Nationals vs. Dodgers takeaways: Nats exorcise playoff demons, Kershaw melts down in NLDS Game 5
The Nationals will advance to the NLCS and take on the Cardinals beginning Friday
Howie Kendrick hit a grand slam in the 10th inning to help the Washington Nationals knock off the Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-3, in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series on Wednesday, . The Nationals will now head to St. Louis to take on the Cardinals beginning on Friday, with the winner of that seven-game series claiming this year's pennant.
Here are six takeaways from Game 5 worth knowing.
1. Roberts, Dodgers' bullpen each melt down
The Dodgers led 3-1 entering the top of the eighth inning. That's important to remember, because the final score doesn't reflect how close they were to winning the series.
Then things went downhill, beginning with Dave Roberts' iffy bullpen management.
In a sense, Roberts seemed committed to getting Clayton Kershaw in the game no matter what. The Dodgers called upon Kershaw in the seventh, and he fanned Adam Eaton on three pitches. He'd then continue into the eighth, where he'd throw three more pitches … and give up home runs to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto to tie the game.
What makes Roberts' decision puzzling is that he didn't need length, and he had Kenta Maeda warming -- suggesting he wasn't married to having Kershaw go the rest of the way, or even the rest of the eighth inning.
There's something to be said about riding your stars in big-time games, but it was a confusing turn of events -- and Roberts deserves as much blame for the poor results as Kershaw does.
That Roberts then turned to Joe Kelly for more than an inning -- letting him remain in until after he yielded the go-ahead grand slam to Howie Kendrick -- was another mistake. Closer Kenley Jansen wasn't deployed until afterward, giving him all of two innings in the series.
Kershaw and Kelly are going to be blamed for their shortcomings, but again, Roberts deserves his chunk of it, too -- and arguably more for not putting his players in the best position to excel.
2. Nationals exorcise Game 5 demons
Of course, the Dodgers weren't the only team in the series -- even if the managerial decision subplot will ensure more time is spent talking about them than anything else. The Nationals deserve their credit for forcing a Game 5 in the first place -- against the overwhelming favorites in the NL -- and for then overcoming a late 3-1 deficit against Kershaw and company.
It's fitting, in a sense, that Rendon and Soto ended up sharing the role of hero. Together, they combined for five hits, two homers, three runs batted in, and a walk. Remember, the Nationals finished the night as a team with nine hits -- and five of those came after the seventh inning. Rendon and Soto were the offense, for the most part, until late in the game.
To the Nationals' credit, they were also able to get four innings of shutout, near-perfect relief from a combination of non-Strasburg, non-Scherzer arms. Tanner Rainey retired both batters he faced; Patrick Corbin struck out three in 1 1/3 innings; Daniel Hudson permitted a hit and that was it in the ninth; and Sean Doolittle closed the door with a flawless ninth to shut the door.
Basically, it was a nice reversal from the rest of the series -- with the Nationals doing everything in their power to cover as much ground with a handful of pitchers -- and a clean break from the nightmares of Game 5s past for the Nationals. Drew Storen wasn't walking through that bullpen door, at least not on Wednesday night.
3. Strasburg-Buehler duel delivers
Though it became a secondary (or even tertiary) storyline, the hyped pitching matchup between Stephen Strasburg and Walker Buehlerl lived up to expectations.
Strasburg navigated around the early home runs to deliver a quality start, yielding three runs in six innings while fanning seven and walking just one. He threw 105 pitches, the most since his penultimate regular-season start on September 21.
Buehler, contrariwise, permitted just one run over 6 ⅔ innings. He gave up four hits and three walks while striking out seven on 117 pitches. It's worth noting that was a career-high for Buehler, who was clearly tasked with working as deep into the game as possible.
4. Pederson hits a ball through the fence
The bottom of the first inning started in an odd way. Dodgers leadoff hitter Joc Pederson appeared to hit an opposite-field home-run, but had to be called back on the field once the play was reviewed and it was discovered that the ball had actually went through the fencing.
Take a look:
You can read more about the play here, but Pederson would end up scoring from second base momentarily.
5. Muncy hits third homer of series
Max Muncy was one of the Dodgers' most productive players in the series, entering Game 5 having hit .286/.444/.714 with two home runs. His first-inning shot off Strasburg was his third of the series, and gave him seven runs batted in. Take a look:
As an added bonus, Muncy became the first player to ever go deep off Strasburg in the postseason:
Muncy, by the way, started at second base and later moved to first, showcasing some of his defensive versatility.
6. Next up
For the Nationals, they'll begin the NL Championship Series on Friday night by visiting the St. Louis Cardinals via fuboTV (Try for free). This will be the Nationals' first ever trip to the NLCS. They went 2-5 versus the Cardinals during the regular season. Obviously the Nationals hope to improve upon that.
As for the Dodgers, they'll enter another winter without a World Series. This is the first time since 2016 Los Angeles will have been eliminated before reaching the LCS round, and who knows how the Dodgers will react after arguably their biggest disappointment yet.
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