The odds, it would seem, are stacked at least slightly in the Nationals' favor, as much as they can be in a decisive Game 5 after four closely fought affairs. As even as the Nats and Dodgers match up top to bottom, Max Scherzer on full rest at home is more desirable than L.A. starter Rich Hill on three days rest. At least, on paper.
The postseason can be maddeningly unpredictable, but the Nats are in the preferable situation entering Thursday with their season on the line.
"You're never really comfortable until the game is over. But we do have Max," manager Dusty Baker said. "We have Max and we have our home fans."
Scherzer himself knows the opportunity there for him and his team. They can move on to the NL Championship Series with one more win. That would be a first in team history.
They can also become the latest in a growing catalogue of Natioanls' playoff letdowns. Blowing a 2-1 series lead would be crushing, no matter a final loss transpired.
"Man, this is going to be a heck of a ballgame," he said. "The effort from both sides over the first four games has been incredible. We've seen unbelievable baseball, from both sides. Great pitching, great hitting, defense, everything. In Game 5, anything can happen, and you've just got to go out there and execute your pitches."
In order to beat the Dodgers and advance, the Nats will likely need a better version of Scherzer than they saw in Game 1. The right-hander went six innings with four runs allowed, including two homers. He gave up four runs through his first three innings to dig himself and the Nationals a hole they couldn't climb out of.
That was the first questionable outing of what has become a forgettable series for the Nats' starting rotation as a whole. They have allowed 13 runs in 17 1/3 innings. What was a strength during the regular season has transformed into a weakness this October.
Their bullpen and lineup have largely picked up the slack. But how long that formula is sustainable is unclear.
After getting those results off Scherzer and the Nats' rotation, and coming off an impressive Game 4 victory, the Dodgers see no reason to doubt themselves heading into Thursday.
"I mean, we beat him once already," first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said of Scherzer. "We know we can do it. We put some pretty good at-bats against him in Game 1 and we're confident that we can do that again."
The Dodgers may have fooled Scherzer once, but it should not be easy to get him again. Only three times in 2016 has he allowed four runs or more in consecutive starts. That, though, includes his most recent two appearances. He gave up five runs in his final regular season outing and four in Game 1.
Scherzer hasn't allowed four or more in three straight starts since June of 2014. The last time before that was 2011.
Scherzer is very good at making adjustments, both from start to start and within his outings. In Game 1 he settled in to retire nine of the last 10 batters he faced before getting pulled. Perhaps that can lead to success in Game 5.
Scherzer's first start of this series didn't go quite as planned. But now he has another chance, and this time the stakes are even higher.
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