WASHINGTON -- Patrick Corbin is up next. That’s what is known for Game 1, that’s what was expected when he signed in the offseason.
He came to the District charged with being a third No. 1 starter and to fight the class of the National League, Los Angeles.
The Nationals dried off, cleaned up and boarded a plane for Los Angeles on Wednesday morning. A 7 p.m. workout is slated at Dodgers Stadium, replacing what looked increasingly for most of Tuesday's Wild-Card game like a day for cleaning out lockers and say goodbyes. The best-of-five National League Division Series begins Thursday night at Dodgers Stadium.
“We just said we wanted an opportunity, we wanted a chance,” Kurt Suzuki said. “I know one thing for a fact: nobody wants to play us right now.”
Washington has won nine consecutive games, including Tuesday night’s heart-stopper against Milwaukee. Juan Soto rescued the night from being installed with other grim elimination-game outcomes. Corbin takes the ball Thursday against an organization he knows and has controlled.
"They’ve seen me a lot. I’ve seen them," he said. "There’s no surprises, really. They have different lineups for lefties and righties. They’re a very deep team, that’s why they’re able to do stuff like that. They’ve been really good for a long time now. They’re tough, it’s not an easy lineup to go through, but if you can make your pitches, it’s really all you’re trying to do."
Corbin has a career 3.36 ERA against the Dodgers. He faced them often as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, using his fastball-slider combination to slow one of the league’s best offenses year after year. The trend carried into this season in his one start against Los Angeles: seven shutout innings and just three hits.
The Nationals also stacked up well against the league-leading Dodgers as a group. They went 3-4 in seven games, scoring 27 runs and allowing 30. Gerardo Parra’s grand slam in Los Angeles signaled his arrival as a lightning bolt for the season.
Most of the units match up well: The teams are 1-2 in runs scored this season in the National League. They are first and eighth, respectively in ERA. Dragging Washington to eighth is its troubling bullpen, which finished the season 29th in ERA. The starting rotations were 1-2 in ERA (the Dodgers again leading the way). So, much of this will come down to the bullpen, as it has all season.
But, the Nationals have finally won an elimination game to enter what they believe can be a strength, an extended series. They can lean harder on their rotation than in a do-or-die game. Their offense receives more time to manipulate and produce. However, those things are also true of Los Angeles, a team without any alarming weakness the way Washington’s bullpen.
“One of the best, if not the best team in baseball,” Ryan Zimmerman said of the Dodgers. “Obviously a tall task. We’re going to enjoy [Tuesday] but know we’ve got to flight out West and play a really good baseball team. But, we have a really good baseball team, too. So, it will be a good series and [we’re] just happy to move on.”
The Dodgers are aligned and rested. Hyun-Jin Ryu is on full rest and ready to start Game 1. No one had to travel. They have home-field and the better front-to-back roster. In essence, Washington starts in a hole, which is the concept it has dealt with all season. To this point, it’s also always found a way out.
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