Monday, June 5, 2017

MLB Spotlight Series: Washington Nationals at Los Angeles Dodgers

The top two National League ball clubs in my current MLB Power Ranking are about to clash. The Washington Nationals visit Dodger Stadium this week to take on the Los Angeles Dodgers.
This will be a rematch of last year’s NLDS, won by the Dodgers in the full five games. The Nats held a 2-1 lead in that series, but LA won a pair of taught thrillers to capture the series.
Skipper Dusty Baker‘s Washington squad sits on top of the NL East Division with a 35-20 record, best in the league. Manager Dave Roberts and the Dodgers are 35-23, a half-game behind the Colorado Rockies in the NL West Division standings.
The Nats have captured the NL East crown three times in the last five seasons. The Dodgers have won four consecutive NL West titles. Consequently, these have been two of the best teams in baseball for years now.
The pitching matchups for the series are as follows:
Monday – Gio Gonzalez (Was) vs Hyun-Jin Ryu (LA)
Tuesday – Max Scherzer (Was) vs Brandon McCarthy (LA)
The Nationals jumped out to a 21-9 start, then lost eight of 12 games. But coming into this series, Washington has won 10 of 13 to open up a 10.5 game lead in the division.
The Dodgers were struggling to stay above the .500 mark for the first month of the season. But LA has taken 27 of 40 games since April 22, and has spent four days in first place over the last week.

STATISTICAL COMPARISON

Washington leads all of Major League Baseball with 314 runs scored and a cumulative .828 OPS mark. Their 86 home runs are 3rd in the game, tops in the National League. The Nats are also fourth in the NL in stolen bases.
The host Dodgers are no offensive slouches. Their 283 runs scored is tied for sixth in baseball, and their .753 OPS mark is sixth in the National League. While only 15th in baseball in stolen bases, the Dodgers are fifth in stolen base percentage.
On the mound, LA’s .229 cumulative staff Batting Average Against is the best mark in the game. Their 563 strikeouts are second, and tops in the NL. The Dodgers pitchers have walked just 163 batters, second in the National League.
Washington’s staff ERA of .251 is middle of the MLB road at 16th ranked. But that is largely due to the bullpen struggles. The Nationals rotation has 35 Quality Starts, the top mark in MLB to this point. They are sixth in the NL with 476 strikeouts, and their 163 walks are fourth in the National League.

BULLPEN STRUGGLES IN THE NATION’S CAPITAL

The struggles in the Nationals bullpen are well documented. It is perhaps the only weak spot in the overall roster. If Washington wants to finally play deep into October, it is a puzzle that GM Mike Rizzo will have to solve.
The new closer is 24-year old fireballer Koda Glover, who has a 4.58 ERA in 21 games. However, he also has a 16/3 K:BB ratio and has allowed 16 hits over 17.2 innings. The hope is that he can take the role and run with it.
Veterans Shawn KelleyMatt AlbersBlake Treinen, and Joe Blanton (currently on the DL) as well as lefties Enny Romero and Oliver Perez would seem to be a solid support group. But only Albers has had consistent success this season.

INJURY WOES IN HOLLYWOOD

The Dodgers have lost a number of players to various injuries at various points over the first two months. Outfielder Andrew Toles, who was playing well and seizing a starting role, has been lost for the season.
Two starting position players, third baseman Justin Turner and center fielder Joc Pederson, are currently on the DL.
On the mound, Rich Hill has spent time on the DL. Starter Alex Wood and tough lefty reliever Luis Avilan are both currently disabled. McCarthy, a perennial DL candidate, may have just ducked a trip there – for now.
Turner is 32 years old. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez is now 35, and second baseman Chase Utley is 38 years old. On the mound, Hill is 37, McCarthy is 33, and reliever Sergio Romo is 34 years old. As a result, health issues could become more problematic as the year moves along.

TWO IMPERFECT BUT TALENTED BALL CLUBS

At Forbes today, Howard Cole handled a number of questions from Dodgers fans in a mailbag piece. There were a number of calls to bench some of the older veterans. Cole also addressed calls for the team to go shopping for another big name starting pitcher.
“The Dodgers are not going to trade for an ‘elite’ starter if Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Alex Wood and Julio Urias and at least one of Brandon McCarthy, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu are doing their jobs. Hill was acquired last summer to be that second elite SP. “
The Nationals lost Jayson Werth to the DL just as the series is getting underway. He fouled a pitch off his foot on Saturday, and it is believed that Werth will miss just a handful of games. As a result, Ryan Raburn should get most of the action in left field.
Between LA’s offensive inconsistencies and injuries and DC’s bullpen woes, these are a pair of strong teams with slight imperfections. Plenty of stars will be present in Hollywood. Much as in the lineups and on the mound, there will be stars in the stands as well. Most of all, this should be an excellent Spotlight Series!

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