Posted on October 11, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine

Los Angeles Dodgers Clayton Kershaw

Image via cbssports.com

The Washington Nationals continued to build on the momentum from their Game 2 win by winning Game 3 of the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers to take a 2-1 series lead. The Dodgers now find themselves with their backs against the wall, needing a win at home in Game 4 on Tuesday to force a decisive Game 5 back in Washington.

Battle of the Bullpens

Neither team has received particularly good starting pitching during this series, turning the games into a battle of the bullpens. In that battle, the Nationals have had a slight but distinct advantage. Through three games, Washington’s bullpen has yet to allow a run against the Dodgers, covering 12.1 innings. Closer Mark Melancon has provided three scoreless innings, while lefty Sammy Solis has gone four innings without giving up a run.

The Los Angeles bullpen was pitching nearly as well until Kenley Jansen gave up four runs in the top of the 9th in Game 3, taking away any chance of the Dodgers tying or winning the game in the bottom of the 9th. One has to worry about the state of Jansen’s confidence heading into Game 4 when the Dodgers may need him to close out a win. Meanwhile, the freshness of each team’s bullpen could be an issue considering how much they’ve been used in this series.

Pitching Matchup

Both teams were late deciding on a starter for Game 4, but we finally ended up with Clayton Kershaw going against Joe Ross. It should be no surprise that the Dodgers are going with Kershaw on short rest in a must-win game. However, Game 1 against the Nationals was not Kershaw’s finest hour. He lasted just five innings, allowing three runs on eight hits, despite getting the win. He will certainly need a better performance in Game 4 if the Dodgers are going to stay alive.

Meanwhile, the Nationals have settled on Ross, not wanting Max Scherzer to pitch on short rest. Ross missed a large chunk of the season due to a shoulder injury, but did have three strong, albeit abbreviated, starts in September. He held the Dodgers to two runs in 6.1 innings in June, so he should feel good about his chances of containing the Los Angeles lineup, despite not having any postseason experience.

X-Factor

At this point, Ross has to be looked at as the X-factor in Game 4. Since early July, he has thrown just 9.2 innings, and now he’ll be matched up against Kershaw in his first ever playoff experience. Outside of Justin Turner and a couple of home runs from Corey Seager, the Dodgers have been well contained in this series, but that can change in a hurry if Ross isn’t sharp against a desperate Los Angeles team in Game 4. If Ross can provide five or so good innings, he can turn things over to Washington’s bullpen and give the Nationals a chance to close out the series. However, if Ross struggles, the Dodgers could tee off on him, winning Game 4 and gaining back some momentum heading into Game 5.

Prediction

With Kershaw taking the mound, even on short rest, the Dodgers immediately become Game 4 favorites. Of course, Kershaw has a career postseason ERA of 4.65, so he’s not a lock to pitch a gem. Meanwhile, the Nationals have right-handed hitters like Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon, and Ryan Zimmerman who have done some damage this series, not to mention Daniel Murphy, who continues to be a nightmare for the Dodgers. This goes against logic, but Kershaw won’t deliver, and Ross will pitch surprisingly well, allowing the Nationals to win a high-scoring Game 4 and take the series. Washington wins 7-5.

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