LOS ANGELES -- It's a series that could lend itself to "old-school baseball," Los Angeles right-hander Walker Buehler assessed when sizing up the Nationals and Dodgers, two teams that in some ways are mirror images of one another, with a trio of dominant starting pitching and lineups led by MVP candidates.
As Washington and L.A. begin sizing one another up before the start of the National League Division Series on Thursday night, here's "the skinny" on how each club will approach the series.
Lineup vs. right-handed pitching
Nationals: The Nationals have a lineup full of hitters without much of a platoon split, so their lineup will look more or less the same no matter who starts each game. But Matt Adams looms on the bench as their left-handed power bat if they need some pop against a right-hander.
Dodgers: It’s a Murderers' Row with a trio of left-handed 35-plus homer sluggers (Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Joc Pederson), a red-hot and relatively healthy Corey Seager, and Justin Turner sprinkled in there as well. No wonder the Dodgers played nearly .700 ball (76-34) when opponents started a right-handed pitcher.
Lineup vs. left-handed pitching
Nationals: The Dodgers are planning to use three lefties in their rotation with Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill lined up for Game 4. That’s good news for a Nats lineup that crushed lefties this season. The Nats were the third-best offense in the NL, as ranked by wRC+, against lefties this year. Ryan Zimmerman could get a start at first base against southpaws, but will be a key pinch-hitter along with Brian Dozier.
Dodgers: Start with Bellinger, who was platooned last year but homered 18 times off left-handers this year. Turner is the best right-handed hitter in the lineup, but is he healthy enough? He’s had Ruthian postseasons, but the one time the club acknowledged he was “banged up,” the 2017 World Series, he hit .160. He’ll do what it takes to get on the field, he said, but that’s what he did against the Astros. And in the last two weeks he’s had two injuries (sprained left ankle and a sore back). A.J. Pollock came around after an injury-plagued first half. David Freese’s bat is still lethal, even though he’s on his last legs, almost literally. Enrique Hernández replaces Pederson, who hit all 35 of his homers off right-handed pitchers.
Nationals: After using both Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg to get through the Wild Card Game, the Nats still have another ace in waiting in Patrick Corbin to start Game 1 against Los Angeles. Strasburg threw 34 pitches in the Wild Card Game on Tuesday, but he is still in the mix to pitch Game 2. If not, expect Aníbal Sánchez to get inserted into the rotation, leaving Strasburg to pitch Game 3 and Scherzer to return for Game 4.
Dodgers: It’ll be Buehler, probably Kershaw followed by Ryu, then Hill through the first four games. If there’s a fifth game, it’ll be all hands on deck. Buehler will be the first choice to start a Game 5, with Kershaw in relief. But if Buehler struggles in the opener, Kershaw could start Game 5 on regular rest.
Nationals: Washington can no longer rely on its star-studded rotation like it did to get past the Brewers, so the Nats will need to receive quality innings from a relief corps that posted the highest ERA in the NL. Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson will be relied upon heavily during this series, but the Nats chances could hinge on finding another effective reliever from the group of Fernando Rodney, Tanner Rainey, Hunter Strickland and Wander Suero.
Dodgers: Whether Dodgers fans like it or not, Kenley Jansen is the closer. In the event of a meltdown, Kenta Maeda is the backup, with World Series hero Joe Kelly hard to quantify after throwing only six competitive pitches in the last two weeks because of an unspecified injury. Pedro Báez will pitch frequently and Adam Kolarek is the rubber-armed lefty specialist. Ross Stripling is the long man and 21-year-old Dustin May could fill any role.
Nationals: Despite having the oldest roster in baseball, the Nationals feel fortunate to start the series without question marks because of health.
Dodgers: See above on Turner and Kelly. Hill must be watched, because he missed most of the second half with a strained flexor tendon, then his return was derailed by a sore left knee. Fielding his position would be a bigger problem if anybody were to bunt on him. He looked healthy Sunday and made the roster, with the club only seeking four innings from him.
Nationals: The Nats carried a few extra position players for the Wild Card Game and it paid off during their game-winning rally in the eighth. Expect the final bench spot to go to a pinch-runner -- perhaps Michael A. Taylor -- to give Martinez some extra flexibility, instead of an extra reliever, such as Javy Guerra.