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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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Trea Turner hits for the cycle despite freezing Colorado temperature

Trea Turner hits for the cycle despite freezing Colorado temperature

DENVER (AP) -- Trea Turner has hit for the third cycle in Washington Nationals history against the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday night.

Turner also has a career-high seven RBIs on a cold night in the Mile High City.

He had a single in the first, a two-run double in the second, a two-run homer in the sixth and a bases-loaded triple in the seventh.

RELATED: LATEST MLB POWER RANKINGS

The field temperature was a balmy 37 degrees when Turner recorded the final part of his cycle in the seventh inning.

It was the first cycle by the Nationals since Cristian Guzman on Aug. 28, 2008.

Overall, this was the ninth cycle in Expos/Nationals history.

In addition, Turner's seven RBIs are tied for the second-most in a single game in Nationals history.

The Nationals hung on to beat the Rockies 15-12 after giving up seven runs in the final three innings.

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Bryce Harper named National League Player of the Week

Bryce Harper named National League Player of the Week

If you've understandably been caught up with the Capitals and Wizards in their respective playoff series, you might not be aware of just how hot Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper is right now. Fresh off a three-game sweep of the rival Mets in New York, Harper was named National League Player of the Week. 

For the whole week, Harper hit .550 (11-for-20) with four doubles, three home runs, seven RBI, seven walks and 10 runs scored. 

He is now leading all of baseball in batting average (.400), he's tied for second in homers (7), and he's alone in second in RBI (20). He's also amassed a blistering 1.340 OPS through the team's first 18 games. 

Harper's biggest game of the past week came in Atlanta when he went yard twice, with his second homer being a grand slam. He finished the game 4-for-4 with two homers, one double, five RBI, one walk and four runs scored. 

With Harper's injuries from last season behind him (even though he won't completely admit to being hurt), the Nationals' right fielder is back to, or even better than, his 2015 form that ended with his first career MVP award. During that season Harper took home player of the week honors three times. 

The Nationals as a team have the best record in baseball at 13-5, and already have a three-game lead in the NL East. 

RELATED: MLB Power Rankings