The Dodgers play their fourth different NLDS opponent in four years, and start this best-of-5 series aganst the Nationals on the road for the first time since 2013.
Turner vs. Turner
It’s too bad that TBS is televising the American League in 2016, because this NLDS between the Dodgers and Nationals features a battle of key players both named Turner.
Justin Turner has been an indispensable part of the Dodgers lineup for the better part of three years now, but this year was his healthiest and arguably his most productive in Los Angeles, especially in the last four months.
After June 6, the Dodgers third baseman was hitting just .223/.322/.326 with three home runs in 55 games. Since then, Turner hit .301/.348/.575 with 24 home runs, 26 doubles and 73 RBI in his final 96 games of the season.
Turner was the Dodgers’ best hitter in the NLDS last season, going 10-for-19 (.526) with six doubles. He hit three home runs in six games against the Nationals in 2016. How Justin Turner fares in this series will go a long way in determining the Dodgers’ fate.
The other Turner is Trea Turner, the Nationals’ speed merchant who has developed into an offensive force atop Washington’s lineup.
The 23-year-old hit .342/.370/.567 with 13 home runs, eight triples and 14 doubles in just 73 games for the Nationals, scoring 53 runs during that span. Turner also stole 33 bases in 39 attempts, an impressive 84.6% success rate, and those 33 steals were second-most in the majors after the All-Star break, trailing only the Reds’ Billy Hamilton (36).
The Dodgers saw Turner in July in Washington D.C., with all of five MLB games under his belt. Turner went 3-for-13 (.231) in the three games against LA, but did hit his first two major league triples.
THINGS TO WATCH
Dodgers vs. Lefties
I’m not sure if you have heard this, but the Dodgers have not fared well against left-handed pitchers in 2016. They hit .213/.290/.322 against southpaws on the season, last across the board in MLB in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, wOBA (.275) and wRC+ (72).
The Dodgers were 22-24 in games started by opposing left-handers.
The Nationals have just one southpaw starter in Gio Gonzalez, who allowed one run in six innings in a win over the Dodgers on July 20. Whether Gonzalez starts once or twice in the series remains to be seen, as Washington has yet to announce the order of its rotation beyond Max Scherzer in Game 1.
But the Nationals could carry as many as three left-handed relievers, from the quartet of Sammy Solis, Oliver Perez, Marc Rzepczynski and Sean Burnett, so the matchups will still be there throughout the series.
A couple Dodgers to watch against southpaws in this series are Yasiel Puig and Carlos Ruiz. Since Puig returned from Triple-A Oklahoma City in September, he started against all 12 left-handers the Dodgers faced and just once against the 17 right-handers. In September, Puig hit .317 (13-for-41) with four home runs, three doubles and 11 RBI against lefties.
Ruiz hit .271/.407/.386 against lefties in 2016 with the Phillies and Dodgers, and with Austin Barnes on the NLDS roster it allows the Dodgers to use Ruiz as a pinch hitter in late-game situations against southpaws without sacrificing their backup catcher.
"[Adding Barnes] frees up Chooch, for potential big spots against their left-handed relievers," Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said.
Strong up the middle
The biggest difference between the Dodgers in the 2015 NLDS and the 2016 NLDS is their relative strength up the middle. They have a legitimate star in rookie shortstop Corey Seager, now with a full season under his belt, and they have health and production from catcher Yasmani Grandal and center fielder Joc Pederson.
One year ago, Pederson was in the throes of a four-month slump and an in-season swing overhaul, and was limited to just two starts and eight plate appearances against the Mets; he was 0-for-4 with four walks. Grandal’s production was sapped by a shoulder injury that would require offseason surgery. He ended the regular season in a 6-for-94 slump, then started just three games in the NLDS, going 1-for-10.
This season, Grandal tied for the team lead with 27 home runs, more than any other catcher in baseball, while Pederson managed to increase his contact and retain his power, hitting 26 home runs while remaining relatively consistent throughout the season.
Nationals backup backstops
Wilson Ramos had a fantastic walk year for the Nationals, hitting .307/.354/.496 and his 22 home runs as a catcher trailed only Grandal in the majors. But he suffered a torn ACL on Sept. 26, wiping out his season.
In the playoffs, Washington will rely on a platoon of 31-year-old switch hitter Jose Lobaton, who hit .232/.319/.374 in 114 plate appearances, and 22-year-old right-hander Pedro Severino.
Severino was 9-for-28 (.321) with five walks and two home runs in is limited major league duty this year, after hitting .271/.316/.337 with two home runs and 13 doubles in 82 games for Triple-A Syracuse. Severino between the majors and minors this season hit .309/.364/.412 in 107 plate appearances against southpaws.
Lobaton hit .262/.344/.393 against right-handed pitchers in 2016, and .224/.309/.341 against them in his career.
BY THE NUMBERS
While the Dodgers had four players (Turner, Grandal, Seager, Pederson) with 20 or more home runs for the first time since 2001, the Nationals were one of four MLB teams in 2016 with six players with 20 home runs (Daniel Murphy, Bryce Harper, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon). But not only that, the Nationals also got 20 or more home runs from all eight non-pitching positions this season.
Number of appearances made by the Dodgers bullpen in 2016, a franchise record, including 12 different relievers pitching 20 or more games. The Dodgers bullpen led the majors in both appearances and innings pitched (590⅔) in 2016, and also led in ERA (3.35) and strikeouts (633). LA relievers were also second in FanGraphs WAR (6.5), fourth in FIP (3.55) and fourth in strikeout rate (26.1%).
Bryce Harper in 61 games after the All-Star break, including five home runs. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated reported two different times in the second half that Harper was playing through a shoulder injury, a report denied by manager Dusty Baker and genneral manager Mike Rizzo.
Runs per game scored by the Dodgers in 71 games after the All-Star break, after averaging 4.20 runs in their first 91 games of the season.
Road wins by the Dodgers in the playoffs in the last three years, in nine tries. Those wins were in Game 1 of 2013 NLDS and Game 4 of 2015 NLDS, both starts by Clayton Kershaw. During that span, the Dodgers are 6-4 in the playoffs at home.
Game 1 Friday, Oct. 7, 2:38 p.m. PT (Fox Sports 1) Nationals Park Clayton Kershaw vs. Max Scherzer
Game 2 Saturday, Oct. 8, 1:08 p.m. PT (Fox Sports 1) Nationals Park Rich Hill vs. Tanner Roark
Game 3 Monday, Oct. 10, TBD (MLB Network) Dodger Stadium Kenta Maeda vs. Gio Gonzalez
Game 4 (if necessary) Tuesday, Oct. 11, TBD (Fox Sports 1) Dodger Stadium TBD vs. TBD
Game 5 (if necessary) Thursday, Oct. 13, TBD (Fox Sports 1) Nationals Park TBD vs. TBD
Producer/Designer: SB Nation, Eric Stephen | Editor: Eric Stephen | Title Photo: Brad Mills | USA Today Sports