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3 keys for Dodgers: Aces, Seager, slowing Soto

@AdamMcCalvy
October 2, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- When was the last time the Dodgers played a pressure-packed game? After cruising to the best record in the National League, they will have one on their hands Thursday night in Game 1 of the NL Division Series against the Nationals, winners of nine straight games including

LOS ANGELES -- When was the last time the Dodgers played a pressure-packed game?

After cruising to the best record in the National League, they will have one on their hands Thursday night in Game 1 of the NL Division Series against the Nationals, winners of nine straight games including a thriller of an NL Wild Card Game on Tuesday.

If the Dodgers do these three things, they will win the series:

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3 LAD 6, WSH 0 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 4 WSH 4, LAD 2 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 6 LAD 10, WSH 4 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 7 WSH 6, LAD 1 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 9 WSH 7, LAD 3 Watch

1) Win the battle of rotations
Or, to put it differently: Get into the Nationals' bullpen. Like the Dodgers, Washington is essentially throwing a trio of aces in the best-of-five NLDS, with Patrick Corbin followed by Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer. The teams are pretty evenly matched in the starting-pitching department, but there is a huge divergence once you get to the bullpens.

The Dodgers led the NL in relief ERA and WHIP. The Nationals were dead last in both categories. When they took a one-run lead in the bottom of the eighth inning of the NL Wild Card Game, Nationals manager Dave Martinez used Daniel Hudson, and not closer Sean Doolittle, for the ninth inning. There is some vulnerability there, but getting to Washington's bullpen is dependent on knocking the starter from the game.

Game 1 offers a particular challenge in quick-working Corbin, who has a 3.36 ERA in 109 2/3 innings against the Dodgers, mostly while pitching for Arizona. The Dodgers were eighth of 15 NL teams with a .777 OPS against left-handers during the regular season, compared to first with an .824 OPS against right-handers. The Cubs were runners-up with a .792 OPS against righties.

Buehler named Game 1 starter for LA

2) Get production from Seager
If Justin Turner is healthy -- he will be in the Dodgers' Game 1 lineup, manager Dave Roberts said -- he will hit. Cody Bellinger is the consensus front-runner for the NL MVP Award. He will hit. But one bellwether for Los Angeles is shortstop Corey Seager, an aggressive hitter who owns a .648 OPS in 98 career postseason at-bats. Keep an eye on Seager's ability to keep Corbin in the strike zone with his slider and changeup, then on Seager's ability to produce against Strasburg and Scherzer if they come after him and opt to pitch more carefully to the hitters around him.

Nats-Dodgers Game 1: Lineups, rosters, FAQ

"If we can keep [Corbin] in the strike zone, it increases our opportunities," Roberts said. "But if we're chasing below the zone, then it's going to be a long day for us. He's having a very good year."

3) Contain the kid
Conventional wisdom might suggest the Nationals hitter who the Dodgers can least afford to let beat them is Anthony Rendon, the steady, soft-spoken third baseman and NL MVP Award candidate. But old friend Yasmani Grandal, the former Dodgers catcher who just tangled with Washington in the NL Wild Card Game, named another player after his Brewers fell to Washington: Juan Soto.

Soto, the 20-year-old outfielder who is in line to receive some MVP consideration himself, delivered the hit that snapped the Nationals' postseason curse. After a disputed hit-by-pitch, then Ryan Zimmerman's broken-bat single and Rendon's two-out walk loaded the bases for Soto against Brewers left-handed relief ace Josh Hader, Soto managed to get on top of a fastball high in the zone and lined a two-run single to right field that took a funky sideways hop and got past the right fielder, allowing the go-ahead run to score.

"Now we had to go to swing-and-miss with Soto. We had been pounding him up in the zone, and he was able to get barrel on ball," Grandal said. "That guy is going to have a great career, and he's shown it this year. He's only 20 years old and teams are pretty much doing their scouting report around him."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.