Having won a franchise-record 106 games in the regular season, the Dodgers are aiming for a third consecutive World Series appearance after losing to Houston and Boston the last two years. “Our only goal is to win a championship,” manager Dave Roberts said. “We are equipped to accomplish that goal.”
The Nationals have a streak of their own they want to end: four losses in the Division Series since 2012. The Dodgers haven’t played a meaningful game in a couple of months. They cruised to their seventh straight NL West title by 21 games over Arizona.
The Nationals eked their way into this round with a dramatic wild-card victory over Milwaukee, helped by a Brewers error in the eighth inning. They slept in their own beds Wednesday night, flew all day Thursday and arrived at Dodger Stadium early in the evening for a workout ahead of the best-of-five series.
“We’re all excited about what happened yesterday,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said, “but they understand what’s ahead of them.” Here are some things to watch for going into Game 1 on Thursday: BUEHLER?
For the second straight year, Clayton Kershaw won’t be opening the postseason for the Dodgers. A year ago, they went with Hyun-Jin Ryu against the Atlanta Braves, ending Kershaw’s streak of six consecutive playoff appearances starting Game 1.
This year, right-hander Walker Buehler gets the nod. “Around here I don’t know if one, two or three really matters,” Buehler said. “The order’s a little bit less significant than people want to make it out to be.”
Buehler worked on his mechanics in his final tuneup last Friday at San Francisco, where he gave up two runs and walked four in five innings. Last season, he debuted a new slider in a start against St. Louis.
“After that one went well, all the kind of doubt went away,” he said. “But I think what I’m doing now and the tinkering is a little bit overblown. I’m just working on things like I have my whole career.”
NATS BIG THREE The Nationals are going with Patrick Corbin in Game 1 for his postseason debut, their so-called third ace among a trio that includes Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. “If you look at Corbin, Strasburg, we haven’t had a whole lot of success against those two guys,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “The success or limited success we have had against Scherzer, it’s very limited still.”
Corbin has a 3.36 ERA in 21 career games against the Dodgers, having faced them regularly when he was in the NL West with Arizona. “I’m not trying to fool them. They know what I have,” he said. “Just going to go out there, treat it like any other start and just be myself.”
MR. CONSISTENT Washington third baseman Anthony Rendon is having a huge year. He batted .319 with 34 home runs and 126 RBIs, all career highs that have put him in the MVP conversation. The 29-year-old All-Star attributes his numbers to mostly luck, joking that he gets a lot of cheap hits.
“I’m getting broken-bat hits, I’m getting flares, I’m trying to pull the ball to left field, and I’ll hit it off the end and it will trickle down the right field line, stuff like that,” Rendon said. “We talk about it in the clubhouse or in the dugout, it’s like, of course, he has another one that falls.”
Martinez has called Rendon “Mr. Consistent” since before he became manager last year. “What makes him really good is that he’s not afraid to hit with two strikes,” Martinez said. “He’ll battle you up there and hit the ball the other way. But when he gets to two strikes, there’s no panic.”
BELLINGER’s MVP BID Cody Bellinger allowed himself to soak in the chants of “MVP! MVP!” during the Dodgers’ regular-season finale in San Francisco. The slugger didn’t have as strong a second half as before the All-Star break, but still ended up hitting .305 with 47 home runs and 115 RBIs.
“Now it’s out of my hands, so I’m not going to worry about that right now and put all my focus in on these next games,” he said. The Dodgers aren’t letting it go, though. They’re giving away a Bellinger bobblehead at Thursday’s game, the team’s first ever in the postseason. The first 40,000 fans will receive one with Bellinger doing his home run trot in either his home white uniform or road gray jersey.
KEEPING IT CLOSE The Nationals haven’t announced their starters for Games 2 and 3, which Roberts pointed out while declining to reveal which order Kershaw and Ryu will go in. However, Roberts already said 39-year-old left-hander Rich Hill will start Game 4, if necessary.
HE SAID IT “You think about your girlfriend that broke up with you like 20 years ago? Probably not, so no.” _ Rendon on whether he still thinks about losing to the Dodgers in the 2016 NLDS.
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