When the best-of-five National League Division Series between the Dodgers and Nationals gets underway with Friday's Game 1, a pair of Cy Young Award-winning aces figures to be on the mound in Washington, trying to lead their clubs to postseason breakouts.Left-hander Clayton Kershaw (12-4, 1.69 ERA), who successfully returned from
When the best-of-five National League Division Series between the Dodgers and Nationals gets underway with Friday's Game 1, a pair of Cy Young Award-winning aces figures to be on the mound in Washington, trying to lead their clubs to postseason breakouts.
Left-hander Clayton Kershaw (12-4, 1.69 ERA), who successfully returned from a back injury in September, takes the ball for the NL West-champion Dodgers (91-71). The NL East-champion Nats (95-67) are expected to counter with right-hander Max Scherzer (20-7, 2.96 ERA), although the club has not officially announced that decision.
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For all their success, both pitchers have some history to overcome in October -- as do their teams.
Since Kershaw's rookie year in 2008, the Dodgers now have won six division titles, including four in a row, but the franchise still has not made it to the World Series since beating the A's in 1988. The decorated southpaw has enjoyed some fine postseason outings -- including a win over the Mets in Game 4 of last year's NLDS -- but enters Friday with an overall ERA of 4.59 in 13 playoff appearances (10 starts).
Kershaw carried the Dodgers in the first half of 2016. In his first 15 starts, he posted a 1.57 ERA and a 141-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 115 innings. The three-time Cy Young Award-winner then missed all of July and August with a herniated disk before returning Sept. 9 and picking up where he left off over five starts (28 innings, 1.29 ERA, 27-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio).
So is Kershaw ready for the postseason?
"Sure, yeah, I don't have a choice," Kershaw said after his final start against the Giants. "I mean, I feel good, my arm feels good, I want to be perfect. ... It looked bleak there for a little bit in the middle of the season, didn't know if I'd be able to make it to this point. But now that we're here, it's exciting. But it's only exciting if we win, so I'll try to win Friday."
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Scherzer posted a 3.73 ERA in 12 postseason games (10 starts) for Detroit, with whom he won 2013 AL Cy Young honors. Most recently, he gave up five runs over 7 1/3 innings in a loss at Baltimore in Game 1 of the 2014 ALDS, which the Tigers lost in a sweep.
Now Scherzer will likely make his playoff debut with the Nats, who still are looking for the first postseason series victory in club history. Washington suffered disappointing NLDS defeats following division titles in 2012 and '14, and the franchise's only trip to the NL Championship Series occurred 35 years ago, courtesy of the 1981 Montreal Expos.
"I know what I have to do," Scherzer said of preparing for his outing. "I've been in these situations before, and it's the time of your life. Everything's on the line. You've got to make every single pitch. I can't wait to get the ball."
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One factor that could stand in the Nats' way is health. While the Dodgers put 28 different players on the disabled list, the most for any team since at least 1987, Washington may be entering this series with more pressing concerns.
Starting catcher Wilson Ramos (torn ACL) was recently lost for the year, right-hander Stephen Strasburg (strained flexor mass) won't pitch in the series, second baseman Daniel Murphy (strained buttocks) flew out as a pinch-hitter on Sunday in his first appearance since Sept. 20, and right fielder Bryce Harper (jammed left thumb) also has battled a neck issue while struggling at the plate down the stretch. Murphy, who led the NL in OPS, is hopeful of being ready for Game 1.
"I felt good in the box, and I felt good running at the speed I did," Murphy said after Sunday's game. "So I'm progressing nicely."
One area where the Nats have a clear edge is in managerial experience. While he is in his first year with the Nats, Dusty Baker has called the shots in 45 playoff games for three teams over seven different seasons. Compare that with Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts, a postseason hero as a player for the 2004 Red Sox, but a first-year manager.
Roberts' club won the regular-season series with Baker's, 5-1, sweeping three games at Dodger Stadium in June and winning two of three in Washington in July. But the Dodgers, after falling in the NLDS for two straight years, aren't taking anything for granted.
"The next four days we're going to study, get ready to roll and see what happens Friday," said Dodgers second baseman and 2008 World Series champion Chase Utley. "We've played fairly well against the Nationals during the regular season, but postseason baseball is a whole new animal."
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.