As the countdown to the postseason progresses, the Washington Nationals (89-57) prepare to take on the Los Angeles Dodgers (76-71) from a position the Nats weren’t even ready to dream about when the two teams last played each other. The last time the Nationals and the Dodgers faced off was at the end of April when the Nats' record stood at 14-5, which was the best in the National League followed by the Dodgers in second at 13-6.
Back what feels like ages ago, Nats fans were excited, yet still wary of getting their hopes up too high. But the Nats have yet to disappoint their fans; they have charged through this season, and they still maintain the best record in the National League, and in all of baseball.
With their magic number to ensure themselves a wild card spot at three, the Nationals could potentially secure their presence in the playoffs during this series, if they put in a good showing against the Dodgers.
Until recently, the Dodgers had been embroiled in a close pennant race with the San Francisco Giants, who have since broken away to lead the NL West by eight games. Despite their recent slide – they’ve gone 6-8 in September – the Dodgers still have a shot at the postseason. They are trailing the St. Louis Cardinals by just one game for the second wild card spot. With the postseason edging closer and closer every day, both the Nationals and the Dodgers are going to be anxious to get some more wins on the board to solidify their shot at a postseason appearance.
With the Atlanta Braves making some noise from five games back, and preparing to face the Miami Marlins and the New York Mets (who they have 10-3 and 10-5 season records against, respectively), the Nationals will need to show the Dodgers they mean business if they want to prevent the Braves from lessening the margin between them even more than they did after sweeping the Nats over the weekend.
When they last met, the Dodgers completed the first sweep of the Nats of the season – a feat that would only be accomplished four more times to date. But the Nationals are a much different team now than they were in April.
Then, the Nats were averaging 3.36 runs per game – a respectable number for a team who was astonishing the baseball community with a shockingly good pitching rotation. Now, the pitching is still just as good, but recently it has been the offense’s turn to impress. The Nats’ bats are averaging 5.07 runs per game for September, and they claim the second-highest batting average (.284) and the highest slugging percentage (.514) of the month, due largely in part to their smacking 32 homeruns already this month, the most of any team.
The Dodgers, on the other hand, have been struggling offensively, while they have continued to lean on their strength in pitching. L.A. was averaging 3.96 runs per game in April, but that number has dipped to just 2.79 runs per game for September, their 39 runs scored the lowest in the majors. Slogging through a team-wide slump, the Dodgers are hitting for a combined slash line of .223/.284/.345 for the month, which ranks 28th, 29th and 25th, respectively. Those numbers aren’t much worse than their .249/.315/.367 slash line for the year, ranking 19th, 21st and 29th. The Dodgers’ bats are going to have to come alive in Washington if they hope to take the win when the Nationals have home-field advantage.
Missing the ace
In that April series, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw pitched eight complete innings for the first win, setting the tone for the rest of the series. But with Kershaw out with potentially season-ending hip pain, the Dodgers could be preparing to attempt their playoff push without one of their most reliable pitchers. Kershaw claims the third best ERA in the majors (3.44) and the fourth highest WAR (4.9), so the idea of being without him for the rest of the season is a scary one for the Dodgers.
"Really right now you don't have time to brace yourself and it's really not a good thought," Manager Don Mattingly said, according to MLB.com. "It's almost like any other time when you don't want to think about having to go through it without Kersh because … you know you are going to be in the game with a pretty good chance of winning.”
Kershaw’s injury could be the third season-ending injury to a Dodgers’ starting pitcher this year.
- Reliever Ronald Belisario hasn't allowed an earned run since August 13. He has faced 68 batters in that time frame and has only given up 12 hits.
Andre Ethier (RF) .269 AVG, .321 OBP, .538 SLG, 2 HR (last seven games)
Luis Cruz (SS) .269 AVG, .269 OBP, .423 SLG, 1 HR (last seven games)
Ronald Belisario (RP) 0.00 ERA, .200 BAA, 16 SO, 1 SV, 68 BF (last 15 games)
A.J. Ellis (C) .000 AVG, .000 OBP, .000 SLG, 7 SO, 17 AB (last six games)
Matt Kemp (CF) .094 AVG, .121 OBP, .156 SLG, 9 SO, 32 AB (last eight games)
Jordan Zimmermann (10-8, 3.01 ERA) vs. Aaron Harang (9-9, 3.79 ERA)
John Lannan (3-0, 2.41 ERA) vs. Josh Beckett (6-13, 3.38 ERA)
Ross Detwiler (9-6, 3.16 ERA) vs. Chris Capuano (11-10, 3.60 ERA)