At last, will Washington be first?


Now that Cleveland has won an NBA title (and the Indians beaten the Red Sox), is there currently a more tortured fan base than Washington’s?

Consider:

  • The Nationals have never won a postseason series, even in 98- and 96-win seasons, the former the best in MLB.
  • The Capitals have never won the Stanley Cup, have played for only one, can’t beat the Penguins even when they have the best season in the NHL and have a postseason record that makes the Nationals’ seem like a success story.
  • The Redskins are owned by Daniel Snyder. And once traded most of their draft picks to the Rams for a quarterback who played one season, got hurt and lost his job. That, Mr. Trump, might be the worst deal ever made by anyone in Washington, but it was with the Rams, who probably wasted everything they received.
  • The basketball team once won a title, but it was so long ago they were called the Bullets. They changed the nickname to Wizards. Blanks would have been more appropriate.

Yet here the Nationals are after three games, ahead this late in a series for the first time. Like the dog that finally catches what it’s been chasing, the Nats have to wonder: What do they do now?

The Dodgers have been down 2-1 the last two seasons in the divisional series, so they know exactly what to do: panic.The Dodgers changed managers in the offseason but they’re applying the same approach. New manager Dave Roberts made the same decision Don Mattingly did two straight years, and Mattingly’s Dodgers lost both series. Maybe Roberts will be luckier. (Kershaw lost Game 4 in 2014 to the Cardinals. He won Game 4 last year vs. the Mets, but the Dodgers lost Game 5 anyway.)

The Dodgers will bring back Clayton Kershaw on three days rest Tuesday,  despite his divisional series record (3-3, 5.71). The alternative was 19-year-old Julio Urias, who like a lot of teens, can be very good or very wild. If there is a Game 5, it’s either Urias or Rich Hill on three days rest, and the latter didn’t make it through the season on four days rest.

Of course, this is hardly the time to discover you’re short a starting pitcher you can trust, which the Dodgers are. The good news is if the Dodgers lose Game 4, the Game 5 starter is moot.

(In fairness to Roberts, neither option is good for the Dodgers. If they pitch Kershaw and win, they’re going to have to beat Max Scherzer on the road in Game 5. If they hold Kershaw and lose Game 4, Roberts would be criticized, like the Orioles’ Buck Showalter, for losing without using his best. I’m not sure what the math says, but it would seem the Dodgers’ best chance to win the series, narrow as it might be, is to win at home with Urias and a tag team of relievers and then on the road with a fully rested Kershaw.)

The Nationals are being adroitly managed by Dusty Baker, which to the surprise of Cubs and Reds fans everywhere, wasn’t written in sarcasm. The Dodgers’ .622 OPS against left-handed pitching this season was the worst in MLB, and they’re not doing any better in the postseason — they’re 25 points worse in three games.

With three lefties in his bullpen, Baker is making sure of it. Marc Rzepcynski, Sammy Solis and Oliver Perez combined this season for a 3.28 ERA (Perez was a particularly odious 4.95 with a .751 OPS against; if it wasn’t the Dodgers, he shouldn’t be on a postseason roster); in the postseason they’ve combined for 6.1 scoreless innings. Baker started lefty Gio Gonzalez in Game 3 and has thrown every lefty he can at the platoon-challenged Dodgers. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Joey Eischen come trudging out of the bullpen in Game 4 if he’s got 10-12 pitches left.

But before Nats fans start sizing up a preferred NLCS opponent, they’d do well to remember Dusty once lost a 2-0 lead with the Reds against the Giants. At home.

Elsewhere:

  • Indians 4, Red Sox 3: David Ortiz goes out with two walks, a line-drive sacrifice fly, a ground out, a heartfelt ovation and a tip of the cap. But this was the Indians’ f-ing series. The Red Sox led in the first and third innings of Game 1, but the Indians had the lead after 21 of the 27 innings played. Five  innings ended tied; the Red Sox led only at the conclusion of the firsd inning of Game 1. The Indians led MLB in fewest blown saves (11) this season and they protected the leads with Andrew Miller, stout defense and Xander Bogaerts’ bad aim. The Red Sox’s lefty reliever was converted starter Drew Pomeranz, whose medical reports earned Padres GM A.J. Preller 30 days off, and he gave up what proved to be the winning runs in Games 1 and 3. Too bad it’s too late to rescind that deal.
  • Giants 6, Cubs 5: Yes, it’s an even year and, yes, Cubs fans are convinced the billy goat has kicked again. Or some such nonsense. If you see a Cubs fan Tuesday, shake them and tell them the Cubs are the better team. Joe Maddon made two right moves Monday that went wrong: Aroldis Chapman replacing Hector Rondon in the eighth and pinch-hitting David Ross for Chris Coghlan in the 13th. It happens. Conor Gillaspie has four hits in four postseason games, but two for seven bases and five RBIs off two of the game’s better closers. The Giants’ offense still has problems — they have an even zero homers and .582 OPS — but the Cubs haven’t done enough against the Giants’ bullpen, apart from Kris Bryant’s game-tying home run. Giants relievers have a 1.93 ERA in 14 innings, although their summer-long closer issues resurfaced. Sergio Romo’s fastball was mid-80s Monday; Chapman throws harder when he’s getting a new ball to pitch with.

 

 

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