Julio Cortez/Associated Press
Said extra bounce will have stemmed from the Dodgers’ resounding 10-4 win in Game 3 on Sunday. They now have a 2-1 series lead and a chance to punch their ticket to the National League Championship Series with a win at Nationals Park on Monday night.
The key inning for the Dodgers was the top of the sixth. The Nats brought in ace left-hander Patrick Corbin to preserve a 2-1 lead, but he wound up on the wrong end of a seven-run rally capped by Justin Turner’s booming three-run home run off Wander Suero:
Major League Baseball’s Statcast system doesn’t yet measure the level of frustration in the air at any given moment, yet the Dodgers were clearly expunging plenty of the stuff on Sunday.
Though they mustered eight runs in the first two games of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium, they did so with just a .190 collective batting average. They then found themselves stymied at the hands of veteran right-hander Anibal Sanchez at the outset of Game 3. He struck out nine over five one-run innings.
But as surprises go, the Dodgers’ seven-run outburst is one anybody could have seen coming.
The 106 wins they racked up in the regular season had much to do with a pitching staff that posted a league-best 3.37 ERA, but the Dodgers’ lineup was hardly an assemblage of dunces. They led the National League with an average of 5.5 runs per game. To boot, their 279 home runs shattered the previous NL single-season record.
“You don’t plan for seven-run innings but after the first five tonight, to see us kind of get back to what we do best was really good to see,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, per MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick.
The early silence of the Dodgers’ offense in this series was perhaps a case of the Nationals merely delaying the inevitable. With elimination staring them in the face, they must now try to renew the cycle and hope it lasts through a possible Game 5 at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday.
To this end, at least they’ll have the right guy on the mound in Game 4.
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
In Scherzer, the Nationals will be trusting their survival to a hurler who’s made seven All-Star teams and won three Cy Young Awards since 2013. Even during a “down” season in 2019, he still mustered a 2.92 ERA with 243 strikeouts in 172.1 innings.
The 35-year-old almost certainly would have done more if he hadn’t missed a chunk of the second half with a bad back. But if he’s feeling any ill effects from that now, it’s hard to tell from his fastball velocity. His ol’ No. 1 has averaged 97.2 mph in his two playoff appearances.
The second of those came in relief of fellow ace right-hander Stephen Strasburg in the Nats’ 4-2 win over the Dodgers in Game 2. Though Scherzer only pitched one inning, he needed just 14 pitches to strike out the side in the eighth inning.
“For me, you bring it whenever you’re told to bring it,” he said afterward, according to Jamal Collier of MLB.com. “This is the playoffs. You lay it on the line every single time you touch that field. Whenever I get the ball next, I get the ball. And you just lay it on the line.”
If Scherzer is on top of his game Monday, there will be more indications than just how fast he’s throwing. In addition to his fastball, he’d also have his slider, changeup, curveball and cutter working in harmony for a veritable symphony of nastiness.
However, it’s notable that Scherzer wasn’t able to conduct such a symphony the last time he started.
That was when he drew the assignment for the NL Wild Card Game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park on Tuesday, Oct. 1. Scherzer was working in the high 90s with his heater, yet his slider was notably missing in action to the tune of one swing and miss out of 11 total offerings.
If Scherzer’s slider—or any one of his other key secondaries—betrays him again on Monday, Dodgers hitters may be even more comfortable sitting on his fastball than Brewers hitters were last week. Beyond being a good fastball-hitting team in general, Los Angeles excels at hitting fastballs north of 95 mph:
Data courtesy of BaseballSavant.MLB.com
Scherzer will also be burdened by the ghosts of postseasons past on Monday. His personal October history is best described as hit or miss. And while the Nationals finally won a big one when they dispatched the Brewers, the organization still has yet to win an actual postseason series.
If Scherzer is nonetheless able to bear these burdens—perhaps with an assist from Strasburg in the later innings—the Nationals’ path to Game 5 may well be as good as paved. After all, the Dodgers are countering with veteran lefty Rich Hill, who hasn’t recorded more than nine outs in a game since June 14.
Game 4 of the Dodgers-Nationals NLDS is therefore shaping up to be a classic unstoppable force vs. immovable object scenario. The Dodgers will either hit their way to the NLCS, or they’ll meet their match in the shape of Scherzer.