the Milwaukee Brewers and in Game 2 against the Dodgers. Against the Dodgers, Strasburg allowed only one run and recorded 10 strikeouts as he outdueled former National League MVP Clayton Kershaw in a 4-2 Nationals victory. Strausberg has a history of throwing his best stuff in October, maintaining a playoff ERA of 0.64 over 28 innings.
While both the Nationals and the Dodgers boast MVP candidates in their lineup, Anthony Rendon of the Nationals has had a much more impressive series than the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger. Rendon has recorded a hit in the past three games and batted in three runs in Game 4, two of which came on sacrifice flies. Bellinger has been dealing with a paltry.200 batting average, but could be turning things around with three hits in the past two games.