Here's what needs to go right for the Washington Nationals to win their NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Plus, my prediction for the series...
1. Rendon, Turner and Werth have to come through
The Nats lineup is not what it once was with Wilson Ramos out for the year and both Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy currently banged up. Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa have both struggled this season and Pedro Severino is a rookie known more for his defense. With all that in mind, plus the fact the Dodgers will start at least two lefties in this series, the Nats need some big games from right-handed hitters Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth. If any number of them struggle, the Nats' will be in deep trouble.
2. Nationals' left-handers will be key
By now you may have heard that the Dodgers are absolutely terrible against left-handed pitchers. They have the worst average (.213) of any MLB team vs. lefties, the worst on-base percentage (.290) and the worst OPS (.622). They have the fifth-lowest RBI off lefties, fifth-most strikeouts and sixth-fewest walks and homers. This makes every lefty on the Nats' staff that much more important, from Gio Gonzalez to Sammy Solis to Marc Rzepczynski to whoever is the third southpaw in the Nats' playoff bullpen. Manager Dusty Baker will go to those guys often in big spots. Between Corey Seager, Adrian Gonzalez, Joc Pederson and Chase Utley, the Dodgers feature plenty of lefty bats to mix-and-match against.
3. Nats have to keep hitting lefties
As bad as the Dodgers are at hitting lefties, the Nats are quite good. They have the fourth-highest OPS (.783) among MLB teams, second-highest slugging percentage (.455), fourth-most homers and the fifth-fewest strikeouts. Murphy hits .329 off lefties, Turner bats .317 and Werth hits .322 with a 1.031 OPS. That doesn't mean they can solve Clayton Kershaw, but it should help against not only him but Rich Hill and Julio Urias.
4. Injuries, inexperience can't hold back defense
Baker has acknowledged at least some concern with his team's range on defense with injuries all around the field to varying degrees. The right side of his infield with Murphy (buttock) and Ryan Zimmerman (calf) could be limited running around. Werth has a tight back. Harper hasn't quite been the same throwing the ball with his neck (and shoulder?) issues. Jose Lobaton will play some at catcher and he's got a bum ankle. That's all on top of Turner still learning the center field position and Severino catching important innings at just 23 years old. Add it all up and there are definitely some potential problem areas for the Nats on defense, a part of the game that can be magnified in the playoffs.
5. Gio and/or Ross need to step up
The Nats are in good shape with their top two pitchers in Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark. Those guys will be fine, but they can't win this series alone and the Nats will need at least one of their other two starters to come up with a big outing. Gonzalez has playoff experience, but has given up seven runs (5 ER) with 12 walks in 14 innings in those games. Ross has never pitched in the postseason before and just got back from a shoulder injury. Both present major question marks, but stranger things have happened in the playoffs. One of those two needs to surprise for the Nats to win this series.
Prediction: Nationals in 5
I think this is the year the Nats finally get over the hump, but it won't be easy. The Dodgers will be a tough out and will take the Nats to the distance in a hard-fought series much like the 2012 NLDS against Cardinals. But this time the Nats will get the final out they need and advance. Something tells me Rendon, Turner and Solis come up big to help lead the way.
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