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5 things to know about the Nationals-Dodgers NLDS matchup

5 things to know about the Nationals-Dodgers NLDS matchup

By beating the Brewers in the NL Wild Card game, the Nationals have now drawn one of the best teams in the majors in the NLDS, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who will host them in Game 1 at 8:37 p.m. on Thursday night. Here are five things to know about the Dodgers in terms of how they match up with the Nats...

They are very good at a lot of things

No NL team brought more runs across the plate this season than the Dodgers (886), who were dominant in just about every offensive category. They also ranked first in the NL in homers (279), slugging percentage (.472), OPS (.810) and sacrifice flies (45). They were also third in walks (607). The only thing they didn't do well is steal bases, as they placed 22nd in the majors in the category with 57. Their offense was a big reason why the had the second-best run differential in the majors (+273), behind only the Astros.

You know how they are the most high-powered offense in the league? Yeah, they are really good at preventing runs, too. They hold the best ERA in the majors, including the No. 1 starters ERA (the Nats are second) and the fourth-best bullpen ERA (the Nats are dead-last). Their staff as a whole is best in the NL in batting-average against (.223). They issued fewer walks than any team in baseball and the fewest homers of any NL club. 

The big names to watch out for in their rotation are Hyun-Jin Ryu (2.32 ERA), Rich Hill (2.45 ERA), Clayton Kershaw (3.03 ERA) and Walker Buehler (3.26 ERA). Their bullpen has been led by Pedro Baez (3.10 ERA), Julio Urias (2.49 ERA), Adam Kolarek (0.77 ERA) and Casey Sadler (2.33 ERA). Though closer Kenley Jansen has struggled this season with a 3.71 ERA and eight blown saves, he holds a 2.08 career ERA in the postseason and shut the Nats out for three innings in Game 5 back in 2016.

They are trying to break through

The Dodgers have been as close as you can possibly be to winning a World Series without winning one in recent years. In each of the last two postseasons, they have made it to the World Series, only to lose. The Astros beat them in 2016 in seven games and the Red Sox topped them in five games last year. No team has lost in the World Series three straight times since the New York Giants in 1911-13.

In 2015, the Dodgers were also close as they lost in the NLCS. They have won the NL West division seven straight years, but this year finished with the most wins (106) in franchise history. They are looking for their first World Series title since 1988. While that might, in theory, create some pressure, they have had no problem going deep into October year after year.

They are healthy

One of the reasons why it seems like it could be the Nationals' year is that they have reached this point without any significant injuries to report. They have made it through 163 games relatively unscathed. Well, the Dodgers are also nearly full-strength. Justin Turner has back tightness, but is expected to play in Game 1. Their biggest question mark is outfielder Alex Verdugo, who has an oblique strain.

But their rotation, key relievers and the heavy hitters in their lineup are all pretty much in the clear, unlike the Nats' first opponent in the postseason, the Brewers, who were without Christian Yelich. The Dodgers' best player, Cody Bellinger, is healthy and coming off a year in which he hit .305/.406/.629 with 47 homers, 115 RBI, 121 runs and 15 steals.

It was really close last time

The Nationals didn't have history with the Brewers in the postseason, but they do with the Dodgers. Back in 2016, L.A. beat the Nats in five games with the finale taking place at Nationals Park. That series is remembered in part for Kershaw coming out of the bullpen to shut the door in Game 5. Turner also killed the Nats in that series with six hits in 15 at-bats (.400 BA), a homer, five RBI and five walks. Howie Kendrick was on the Dodgers back then and had three htis in four games.

For the Nationals, Trea Turner struck out 11 times in five games that series. Anthony Rendon hit .150 in 20 at-bats. Stephen Strasburg did not appear in the series due to an injury. That seems notable given he has quite easily the best postseason track record of anyone on their staff.

It was close during the 2019 regular season, too

The two teams played each other very closely this season with the Dodgers going 4-3 with a slight 30-27 advantage in runs scored. Bellinger saw the Nats well with a .391 average and 10 total bases in 23 at-bats. Ryu was lights-out vs. Washington with a 0.61 ERA in 14 2/3 innings and so was Buehler, who held a 2.92 mark in 12 1/3.

For the Nats, no one stood out in a good way at the plate. But Strasburg was excellent with a 2.08 ERA and so was Patrick Corbin, their Game 1 starter, who pitched seven shutout frames. Max Scherzer allowed two runs in seven innings, good for a 2.57 ERA. Even Anibal Sanchez was solid with a 3.18 ERA in two starts.

