WASHINGTON -- Although the Dodgers lost to the Nationals, 5-2, Sunday in Game 2 of their National League Division Series, they still find themselves in a strong position as they head back to Los Angeles with the series tied, 1-1, and potential pitching advantages in at least two of the
WASHINGTON -- Although the Dodgers lost to the Nationals, 5-2, Sunday in Game 2 of their National League Division Series, they still find themselves in a strong position as they head back to Los Angeles with the series tied, 1-1, and potential pitching advantages in at least two of the three remaining games.
Here are three keys for the Dodgers as they look to win two out of the next three, starting with Game 3 on Monday at 4 p.m. ET/1 PT (MLB Network), to reach the NL Championship Series:
:: NLDS: Dodgers vs. Nationals coverage ::
1. The Dodgers' lefty hitters must hit against southpaws.
Los Angeles' lefty-heavy lineup will face left-hander Gio Gonzalez in Game 3, the first and only time in this series the Dodgers will see a southpaw starter.
But given that the Nationals carry three left-handed relievers -- and that Washington manager Dusty Baker has shown every willingness to use them -- Corey Seager, Adrián González and company will bat against lefties plenty moving forward.
This could be a problem for a team that during the regular season ranked last in batting average (.213) and OPS (.623) against lefties.
"How we fared against left-handed pitching, I don't really think that guys are too concerned about the history," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Sunday. "I think that we are looking forward to this one game, Game 3, and we've got some history with Gio. So he's going to have to make pitches to beat us."
Gonzalez allowed one run in six innings when faced the Dodgers in July, and he has a 1.69 ERA in five starts against L.A. in his career. Although he had a streaky season, he could pose trouble for the Dodgers and their lefties.
2. The lineup must come through with runners in scoring position.
The Dodgers collected nearly as many hits in Game 2 as the Nationals (eight for L.A., nine for Washington), but they lost because they struggled to drive home those runners. They came up empty with the bases loaded and one out in three innings and were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
"Whether it's a combination of their guys making good pitches or us just not getting the job done, it makes the whole difference," outfielder Josh Reddick said. "If we score even half of those runs, it's a different outcome. Just got to be better with guys on."
Although stats about clutch hitting are fickle and more likely to indicate a fluke than a trend, small-sample-size results can easily swing a playoff series. And if the Dodgers want to survive the NLDS, they can't repeat Sunday's left-on-base parade.
3. The Game 4 starter must step up.
Roberts has two options for Game 4 on Tuesday, and neither of them is perfect. If Los Angeles is down, 2-1, he might turn to Clayton Kershaw on short rest, an arrangement that can be a challenge even for an elite pitcher like Kershaw. Or, certainly if the Dodgers are ahead in the series and maybe even if they're not, Roberts might call on Julio Urías, a 20-year-old rookie with limited durability and no playoff experience.
Regardless, Game 4 will be crucial. Either the Dodgers will be facing elimination, or they'll be looking to finish off the series and avoid a return to Nationals Park, where they'd likely face Max Scherzer.
L.A. would surely have some uncertainty with Kershaw on three days' rest, and who knows how Urias will react to the postseason stage, but whoever pitches Tuesday will need to come through.
Alex Putterman is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington.