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Playoff Reset: Dodgers vs. Nationals NLDS Game 1

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The Game: Los Angeles Dodgers @ Washington Nationals, NLDS Game 1
The Time: 5:30 PM EDT
The Place: Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.
The Channel: FS1
The Starters: Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers) vs. Max Scherzer (Nationals)

The Upshot:

  • Max Scherzer (20-7,  2.96 ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw ( 12-4, 1.69 ERA)? Yes please. One of the top Cy Young candidates for 2016 and the league leader in strikeouts facing off against the best pitcher on the planet is my kind of party. Kershaw is 10-2 with a 2.02 ERA in 14 games against Washington in his career and faced them once this season, allowing one run on seven innings in June. A couple of Nats — Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman — hit Kershaw pretty well. Most others don’t. Scherzer has faced Los Angeles ten times in his career, but not even once this season.
  • After the aces, things get a lot more uncertain for each team. Dusty Baker has been cagey about his rotation, but will probably go with Tanner Roark in Game 2 and then Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross. Although if their backs are up against the wall, Baker may call on Scherzer on short rest for a Game 4. The loss of Stephen Strasburg is looming large. For L.A., Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda are named for Games 2 and 3. Game 4, if necessary, would feature either Julio Urias or a short-rest Kershaw, again, depending on the state of the world.
  • Health is definitely an issue for Washington. I just mentioned Strasburg. Wilson Ramos, the catcher on whose offense the Nats so greatly depended for much of the season, is out for the duration with a torn knee ligament. 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper is in the lineup but has fought all manner of ailments this season and has not been himself at the plate. Infielder Daniel Murphy, who just missed snagging the batting title after hitting .347 this year, has missed the past couple of weeks with a strained glute, but he took BP and ran a bit yesterday and is expected to play.
  • There are a lot of familiar faces on these two teams, from Kershaw to Scherzer, Adrian Gonzalez to Jayson Werth, Yasiel Puig to Bryce Harper and so on. But one person you may not know unless you watched a lot of Nats games this year is a rookie, Trea Turner, who may have a bigger impact than anyone in either lineup. Turner, the Nats’ center fielder and leadoff hitter, hit .342 with 13 homers and 33 steals in 39 attempts in 73 games after his midseason callup. The Nats are really going to want Turner to get on base and distract Kershaw as much as possible.
  • Both of these teams have playoff demons to exercise. The Dodgers have won the past four NL West titles, but could not get past the NLCS in 2013 and have been bounced from the NLDS each of the past two seasons. The Nationals, for their part, won NL East titles in 2012 and 2014 but failed to advance past the NLDS. One of these two teams has to win this series, right?

Like the two ALDS pairings, this one is a pretty even match. Today we’ll see two of the best pitchers in baseball go at it. After that things get a little more . . . uncertain.

Max Scherzer, with broken nose, strikes out 10 Phillies over seven shutout innings

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Nationals starter Max Scherzer bunted a ball into his face during batting practice on Tuesday, breaking his nose in the process. He ended up with a gnarly looking shiner around his right eye, making him appear a bit like Terminator. Scherzer still took the ball to start the second game of Wednesday night’s doubleheader against the Phillies.

Despite the injury, Scherzer was incredibly effective, limiting the Phillies to four hits and two walks across seven shutout innings, striking out 10 batters in the process. He might even have had some extra adrenaline going, as he averaged 96.2 MPH on his fastball, his highest average fastball velocity in a game since September 2012, per MLB.com’s Jamal Collier. The Nationals provided Scherzer with just one run of support, coming on a Brian Dozier solo home run off of Jake Arrieta in the second inning, but it was enough.

Wander Suero worked a scoreless top of the eighth with a pair of strikeouts. Victor Robles added a solo homer off of Pat Neshek in the bottom half. Closer Sean Doolittle took over in the ninth, working a 1-2-3 frame to give the Nats their 2-0 victory.

Over his last six starts, Scherzer now has a 0.88 ERA with a 59/8 K/BB ratio across 41 innings. He has gone six innings, struck out at least nine batters, and held the opposition to two or fewer runs in each of those six starts.