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Don't worry Nationals fans, Anthony Rendon was never going to be a Dodger

Don't worry Nationals fans, Anthony Rendon was never going to be a Dodger

While Nationals fans are understandably disappointed Anthony Rendon is no longer a member of the Nationals, they can rest easy knowing he didn't see himself signing the the NL rival Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers never made an offer to Rendon, per The Athletic, after "sensing that he didn’t want to play in Los Angeles." He instead signed with the Los Angeles Angels, inking a seven-year, $245 million deal to play for the California team that receives considerably less media attention than its in-state rival.

Now entrenched in the AL on the other side of the country, Rendon won't face the Nationals very often nor will his team's play have any effect on Washington's playoff chances from year to year. It was a best-case scenario for fans after it became likely he wouldn't be returning to Washington.

After being spurned by Rendon and losing out on top free-agent pitchers Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, the Dodgers are still looking to make their first big move of the offseason.

There's still plenty of time for them to make a move, but Los Angeles can expect little sympathy from Nationals fans that Rendon won't be suiting up in Dodger blue for the next seven years.

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Nationals trading for a third baseman is possible -- as long as it’s not Nolan Arenado

Nationals trading for a third baseman is possible -- as long as it’s not Nolan Arenado

Here’s the list of players on the Nationals’ active roster who could play third base: Wilmer Difo, Jake Noll, Adrián Sánchez, Howie Kendrick, Carter Kieboom. Career major-league starts at the position: Difo, 29; Noll, one; Sánchez, nine; Kendrick, 25; Kieboom, zero. 

Such is the state of third base for the defending World Series champions. Not good. 

Which makes Josh Donaldson’s agent smile and any semi-skilled third baseman with a pulse a possible target. Possible trades? Count the Nationals in. On most. Not on Nolan Arenado. That’s a non-starter because Washington is not going to send assets (prospects) for a contract it was unwilling to give Anthony Rendon in the first place. Zero chance. Zilch.

However, Kris Bryant is more intriguing depending on the years and ask -- as always with trades. Beyond him and Kyle Seager, is there another third baseman the Nationals could pursue in a trade? The question takes on weight because of the aforementioned toothless list of in-house candidates and shallow free-agent talent pool beyond Donaldson.

Any trade consideration needs to begin with an understanding of the parameters Washington is working from. Last season, Rendon’s one-year deal to avoid arbitration earned him $18.8 million. When Washington looks at the cost for its next third baseman, the number will be similar to last season’s cost for Rendon. A bump in the competitive balance tax threshold, plus savings at first base and catcher, provide the Nationals wiggle room for increases in spots. So, $18-25 million annually for a third baseman is in play.

Second, the Nationals’ farm system needs to be taken into account. Their 2018 first-round pick, Mason Denaburg, had shoulder problems last year. Mike Rizzo said at the Winter Meetings that Denaburg is healthy and progressing. But, the early shoulder irritation for a high school pitcher who also had problems his senior year with biceps tendinitis provides his stock pause. He’s a would-be trade chip. So is Kieboom.

But, what is Kieboom’s value? What damage did it receive during his rocky, and brief, appearance in the majors last season? Did his potent hitting in the Pacific Coast League after being sent back mitigate his big-league struggles? 

Beyond Kieboom, the farm system’s next tier is manned by Luis Garcia, 2019 first-round pick Jackson Rutledge, Wil Crowe and Tim Cate, among others. Only Garcia is part of MLB.com’s top-100 prospects list (which is more of a guide than an industry standard).

So, when Bryant or Seager -- or anyone not named Arenado -- are mentioned, know where the Nationals are coming from. If they are positioned to take on money, they don’t want to use assets to do it (this is the Donaldson Scenario). If they can save money, find a solid player and retain the few high-end assets, then a trade could be in play (this would be the Seager Scenario, if Seattle pays some of the contract). 

The Bryant Scenario is the most appealing and challenging. He’s the best player of the group. However, acquiring him would be high-cost and short-term. Bryant has two years remaining before he can become a free agent -- with an outside shot at becoming a free agent after next season because of a grievance he filed against the Cubs for service-time manipulation. Obtaining him would likely focus on multiple pitching prospects.

There is no Arenado Scenario. Just a reminder.

Piled together, Washington is in a tough spot. What it has is not enough. What it needs will be costly.

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