LOS ANGELES — A winner-take-all scenario that the Washington Nationals hoped for and the Los Angeles Dodgers would have preferred to avoid will occur Wednesday night in Los Angeles: Game 5 of the National League Division Series.
With Stephen Strasburg (18-6, 3.32 ERA in regular season) on the mound, and a berth in what would be the Nationals’ first National League Championship Series on the line, all of Washington is abuzz, especially after a disappointing opening two months that appeared to doom the team’s season.
The Dodgers also will have the pitcher they prefer on the mound: Walker Buehler (14-4, 3.26 ERA). But Los Angeles had to be hoping that the right-hander’s second start of the postseason would be in the NLCS and not in a must-win game so early in the playoff run.
After falling in each of the last two World Series, the Dodgers appeared determined to grab the ultimate prize in 2019. They won a franchise-record 106 games and stormed to a division title by 21 games. Now, the Nationals have L.A.’s title plans on the brink.
“It’s kind of all hands on deck and go as long as you can, (be) as good as you can and try and get out of it as clean as you can,” said Buehler, who could be followed in relief Wednesday by Clayton Kershaw. “So we’re excited. I think the thing that’s kind of lost in playoff baseball is that it’s really fun and I think the pressure and things like that, if you spin it in your head the right way, it can make it more fun. So that’s our plan.”
It is a mature outlook for a 25-year-old pitcher, but Buehler has operated under this kind of pressure before. He dominated in Game 163 last year, when the Dodgers handled the Colorado Rockies 5-2 in a regular-season tiebreaker to win the NL West, pitching six scoreless innings of one-hit ball.
Buehler also started Game 7 of the NLCS last year against the Milwaukee Brewers, and he allowed one run in 4 2/3 innings as Los Angeles emerged with a 5-1 win.
But Strasburg’s experience in this kind of a situation is even more recent than that. He delivered a much-needed three scoreless innings of relief to earn the win in Washington’s NL wild-card victory over the Brewers on Oct. 1. Strasburg followed that with six innings of one-run ball in Game 2 against the Dodgers when the Nationals evened the series at a game each.
Strasburg has not only given up just one earned run in nine innings of this postseason, but he has a lifetime playoff ERA of 0.64 over 28 innings. With so much on the line Wednesday, Strasburg is just trying to keep things simple.
“I mean, for me, I think it just comes down to execution,” Strasburg said after the Nationals’ Game 4 victory Monday. “I try and focus on the things I can control, and good pitching is supposed to get good hitting out most of the time. They always say a guy that gets a hit three out of 10 times is in the Hall of Fame, so I’m trying to get him out those seven other times.”
The Dodgers potentially could have one more left-handed bat in the lineup for Game 5 than they did for Game 2 against Strasburg. Rookie Matt Beaty started in left field in Game 4 for a struggling A.J. Pollock and could be in there again.
Nationals MVP candidate Anthony Rendon has a hit in each of the past three games of the series, and he drove in three runs in Game 4, two on sacrifice flies.
Dodgers MVP candidate Cody Bellinger is batting just .200 (3-for-15) with no RBIs in the series, but he does have three hits over the past two games.