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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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Bryce Harper thanks Nationals fans for support during 2017 season

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USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Harper thanks Nationals fans for support during 2017 season

It's been a week since the air was sucked out of D.C. in the Nationals Game 5, 9-8 loss to the Chicago Cubs. 

And now that we've had a few days to decompress from another early D.C. playoff exit, Nats right fielder Bryce Harper decided to take some time to thank fans for their support this season.

Harper posted an Instagram video Wednesday afternoon, with a fresh cut, and thanked fans for continuing to pack Nats Park. In the video he says he looks forward to "chasing that championship" again next spring. 

The 2017 season could be described as a rough one for Harper after missing the last few weeks of the season with a bone bruise in his left knee. 

Harper had a .319 average during the 2017 season, along with 29 home runs, 97 RBI's, 95 runs scored and 4 stolen bases. He is entering the final year of his contract.

RELATED: 20 THINGS SAD D.C. SPORTS FANS SHOULD BE HAPPY ABOUT

National Fans. Thank you!💯 #RedLightRecording

A post shared by Bryce Harper (@bharper3407) on

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Nationals Game 5 meltdown yet another reminder why D.C. can't have nice things

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Nationals Game 5 meltdown yet another reminder why D.C. can't have nice things

On Thursday night, a Washington, D.C. pro sports team did something Washington, D.C. pro sports teams are very good at doing: fall short of making a league or championship game.

The Nationals' disastrous fifth inning against the Cubs in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series was the beginning of the end, not to mention yet another in a long line of disappointing playoff results for Washington, D.C. sports teams.

You see, Washington, D.C. is the only city with at least three major pro sports teams to not have a single one make a conference or league championship game since 2000.

To make matters worse, Washington, D.C. sports teams have now lost 16 consecutive playoff games in which a win would've advanced the team to the conference or league championship. 

Think about that for a second. Four teams. Zero conference championship appearances since 1998. 

Here's the list.

Washington, D.C. sports fans are not greedy. We can't be. We've had some very good teams recently, with the type of talent, coaching and intangibles needed to win a championship. 

TRY THIS: 20 THINGS DC SPORTS FANS SHOULD BE HAPPY ABOUT. YES, HAPPY.

The last time a major Washington, D.C. pro sports team won a world championship was in 1992 when the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI.  The last time a major Washington, D.C. pro sports team even made a conference championship game was in 1998, when the Capitals advanced to the Eastern Conference Final, defeating the Sabres to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

Washington, D.C. isn't allowed to have nice sports things.

Sure, we have great players and great teams, but when the playoffs roll around, all the nice things go away. We aren't privy to plucky upstarts who run the table and we aren't privy to dominant teams that make long postseason runs.

Washington, D.C. will have its day, eventually. Sure it may only be a conference championship appearance, but for us, that's fine. We don't expect world championships. We just want something to get invested in.

Early playoff exits are rarely worth the investment.