As the month of September comes to a close, we look toward MLB Postseason. All of the playoff births in the National League have been clinched and the teams decided. The LA Dodgers are the odds-on favorite to win the National League for the third consecutive year. So, which team has the best chance to upset them? The Washington Nationals.
Yes, the team that has never won a playoff series. Is it possible that they are a better team now without Bryce Harper? It sure seems that way. The Nats are definitely a sleeper pick, but they and the Dodgers are very evenly matched. First order of business for the Nationals is to advance past the Wild Card game. There’s a good chance they can accomplish that with Max Scherzer on the mound. Then after that they’ll have to face off against the Dodgers in the NLDS, a five-game series.
They will have to face Kershaw, Buehler, and Ryu. Two of those three starting pitchers are left-handed. Statistically, the Nationals are the best hitting team in the National League against left-handed pitchers (.282).
Washington’s lineup is also more versatile than the Dodgers’. As a team, they have four guys with double-digit steals helping lead to the second most stolen bases in the NL. Their lineup has two of the toughest outs in the NL hitting back-to-back in their order. Anthony Rendon is the NL’s best hitter that isn’t currently sidelined due to injury. He leads the league in doubles and RBI and has one of the game’s brightest young stars hitting behind him in Juan Soto. The two of them own 34 home runs each and OBPs over .400.
The Nats have also struck out the least amount of times among all NL teams and history has shown that there’s value in putting the ball in play during the playoffs. When you’re facing the best pitchers in the game, it’s important to be able to make contact and give yourself a chance. They have the second lowest strikeout percentage (20.9%) in the NL behind the Pirates. To beat the Dodgers, they’ll need to string some hits together.
The reason the Nats have the best chance to upset the Dodgers lies in their rotation. Scherzer, Strasburg, and Corbin is just as strong, if not, stronger than Kershaw, Buehler, and Ryu. These two starting rotations own the best and second best ERA’s in the Major Leagues. Dodgers starters are 60-32 with a 3.14 ERA while the Nats are 64-36 with a 3.50 ERA.
The bullpens are realistically the two worst in the NL. According to ESPN, they’ve both blown 29 saves apiece and have been the Achilles’s heel of their respective squads. Both teams are in the bottom third in strikeouts by their relievers. Although, the Nationals’ bullpen has been worse, compiling a 5.77 ERA compared to the Dodgers’ 3.93 (FanGraphs).
Not to mention, the Dodgers are also in the bottom third of the NL in fielding percentage (.982) while the Nationals are in the top third in the league. That could come into play over the course of an extended series where one play can change the entire momentum of the series.
The Washington Nationals franchise has never won a playoff series. This will be the year they break that dry spell. The first step is to take the Wild Card game on Tuesday and take it one game at a time after that. The Nationals are not guaranteed into the divisional round, but assuming they get there, they have the best chance to dethrone the 2x reigning NL Champs. While there are many other worthy teams in the postseason, Washington is the team that matches up best against the strengths of the Dodgers.
Photo Credit to David Kohl of USA Today Sports