By Jon Weisman
The eight position players the Dodgers have used in their three previous National League Division Series games against right-handed starters will take the field tonight for Game 5 in Washington against Max Scherzer.
Over six innings in Game 1 six days ago, Scherzer walked none, hit one (Justin Turner) and allowed only five hits, but two of those hits were home runs. That’s basically the one vulnerability for Scherzer, who led NL pitchers with 31 gopher balls.
Including his final three regular-season starts, the 32-year-old Scherzer has given up seven homers in his past 23 2/3 innings.
“I think there’s a lot of confidence,” Dave Roberts said this afternoon of the Dodger offense. “Obviously, when you face Scherzer, whether you faced him a few days ago or you haven’t, this guy’s got elite stuff. He’s a big-game pitcher. Our guys realize that. But having known that we have gotten to him before, and recently, I think that that bodes good for us and our psyche.
“But if he executes pitches, it’s going to be tough. So I think that he’s going to come in with a lot of adrenaline, a lot of emotion, and the velocity is going to play up early. So for us, it’s just a matter of trying to stay in the strike zone. I think that if he makes mistakes in the strike zone, I like our chances. And if we go out of the strike zone, it’s going to be a little bit tougher for us.”
Nationals manager Dusty Baker affirmed that Scherzer will be revved up for today’s game.
“What are you going to do? You can’t give him a Valium or something and tell him to chill,” Baker said to laughter. “He has to work that nervous energy out of him.
“Max is an amped-up kind of guy, but … his ampedness, if there is such a word, has worked pretty good for him over the course of his career, and he is a 20-game winner. You know, I’m sure a lot of teams would have liked to have Max pitch this exciting game right here.”
One other noteworthy stat for Scherzer is that while he held right-handed batters to a .189 on-base percentage and .288 slugging percentage in 2016, lefties were .315/.442. Seven of the Dodgers’ eight position players (including switch-hitter Yasmani Grandal) will face Scherzer from the left side.
The eighth, Turner, hit a two-run homer in Game 1 and OPSed .919 against right-handed pitchers in the regular season.
“He is a guy that’s hard to figure out on how to pitch,” Baker said of Turner, “because he must be a very smart hitter for us or anybody else to really get a read on him. Because sometimes he’s sitting inside, sometimes he’s sitting outside, sometimes he’s sitting a breaking ball, other times he’s hitting fastball. I mean, he is a professional hitter, and that’s what professional hitters do. You just have to mix it up on him.”
For all the talk about how aggressive Roberts will be with bullpen changes, it’s entirely possible that Baker will be the same — especially considering he can go to a bullpen with three lefties (Oliver Perez, Marc Rzepczynski and Sammy Solis) who have allowed no runs on nine baserunners in 8 2/3 NLDS innings.
The Dodgers will counter with right-handed bats Austin Barnes, Charlie Culberson, Howie Kendrick, Yasiel Puig and Carlos Ruiz off the bench. That group so far has 17 plate appearances against southpaws in the NLDS, with Ruiz’s two-run homer, a Kendrick double and Puig’s two walks (one intentional) to show for it.
There’s hardly any worse scenario for the Dodgers than Washington entering the second half of tonight’s game with a lead. At the same time, the Dodgers, who had 46 comeback wins in the regular season and outscored opponents 58-30 in the ninth inning, would almost dare you to count them out at any point.
“It’s hard to quantify the fight in a team,” Roberts said. “I do know that obviously you come playing on the road, Game 5, and it’s going to be a boisterous and excitable, exciting crowd, environment. I just think that our guys, with what we’ve gone through this year, can kind of eliminate the noise to focus on performance.
“So again, it’s hard to quantify, but I just think that the confidence that we have in our group, where the accountability, being unselfish, those are things that get ballclubs through games like this. … For me, the coaches, that’s what we hang our hat on with the guys in the clubhouse.”