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5 keys to a Nationals win over the Dodgers in the NL Division Series

5 keys to a Nationals win over the Dodgers in the NL Division Series

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.

[RELATED: Murphy looking good for Game 1 vs. Dodgers: 'I feel confident']

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.

[RELATED: Dusty Baker: Playoffs 'where I'm supposed to be']

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.

[RELATED: Wait is tough for several Nats on playoff roster bubble]

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Nationals beat Houston for the ninth straight time

Nationals beat Houston for the ninth straight time

HOUSTON -- Matt Wieters hit a two-run homer, Howie Kendrick had a two-run triple and the Washington Nationals beat Houston for the ninth straight time, 4-3 Tuesday night in a matchup of division leaders.

Washington's winning streak over the Astros dates to 2012. The Nationals have won 13 of 14 against Houston since 2011.

Kendrick's triple tied it in the third before the Astros went back on top with an RBI single by Josh Reddick in the bottom half. Anthony Rendon doubled with two outs in the fourth before the homer by Wieters, which landed just to the right of straightaway center field, gave the NL East leaders a 4-3 lead.

Tanner Roark (10-8) allowed six hits and two earned runs in 5 2-3 innings and Sean Doolittle pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save.

Charlie Morton (10-6) gave up four runs in six innings for the AL West-leading Astros.

The Astros threatened in the eighth against Brandon Kintzler when Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles and the Nationals intentionally walked Carlos Beltran with one out to load the bases. But Max Stassi grounded into a double play to leave Houston trailing.

George Springer led off the Houston first with a single, stole second and scored on a two-out single by Reddick.

Beltran doubled off the wall in left-center field in the second and scored on a single by Derek Fisher.

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Why Nationals' Max Scherzer picked college over pros — at first

Why Nationals' Max Scherzer picked college over pros — at first

When Max Scherzer was a teenager, he didn't know that one day he'd actually become a two-time Cy Young Award winner. He had no guarantee he'd make it to the majors, much less play in five consecutive MLB All-Star games. 

All he knew was that he had the option to go pro as a kid or go to college, and back then, the Nationals' ace needed a contingency plan in case baseball didn't work out. Fortunately for Scherzer, it did, but he doesn't regret going to college at the University of Missouri, telling Santana Moss on CSN's "Route 89" going to school was a no-brainer.

"It was actually a really easy decision," Scherzer told Moss. "When you get drafted out of high school, you're going to be going into the minor leagues, and that can take three to five or six years — multiple years — in the minor leagues, and you're forfeiting your right to further your education."

Scherzer was drafted in the 43rd round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003, but he opted to play for Mizzou for three years, which turned out to be a great decision. The Arizona Diamondbacks then drafted him in 2006 in the first round as the 11th overall pick. 

"A lot of times when you sign out of high school, you don't make it to the major leagues," Scherzer continued. "So I realize that your education — that's your safety net.

"You need to further your education in college, and if you do get drafted out of college, you're in a much better position to try to chase your dreams because if it doesn't work out, you still have one year left of school and that's much easier to obtain rather than try to go through four years when you're not coming out of high school."

MORE NATIONALS: Stephen Strasburg returns to the mound