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5 keys to a Nationals win over the Dodgers in the NL Division Series

5 keys to a Nationals win over the Dodgers in the NL Division Series

Here's what needs to go right for the Washington Nationals to win their NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Plus, my prediction for the series...

1. Rendon, Turner and Werth have to come through

The Nats lineup is not what it once was with Wilson Ramos out for the year and both Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy currently banged up. Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa have both struggled this season and Pedro Severino is a rookie known more for his defense. With all that in mind, plus the fact the Dodgers will start at least two lefties in this series, the Nats need some big games from right-handed hitters Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth. If any number of them struggle, the Nats' will be in deep trouble.

2. Nationals' left-handers will be key

By now you may have heard that the Dodgers are absolutely terrible against left-handed pitchers. They have the worst average (.213) of any MLB team vs. lefties, the worst on-base percentage (.290) and the worst OPS (.622). They have the fifth-lowest RBI off lefties, fifth-most strikeouts and sixth-fewest walks and homers. This makes every lefty on the Nats' staff that much more important, from Gio Gonzalez to Sammy Solis to Marc Rzepczynski to whoever is the third southpaw in the Nats' playoff bullpen. Manager Dusty Baker will go to those guys often in big spots. Between Corey Seager, Adrian Gonzalez, Joc Pederson and Chase Utley, the Dodgers feature plenty of lefty bats to mix-and-match against.

[RELATED: Murphy looking good for Game 1 vs. Dodgers: 'I feel confident']

3. Nats have to keep hitting lefties

As bad as the Dodgers are at hitting lefties, the Nats are quite good. They have the fourth-highest OPS (.783) among MLB teams, second-highest slugging percentage (.455), fourth-most homers and the fifth-fewest strikeouts. Murphy hits .329 off lefties, Turner bats .317 and Werth hits .322 with a 1.031 OPS. That doesn't mean they can solve Clayton Kershaw, but it should help against not only him but Rich Hill and Julio Urias.

4. Injuries, inexperience can't hold back defense

Baker has acknowledged at least some concern with his team's range on defense with injuries all around the field to varying degrees. The right side of his infield with Murphy (buttock) and Ryan Zimmerman (calf) could be limited running around. Werth has a tight back. Harper hasn't quite been the same throwing the ball with his neck (and shoulder?) issues. Jose Lobaton will play some at catcher and he's got a bum ankle. That's all on top of Turner still learning the center field position and Severino catching important innings at just 23 years old. Add it all up and there are definitely some potential problem areas for the Nats on defense, a part of the game that can be magnified in the playoffs.

[RELATED: Dusty Baker: Playoffs 'where I'm supposed to be']

5. Gio and/or Ross need to step up

The Nats are in good shape with their top two pitchers in Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark. Those guys will be fine, but they can't win this series alone and the Nats will need at least one of their other two starters to come up with a big outing. Gonzalez has playoff experience, but has given up seven runs (5 ER) with 12 walks in 14 innings in those games. Ross has never pitched in the postseason before and just got back from a shoulder injury. Both present major question marks, but stranger things have happened in the playoffs. One of those two needs to surprise for the Nats to win this series.

Prediction: Nationals in 5

I think this is the year the Nats finally get over the hump, but it won't be easy. The Dodgers will be a tough out and will take the Nats to the distance in a hard-fought series much like the 2012 NLDS against Cardinals. But this time the Nats will get the final out they need and advance. Something tells me Rendon, Turner and Solis come up big to help lead the way.

[RELATED: Wait is tough for several Nats on playoff roster bubble]

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Nats give up monster HR, drop series-opener with Giants

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USA TODAY Sports

Nats give up monster HR, drop series-opener with Giants

SAN FRANCISCO  -- Mac Williamson hit a two-run homer in the sixth to lead the Giants past the Washington Nationals 4-2 on Monday night.

Chris Stratton (2-1) struck out five over 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and four hits.

Williamson, playing his first home game at AT&T Park this season after being called up during the recent road trip, connected with a deep drive to right-center off Shawn Kelley after he relieved starter Gio Gonzalez (2-2). Gonzalez walked Brandon Belt to end his day before Williamson crushed the first pitch he saw from Kelley.

