LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Dodgers have the Washington Nationals right where they want them.
The Nationals have the Dodgers right where they want them.
Both statements are valid because both teams have their most outstanding pitchers this season lined up to start the most important game of their season, the winner-take-all Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium.
For the Dodgers: Walker Buehler.
For the Nationals: Stephen Strasburg.
This is not necessarily what either team preferred. A leisurely dinner Wednesday would have been nice, with this series over and the winners watching on television as the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals extend their pitching staffs in their Game 5.
The Braves and Cardinals will do that, of course, but now so will the Dodgers and Nationals. “If we could draw it up, we would try to win the series earlier,” Nationals infielder Howie Kendrick said. “But you’re going to see two really dominant pitchers. It’s going to be a battle. You couldn’t ask for anything more.”
No disrespect to the Braves and Cardinals, Buehler said, but the top starting rotations in the NL belong to the Dodgers and Nationals.
“These are the two best,” he said.
No disrespect to Clayton Kershaw, but Buehler is the best in the Dodgers’ rotation.
“I do feel being at home, with Walker on the mound, gives us the best chance to win,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
The Dodgers set up the winner-take-all Game 163 for him last fall, and he held the Colorado Rockies scoreless into the seventh inning. He gave up one hit.
The Dodgers set up Game 1 of this series for him, and he held the Nationals scoreless into the seventh inning. He gave up one hit.
And, no disrespect to Max Scherzer, but Strasburg is the best in the Nationals’ rotation right now.
“It’s the playoffs,” Buehler said. “I don’t think many guys or many teams are going to walk in there with guys that you haven’t heard of.
“Obviously, he’s had a great career and a great year.”
The Nationals started Strasburg in Game 2 so he would be rested for a Game 5, and he gave up one run in six innings, striking out 10.
In five career postseason games, he has an ERA of 0.64, with four walks and 38 strikeouts in 28 innings. He has faced 107 batters without giving up a home run.
For the fifth time this decade, the Nationals will try to escape the first round. No reporter brought up Bryce Harper on Monday night, but Strasburg referred to him. It is not lost on the Washington players that they could advance without Harper after four first-round failures with him.
“Obviously, we lost a major part of the franchise in the offseason,” Strasburg said, “but I think it just showed the makeup we have as an organization to get back here.”
Even in Game 5, the “all hands on deck” mentality goes only so far. On a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Roberts initially said “everyone’s available,” then said it would be “highly unlikely” that Hyun-Jin Ryu would be available. Roberts said Ryu would be better used as a potential Game 1 starter in the league championship series.
Scherzer, who threw 109 stress-filled pitches Monday, said he could not envision pitching in relief in Game 5 on Wednesday. “No,” he said. “I mean, my arm is hanging now. That pushed me all the way to the edge, and then some. So I can’t imagine any scenario where I’m pitching.”
Kershaw, like Scherzer a three-time NL Cy Young Award winner, started Game 2 for the Dodgers. He was available in the bullpen Monday and will be again Wednesday.
“Walker Buehler versus Stephen Strasburg, with Kershaw probably available in the ‘pen,” Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “This is why you play the game. This is what we live for.”
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