Jae C. Hong/ Associated Press
The Washington Nationals win their first playoff series and shock the Dodgers.
RIVERSIDE – After sitting in shock for almost a week, it is still hard to realize that the Dodgers weren’t able to overcome the Washington Nationals. The Dodgers were the team built for the playoffs and the team that won a franchise best 106 games this year. Unfortunately, all of that wasn’t enough as their bats went cold and the Nationals got hot.
The playoffs are all about timing in baseball. Whoever is finishing the season strong usually has good success in the postseason. For the Washington Nationals, a team that won 93 games in the regular season and had to settle for a wild card berth, they got hot at just the right time.
After defeating the Milwaukee Brewers in the one game wild card playoff, they rolled into Los Angeles with a chip on their shoulders. Ready to prove that they could win without any fancy haired players or without the best bullpen. The Washington Nationals came into Los Angeles ready to prove that they were a team that could handle the best of the best.
In a series that was bound to be a pitching lovers dream, the fans were treated to stellar pitching all the way around. Both teams were stacked with their starting rotations. Names like Stephen Strasbourg, Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw were all present in this series. Some were more present than others.
Walker Buehler put on a show in game one and took the victory as he blanked the Nationals over six innings of one hit ball. The Dodgers won game one by a score of 6-0.
Following Walker Buehler’s stellar start, the Dodgers chose Clayton Kershaw over Hyun-Jin Ryu to pitch game two. The decision was strange but I don’t think it would have mattered who pitched for the Dodgers in game two. Stephen Strasbourg was so electric for the Nationals that it didn’t seem fair. Strasbourg racked up strikeouts like it was nothing and had a perfect game into the sixth inning. The Nationals would tie the series after winning game two, 4-2.
When you talk about a workhorse pitcher, look no further than Max Scherzer. The man is a complete animal and wants to pitch no matter what. It seemed like he was always pitching for the Nationals in this series. Truthfully, Nationals manager Dave Martinez’ plan to use only starters for this series seemed a bit ridiculous. Baseball fans and Dodger fans thought the idea would simply backfire and at one point, it did. In game three, Patrick Corbin came in to the game from the bullpen and quickly gave up base hits and eventually gave up the runs that would ultimately lead to the Dodgers winning that game. Dodgers would win 10-4.
The Dodgers managed to take a 2-1 series lead against the Nationals but would end up losing game four. Game four was started by Rich Hill, a real competitor that wants to do anything to help his team win. For a pitcher that hardly pitched in the second half, it was a bold move to have Hill start, regardless of his competitive nature. Other options for starters could have been Dustin May, Ross Stripling or Julio Urias. Or if Hill wasn’t on the roster, Tony Gonsolin could have taken his place in the rotation.
Ultimately, after three innings of laboring, Rich Hill was pulled and the game turned into a bullpen game for the Dodgers. Facing Max Scherzer was no easy task and the Dodgers lost game four 6-1.
The final game of the series came down to Walker Buehler and Stephen Strasbourg. This game had all the flare, intensity and making of a true win or go home game five. Two amazing pitchers and two lineups that were ready to deliver that big hit.
Buehler came out throwing hard and heavy and was almost able to repeat his game one performance. For the Dodgers offense, they came out ready to swing for the fences. Joc Pederson led off the game with a double and immediately after, Max Muncy crushed a 2-run home run to left field. A couple innings later, Kiké Hernandez hit a solo home run off of Stephen Strasbourg to extend the Dodgers lead.
Leading 3-0 with Walker Buehler pitching near perfect, the Dodgers and their fans could almost taste the champagne. That was until the sixth inning. Walker Buehler gave up one run and left the game with a 3-1 score. In comes Clayton Kershaw. A decision that will now be discussed for years and years and years. Kershaw instantly gave up back to back home runs to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto. Tying the game at 3-3.
Dodger fans are not surprised by this performance but wow, the stadium fell silent in an instant. Clayton Kershaw, the man who has struggled in the playoffs his whole career, had just been defeated in a crucial game five situation. Whether you blame Kershaw, Dave Roberts or the Dodgers front office, something destructively went wrong with that decision.
Kenta Maeda was called in to relieve Clayton Kershaw and keep the game tied. Maeda, the somewhat average starting pitcher turned into the most elite reliever on the Dodgers, managed to strikeout all three batters that he faced. This prompted the question: why wasn’t he called in before Clayton Kershaw? This turns into the “what if…?” situation that will be talked about for years now.
The game managed to go scoreless until the top of the tenth inning when the Nationals took full advantage of the down and out Dodgers. After loading the bases against Joe Kelly, former Dodger, Howie Kendrick, hit a grand slam to center field. At this point, the game was decided. The Washington Nationals beat the Dodgers 7-3.
This would be the third year in a row that the Dodgers would lose at home and would end up watching the visiting team celebrate on their home turf.
Out of absolute heartbreak and frustration, the Dodgers dominating season had come to an end in extra innings. The bats went cold, the pitching could not execute and the opposing team was better than the Dodgers at the right place and the right time.