The 464-foot shot by Williamson is the furthest homer by the Giants this year, topping his previous 434-foot homer Friday after he was promoted to face the Angels in Anaheim. Earlier Monday, Williamson drove in his team's initial run on a fielder's choice in the fourth.

Only three home runs have travelled further in 2018, according to MLB StatCast: Franchy Cordero (489), Avisail Garcia (481) and Marcell Ozuna (479)

San Francisco kicked off a 10-game homestand by winning back-to-back games for only the second time this season and first since April 4-7. The Giants were coming off their first series victory of the season against the Angels.

The Nationals' runs came on a pair of sacrifice flies, by Howie Kendrick in the third and pinch-hitter Andrew Stevenson in the seventh.

Gonzalez allowed three runs and four hits, struck out four and walked three in five innings.

In his only other start against Washington, Stratton threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts last Aug. 13.

Hunter Strickland, who brawled with Bryce Harper during Washington's last visit to AT&T Park in late May 2017, finished for his fourth save in six chances. Harper didn't bat in the ninth.

NATS TRADE COLE

Washington traded right-hander A.J. Cole to the New York Yankees for cash. The 26-year-old Cole was 1-1 with a 13.06 ERA in four games for the Nationals and was designated for assignment last week.

BAKER REUNION

Ex-Nationals manager Dusty Baker, who guided Washington to back-to-back NL East titles before his firing after last season, visited the ballpark to see his former club.

Did he plan the visit in advance?

"Maybe," Baker said, grinning.

Nats pitcher Stephen Strasburg hustled out to give Baker a big hug behind the batting cage.

"What's up Dusty, how you doing?" Strasburg said.

Baker also visited with third base coach Bob Henley, the loan holdover from his coaching staff.

Baker is now working in an advisory role to Giants CEO Larry Baer while getting to watch son, Darren, play his freshman college season at California in Berkeley.

"I am good," Baker said. "How bad can it be between Cal, San Francisco and Sacramento?"

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: OF Adam Eaton, on the disabled list retroactive to April 9 with a bone bruise in his left ankle, won't be rushed back until he is completely pain-free. "When you see him in the lineup he'll be ready," manager Dave Martinez said. "He's coming along. When we get him back this time we don't want any issues." ... OF Brian Goodwin remains in Florida with pain in his bruised left wrist.

Giants: LHP Will Smith is eagerly anticipating his return from Tommy John surgery that cost him all of last season, and he could come off the DL as soon as Tuesday. He pitched twice for Class-A San Jose and three times so far for Triple-A Sacramento. He is scheduled to throw consecutive days for Sacramento on Wednesday and Thursday then another short outing Sunday. "We're close. We're getting there," Smith said, noting it will be "awesome. I'm ready to go." ... RHP closer Mark Melancon (flexor strain in pitching elbow) is scheduled to play catch during Thursday's off day. There is no timetable for his return, manager Bruce Bochy said. ... LF Hunter Pence (sprained right thumb) did some hitting and is scheduled for early batting practice Tuesday.

UP NEXT

Giants lefty Ty Blach (1-3, 4.10 ERA) will face the Nationals for the first time in his career when he pitches the middle game of the series opposite right-hander Tanner Roark (1-1, 3.24).

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Bryce Harper, broken bats, and bobbleheads: a true trifecta

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washington nats

Bryce Harper, broken bats, and bobbleheads: a true trifecta

Bryce Harper can do no wrong.

Last week in a win over the New York Mets, Bryce Harper, in super-human fashion, managed to shatter his bat while still hitting a home run.

It was as incredible as you think it is. Click the link in the line above here if you don't believe us. 

In what was already a one-of-one scenario, the cherry on top has been officially added: a Bryce Harper, broken-bat bobblehead.

The company that will be producing the legendary figurines is Sports Fan Island, who have gotten the bobbleheads licensed through both the MLB and the MLBPA.

The details on the bobblehead speak for themselves, from the intricacy of the broken bat, to the flames surrounding home plate under Harper.  

Despite the fact that the bobbleheads don't officially ship until July, fans can begin to pre-order this piece of historic memorabilia for $39.99, so you may want to grab them while they're still hot. 

RELATED: 2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS- APRIL UPDATE