Dodgers’ Series with Nats a Potential Playoff Preview

The Dodgers open up a six-game road trip in the nation’s capital on Friday, with the series being a potential preview for October.

When the Washington Nationals visited Los Angeles back during the second weekend of May, what was anticipated to be an enticing matchup during the preseason was anything but. The Nats sat at a disappointing 15-22, while the Dodgers were amid a 52-21 stretch, taking some of the sting out of the four-game set.

Yes, they split the series, and we got two exciting pitching matchups, but the buzz and feel around it just weren’t there as you’d expect between two out-of-division playoff contenders. And that was in large part due to Washington disappointing.

As recently as May 23rd, they sat fourth in the National League East at 19-31, ten games back in the division. They had the 19-ranked offense in terms of runs scored, and the seventh-worst team ERA (4.94), per FanGraphs, with their bullpen being the worst in the game. The talent was there on both sides of the field, so what was wrong?

Those questions seemed to have been answered and fixed because the Dodgers now enter what could have been an overlooked weekend, with the focus and determination to reaffirm the rest of the National League that they are still the best.

Since May 24th, the Nationals have been arguably the best team in the sport, going 36-16, making up 5.5 games in their division along the way. In fact, they may have been sitting atop the division already, if not for a simultaneously hot Atlanta Braves squad.

Washington has a top-ten offense during this stretch while sporting the second-best team ERA, en route to outscoring their opponents by 89 runs. They’ve used this streak to cement themselves as a wild card team in the NL at 55-47, and transform themselves from potential sellers to assured buyers.

Granted, they’ve played a collection of mediocre and bad teams, but you can only beat who’s on your schedule. Plus, they weren’t exactly playing a gauntlet during their early-season struggles either.

And the Dodgers haven’t been too shabby either, going 35-19, while outscoring their opponents by 101 runs. They’ve owned the third-best offense during this span while posting the best team ERA (3.24).

Any way you spin it, the Nationals are playing excellent baseball and set up what could be a warm-up for another playoff meeting between these two squads. Furthermore, for the Dodgers, this weekend can be used as a bit of a litmus test.

They have the best record in the National League, but their winning has slowed in recent weeks. They are 13-12 in their last 25 games and just lost both games from a quick two-game set with the Anaheim Angels in disappointing fashion.

Maybe it’s the dog days of summer catching up to boys in blue. Every team goes through a slump or two (or three) every season, and the fact that a 13-12 stretch can be regarded as one speaks volumes of the team. But it’s also revealed some of their cracks, significant or not.

The bullpen has been terrible, while the offense has shown some susceptibilities, starting with their driving force, Cody Bellinger who has cooled off significantly.

But this weekend is a chance to refresh and pick up where they left off. The Dodgers have their likely Games 1-3 starters for a postseason series going, beginning with Hyun-Jin Ryu on Friday, followed by Clayton Kershaw on Saturday, and Walker Buehler on Sunday.

All three have been ace-like this season and are tasked with shutting down a formidable offense that is led by MVP-candidate Anthony Rendon, uber-talented outfielder, Juan Soto, and shortstop, Trea Turner, in what you can expect to be a hostile road environment. It’s a great test for what is arguably the best starting trio in the game, and this is the kind of series where they need to prove it.

And while the offense avoids Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin, they still face Stephen Strasburg, along with an Anibal Sanchez who has a 2.37 ERA since May. Besides, the Dodgers have shown an affinity to make mediocre pitching look good more often than they should.

Look no further than their results against the Angels, Padres, and the early-season Giants. In addition, the Nats’ bullpen has quietly gotten better in recent weeks and still has Sean Doolittle closing games.

It will be a good test, as LA hasn’t faced too many if any, playoff-esque road atmospheres yet. The Dodgers’ pitching is going to be tested, while the offense is tasked with facing some of the quality arms they are bound to encounter in October. And it’s a series they must win because of the significant advantages they hold- particularly with the absences of Scherzer and Corbin.

More importantly, it’s a chance to wake themselves up from their current lull as they battle for baseball’s best record while familiarizing themselves with an opponent they may have to beat en route to a third-straight World Series appearance.

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Featured Image via Flickr/Keith Allison

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