WASHINGTON -- Thanks to their 5-2 win in Game 2 of the National League Division Series, the Nationals have pulled even with the Dodgers, and the series moves west to Los Angeles.For the Nats to advance to the NL Championship Series, they'll have to win two of the next three
WASHINGTON -- Thanks to their 5-2 win in Game 2 of the National League Division Series, the Nationals have pulled even with the Dodgers, and the series moves west to Los Angeles.
For the Nats to advance to the NL Championship Series, they'll have to win two of the next three games, starting with Game 3 at 4 p.m. ET on Monday (MLB Network). Here are three keys for making that happen.
1. The back of the rotation must come through
Gio Gonzalez will start Game 3 for Washington, and Joe Ross will likely get the nod in Game 4. Both pitchers come with cause for concern, given Gonzalez's streakiness and Ross' lack of durability, and the Nationals can't survive back-to-back poor outings.
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Luckily, manager Dusty Baker won't need either one to pitch seven scoreless innings. Instead he'll hope his starters can last five or so frames before calling on his bullpen, which hasn't allowed a run in 7 1/3 innings this series.
Gonzalez allowed 12 runs in 13 innings over his final three regular-season starts, and Ross hasn't pitched into the fifth since returning from an elbow injury in mid-September, so nothing is certain. But if Gonzalez and Ross can keep the games close into the middle innings, the bullpen should be able to deliver a win or two.
2. Trea Turner must get on base
In Game 1, Washington's rookie center fielder went 0-for-3 with a walk and a sacrifice fly, as L.A. pitchers went at him with breaking pitches. The Dodgers attempted the same approach in Game 2, but this time Turner singled twice (both times off curveballs), stole a base and scored a run.
Turner's basestealing ability often lets him turn a single or a walk into a double or even a triple. Thus, when he gets on base, opposing pitchers and catchers divert their attention from the batter's box toward whichever base he's standing on.
"When Trea came, Trea gave us another weapon, another element," Baker said last week. "I mean, here's a young man batting leadoff that drove in 40 runs and hit 13 home runs and stole 30 bases in half a season. He had a tremendous, tremendous impact on our lineup, and it had a lot to do with us winning."
With Wilson Ramos injured and Bryce Harper struggling, the middle of the Nationals' order doesn't have the home run power it did early in the season, making it all the more vital that Turner finds his way into scoring position.
3. The bottom of the order must continue to produce
The Nationals' 6-7-8 hitters won't scare many pitchers. Ryan Zimmerman has had the worst season of his career, Danny Espinosa has slumped dramatically since the All-Star break, and platoon partners Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino were backup backstops before Ramos torn his ACL.
But over the first two games of this series, the bottom of the lineup has given the Nationals a helpful boost. Zimmerman has three hits in seven at-bats, Severino knocked a double on Friday, Lobaton launched a pivotal three-run homer on Sunday and Espinosa reached base twice after being hit by pitches.
"That's big, because you roll the order over," Baker said of the production from the bottom of the order. "You need some untimely heroes during these playoffs."
Facing some tough Dodgers starters, the Nationals can't rely on hits from Turner, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon. They'll need contributions from top to bottom.
Alex Putterman is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington.