On Friday the Los Angeles Dodgers will be in our nation’s capital for the first game of their National League Divisional Series (NLDS) against the Washington Nationals. Although the Nats have a better record than the Dodgers, L.A. has won the season series between the two, 5-1.
The Dodgers went on a five-game wining streak to clinch the N.L. West Division, but then lost five of six in the final week of the season — getting swept by the San Francisco Giants — that assured the baseball world this series would start on the East Coast. It also allowed the Giants into the National League Wild Card game against the New York Mets, which San Francisco won in the 9th inning of what had been a pitching duel between the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard and the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner.
Friday the Dodgers will see if they can continue their dominance over the Nationals. Starting on the mound for the Dodgers will be their ace, Clayton Kershaw. With a 12-4 record and ERA of 1.69 for his injury-interrupted season, Kershaw will be a tough pitcher for Washington to overcome. In his last outing against Washington (June 20), Kershaw pitched seven innings, giving up six hits and one run, without any walks. He threw 107 pitches, with eight strikeouts.
In a press conference Tuesday, Dave Roberts spoke about Kershaw, considering the 60-day DL has cut down on the number of innings the Cy Young Award-winner pitched this season. Roberts said, “He feels good. He feels strong. I told Clayton let’s get through game one and we’ll revisit. But he’s used to throwing 220, 230 innings so yes the arm usage is definitely less this season.”
On the flip side, the Dodgers will face Max Scherzer, a 20-game winner with a 2.96 ERA. On paper it looks like the Dodgers have the edge with starting pitchers. Scherzer hasn’t faced the Dodgers in the regular season this year, but his record against L.A. is 2-4 over his career. That bodes well for the Dodgers. Some people believe Nats manager Dusty Baker should have started left-hander Gio Gonzalez (11-11, 4.57 ERA) because L.A. is the worst hitting team against left-handed pitchers, but the fact that Gonzalez has lost his last three starts says a lot.
This game will pit the Nationals best against the Dodgers best and that is what the fans of both teams want to see.
The will also see rookie outfielder Andrew Toles start in left field. On Tuesday Roberts told the media, “If he starts in left field we feel very comfortable.” he added, “Andrew gives us that dynamic, that if you look at our club we don’t have a lot of foot speed. But he’s a guy that can steal a base of need be, can score from first on a ball in the gap — obviously off the bench or even starting.”
Along with Toles Dodgers fans can expect to see Joc Pederson in center and Josh Reddick in right. For the infield it will be Adrian Gonzalez at first, Chase Utley at second, Corey Seager at second and Justin Turner at third. Yasmani Grandal will start as catcher. The Dodgers have three catchers on their postseason roster: Grandal, Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz and Riverside native Austin Barnes. According to manager Dave Roberts and Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers President of Baseball Operations, they would like to keep Chooch for pinch-hitting and running situations during the playoffs. On Tuesday Friedman said, “His versatility certainly plays into it, he’s got some foot speed, especially relative to catchers, but it frees up Chooch (Ruiz). It frees him up for potential big spots against their left-handed releivers. It just felt that overall it helped complete our roster. Helped fill it out even more.”
Still, fans and analysts look at how the Dodgers finished the season: losing two of three in San Diego and getting swept in San Francisco. On Tuesday Roberts was asked about the momentum going into this series and he said, “The number one priority for us is to go in healthy and align the pitching staff, which we’ve done.” He added, “Now, with the regular season over we can look towards a second season. I think our guys have been able to reset, refocus and be re-energized so I don’t think losing five of six, or whatever we did, will impact us.”
Reliever J.P. Howell is not on the active roster for this series, but is available for the rest of the playoffs or even the first series if there is an injury. It was a difficult decision to make. Roberts said, “JP is going to be with us, he’s going to travel with us. [Howell] is a guy that, for me, is one of the glue guys for our team this year. He’s had a lot of success in his career, in the postseason. For him to understand the decision, support it, but still have the opportunity to be activated in another series or this series, by way of injury, those are the tough ones because you know he’s here for the right reasons.”
Roberts said he likes the team’s chances against the Nationals. He emphasized they will take it one game at a time. He said, “The way we’ve played all year long, I’m going to ask them to do the same thing.”
It’s an early game time Friday: 2:30 p.m. PT. Maybe you’ll feel a little ill after lunch and need to leave work early.
You can catch some of the comments from Roberts, Friedman and some of the players in Claudia Gestro’s report from the Tuesday practice.
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UPDATE: The Dodgers have released their 25-man roster for this series: 11 pitchers and 14 position players.
LHP Luis Avilan
RHP Pedro Baez
RHP Joe Blanton
LHP Grant Dayton
RHP Josh Fields
LHP Rich Hill
RHP Kenley Jansen
LHP Clayton Kershaw
RHP Kenta Maeda
RHP Ross Stripling
LHP Julio Urías
Position Players (14)
C/IF Austin Barnes
IF Charlie Culbertson
OF Andre Ethier (L)
1B Adrián González (L)
C Yasmani Grandal (S)
IF/OF Howie Kendrick
OF Joc Pederson (L)
OF Yasiel Puig
OF Josh Reddick (L)
C Carlos Ruiz
SS Corey Seager (L)
OF Andrew Toles (L)
3B Justin Turner
2B Chase Utley (L)
Photos and video by Claudia Gestro.
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