The Los Angeles Dodgers host the Washington Nationals tonight in a decisive game five with a trip to the National League Championship Series on the line. This series has been very competitive as the teams have traded wins back and forth from the start. While the Dodgers came into this series as heavy favorites, the Nationals have pushed them to the brink tonight in game five.
Starting for the Dodgers is Walker Buehler (14-4 3.26 ERA), and for the Nationals it is Stephen Strasburg (18-6 3.32 ERA). The game total over-under is set at seven runs. The Dodgers are -162 home favorites. First pitch is scheduled for 5:37 PM PST from Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
The fact that Walker Buehler is starting this game isn’t all that shocking in a vacuum. The kid has been very good in his short Major League career, and he has some nice playoff experience under his belt. Buehler was great against the Nats in game one as he completely shut them down, to the tune of just one hit in six shutout innings. But what makes seeing his name on the headline shocking to me, is who’s name isn’t on the bill, and that is Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw has been the ace of this Dodgers staff for over a decade. But after famously struggling in the playoffs his entire career, despite being one of the best pitchers of his generation, the Dodgers have decided to slide him back a spot in the rotation, moving Buehler up to the top spot. Dave Roberts has mentioned that Kershaw will be available to pitch out of the bullpen tonight if needed, but that sounds like it would be a last resort as clearly, the Dodgers have gotten their fill of Kershaw blowing big playoff games for them. We saw that in game two when he gave up several runs early and was charged with the loss, and I would be very surprised to see them call his name if the game is indeed on the line late.
The Washington Nationals had a much easier decision on who to start tonight as Stephen Strasburg has been nothing less than remarkable in the playoffs. He has made two appearances already in this postseason, once coming out of the bullpen to pitch three shutout innings in the wild card round against the Milwaukee Brewers, and once in a game two start that saw him shine as he threw six innings, allowed just one run on three hits and struck out ten.
What makes those two appearances eve more impressive is that both of those games were absolute must-win scenarios for the Nationals, and he carried his team to wins both times. And that has been the case for Strasburg his entire career as his lifetime playoff ERA is just 0.64. If you think that Strasburg is even remotely intimidated about going on the road in a big game, you need your head examined. This guy is ready tonight with everything on the line.
Neither of these teams really expected to be in this situation right now. The Nationals started out the regular season 19-31, and it took a huge push in the second half of the year for them to even find themselves in the playoffs in the first place. And once they did, nobody gave them much of a shot to knock off the mighty Dodgers who were looking poised to make their third consecutive trip to the World Series.
And on the flip side, I am pretty certain that LA never thought that these Nats and their awful bullpen would find a way to hang around and make a series out of things. And just how have the Nationals made up for their historically bad bullpen? Well, they just don’t use it. We have seen Washington starters Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin all come out of the bullpen in the playoffs this season, and you can expect more of the same tonight in game five.
And while Corbin got roughed up in his one appearance in relief, I would still expect him to be available tonight if needed. At this point, I wouldn’t even be shocked to see Scherzer come out late in the game to face a key batter or two if he is needed. The Nationals have shown that they are open to a very unconventional use of their pitching staff, and that should be on full display tonight in LA.
So, who wins tonight in game five? I like the Nationals. I absolutely hate to bet against a home team in an elimination game, history tells it just isn’t a great play. But I think Stephen Strasburg is going to be special tonight. And the Nationals have made it clear they aren’t planning on playing by the rules in this one. It wouldn’t shock me at all to see this guy throw 120 plus pitches, and then turn things over to Mad Max or Corbin. They are willing to do whatever it takes to win tonight, and I don’t think LA will.
I think the Dodgers want to win this game and have Kershaw ready to start game one of the NLCS. I don’t think they are going to play with the same level of desperation that Washington has. They are “supposed” to win. And after going to the last two World Series, this game doesn’t matter to them like it does to Washington that is seeking their first-ever World Series appearance.
It is going to be unconventional, but when all the smoke clears, I think Washington escapes LA with the win tonight. And when you look at the price, it is hard not to like backing Strasburg getting all kinds of dog money, so that is just what I will do. Give me the Washington Nationals as major underdogs in an upset for the ages tonight in game five!