LOS ANGELES -- This is what the Dodgers do. They overwhelm you.
Performing like a powerhouse, the Dodgers won Game 1 of the best-of-five National League Division Series over Washington on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, 6-0, by demonstrating how they had already won 106 games and a seventh consecutive National League West title.
“Just what we wanted, just what we expected,” said MVP candidate Cody Bellinger. “It couldn’t have been a better start."
They gave the ball to Walker Buehler instead of fellow All-Stars Clayton Kershaw or Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Buehler threw six scoreless innings of one-hit ball with eight strikeouts. Carried over from last year, he has 16 consecutive scoreless innings.
“He loves the spotlight, loves pitching big games, loves this atmosphere. He answers the bell every time,” Justin Turner said. “If you know Walker, it’s not surprising. He’s very, very, very, very, very confident in himself. He loves it. He thrives on these situations.”
The Dodgers got three RBIs from No. 6 hitter Max Muncy. They cashed seven walks into three runs. They pulled away against opposing relievers with eighth-inning home runs from rookie Gavin Lux and Joc Pederson, both coming off the bench. Even a bullpen that heard Dodger Stadium boos on the previous homestand secured the final three innings with the parlay of Adam Kolarek, Kenta Maeda and Joe Kelly.
“Oh, they're good, they're really good,” said Nationals manager Dave Martinez. “That's why they have been in the postseason so many years in a row.”
In the history of best-of-five postseason series, Game 1 winners have gone on to take the series 95 of 132 times (72%). In Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format, teams winning Game 1 at home took the series 31 of 40 times (78%).
For the Dodgers, the numbers are even better: They are 6-0 when taking a 1-0 lead in the NLDS.
“In a short series, Game 1 is huge,” said Turner. “Now we get to hand the ball to Kershaw tomorrow. That’s good news for all of us.”
The Dodgers came into the postseason with a seven-game win streak and three days off to rest the weary and reset the rotation. The Nationals arrived with the disadvantage of having to play in the NL Wild Card Game, burning ace Max Scherzer and desperately winning a Tuesday night elimination game, flying cross-country, then playing the best home team in the Majors.
Buehler set the tone, making management’s decision to start him look genius. According to STATS, he’s the first NL pitcher in history to have back-to-back postseason starts of six innings or more while allowing two hits or fewer.
“He’s an animal. He gets after it," Lux said. "He’s the most confident human being on this planet. I think you kind of have to be that way to be a baseball player. He’s got that ‘it’ factor, for sure, and he was really good tonight.”
The Dodgers demonstrated another trait from their successful season, the good sense not to beat themselves. The Nationals, not so much, with starter Patrick Corbin walking four in a 33-pitch first inning and former Dodger Howie Kendrick letting two balls get past him for errors at first base, one of them off Muncy’s bat that allowed a run to score.
“That first inning was the game,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.
The 21-year-old Lux later became the youngest Dodger in history with a postseason home run, while Pederson slugged his seventh, tied for third on the franchise list. Both home runs came off Washington reliever Hunter Strickland.
“Our game plan all along is to get into the bullpen, and we did a good job of that tonight,” said Turner.
It was the Dodgers’ 20th postseason shutout and fourth in the NLDS, including the Braves twice last year. It marked the third time they’ve shut out an opponent in Game 1 of a postseason series. They went on to win the previous two -- the 2018 NLDS and the 1974 NLCS.