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Nats need Max Scherzer's best in decisive Game 5 vs. Dodgers

Nats need Max Scherzer's best in decisive Game 5 vs. Dodgers

The odds, it would seem, are stacked at least slightly in the Nationals' favor, as much as they can be in a decisive Game 5 after four closely fought affairs. As even as the Nats and Dodgers match up top to bottom, Max Scherzer on full rest at home is more desirable than L.A. starter Rich Hill on three days rest. At least, on paper.

The postseason can be maddeningly unpredictable, but the Nats are in the preferable situation entering Thursday with their season on the line.

"You're never really comfortable until the game is over. But we do have Max," manager Dusty Baker said. "We have Max and we have our home fans."

Scherzer himself knows the opportunity there for him and his team. They can move on to the NL Championship Series with one more win. That would be a first in team history.

They can also become the latest in a growing catalogue of Natioanls' playoff letdowns. Blowing a 2-1 series lead would be crushing, no matter a final loss transpired.

"Man, this is going to be a heck of a ballgame," he said. "The effort from both sides over the first four games has been incredible. We've seen unbelievable baseball, from both sides. Great pitching, great hitting, defense, everything. In Game 5, anything can happen, and you've just got to go out there and execute your pitches."

In order to beat the Dodgers and advance, the Nats will likely need a better version of Scherzer than they saw in Game 1. The right-hander went six innings with four runs allowed, including two homers. He gave up four runs through his first three innings to dig himself and the Nationals a hole they couldn't climb out of.

That was the first questionable outing of what has become a forgettable series for the Nats' starting rotation as a whole. They have allowed 13 runs in 17 1/3 innings. What was a strength during the regular season has transformed into a weakness this October. 

Their bullpen and lineup have largely picked up the slack. But how long that formula is sustainable is unclear. 

After getting those results off Scherzer and the Nats' rotation, and coming off an impressive Game 4 victory, the Dodgers see no reason to doubt themselves heading into Thursday.

"I mean, we beat him once already," first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said of Scherzer. "We know we can do it. We put some pretty good at-bats against him in Game 1 and we're confident that we can do that again."

The Dodgers may have fooled Scherzer once, but it should not be easy to get him again. Only three times in 2016 has he allowed four runs or more in consecutive starts. That, though, includes his most recent two appearances. He gave up five runs in his final regular season outing and four in Game 1.

Scherzer hasn't allowed four or more in three straight starts since June of 2014. The last time before that was 2011. 

Scherzer is very good at making adjustments, both from start to start and within his outings. In Game 1 he settled in to retire nine of the last 10 batters he faced before getting pulled. Perhaps that can lead to success in Game 5.

Scherzer's first start of this series didn't go quite as planned. But now he has another chance, and this time the stakes are even higher. 

[RELATED: Former Nats pitcher Livan Hernandez to throw out Game 5 1st pitch]

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Nationals beat Braves, snap losing skid behind Stephen Strasburg's strong start

Nationals beat Braves, snap losing skid behind Stephen Strasburg's strong start

ATLANTA (AP) -- Stephen Strasburg struck out a season-high 11 and kept up his recent domination of the Atlanta Braves, leading Washington to a 3-2 win Sunday that stopped the Nationals' four-game losing streak.

Strasburg (5-1) allowed five hits in 7 2/3 innings, beating Atlanta for the second time this season and improving to 7-1 in his last nine starts against the Braves. He is 10-8 overall against Atlanta.

He reached double digits in strikeouts for the second time this season after fanning 10 Braves on April 20.

Strasburg faded in the eighth, when Dansby Swanson hit a two-run double. Koda Glover struck out Nick Markakis to end the inning and finished the six-hitter for his third save.

Daniel Murphy hit a second-inning homer off Jaime Garcia (1-3) and the Nationals added two unearned runs in the third.

Matt Adams was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and hit into a ninth-inning double play in his debut for Atlanta, a day after he was acquired from St. Louis. Matt Kemp led off the ninth, and Adams hit a line drive that was caught by Ryan Zimmerman, who stepped on first base.

Garcia allowed three runs -- one earned -- and seven hits in eight innings with no walks.

Washington took a 3-0 lead in the third following fielding errors by Markakis in right and Garcia. Bryce Harper had a run-scoring single.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: 3B Anthony Rendon and C Matt Wieters were given days off from the starting lineup. Rendon entered at third base in the eighth.

Braves: RHP Kris Medlen allowed one hits in six scoreless innings Saturday in his first start for Class A Florida. He missed most of 2016 with shoulder problems after his second Tommy John surgery. "That would be a real nice piece to have," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. Medlen pitched for Kansas City in 2015-16 and his last season with Atlanta was in 2013, when he was 15-12 with a 3.11 ERA.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Following an off day, RHP Jacob Turner (2-2) is expected to start when the Nationals will open a series against Seattle on Tuesday.

Braves: RHP Mike Foltynewicz (2-4) will take a 0-3 career record in three starts against Pittsburgh into Monday night's series opener against the Pirates.

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2017 MLB Power Rankings: As Bryce Harper goes, so do the Nationals

2017 MLB Power Rankings: As Bryce Harper goes, so do the Nationals

A week ago, the Nationals were looking unstoppable. Bryce Harper was hitting walkoff dingers left and right, there were multiple winning streaks, and the bullpen was only sorta bad. 

2017 MLB POWER RANKINGS

A week's worth of games later - against the Braves, Pirates and Phillies, no less - and the Nats don't look nearly as stainless. Harper's hitting under .200 since his Mother's Day walkoff, the team lost 5 of 6, and the bullpen turned back into a pumpkin. Because of that, there's a new team at the top of the Power Rankings this week. Who is it? To the rankings! 

30. MIAMI MARLINS

2017 Record: 15-28
Previous Ranking: 24
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Notable Performance: Dee Gordon (.318/.400/.364 last week)

Stanton hasn't homered in over two weeks, a stretch of 12 games. After going 2-8 over the last 10, including that weird Dodgers game, the Marlins have seen better weeks.  

29. SAN DIEGO PADRES

2017 Record: 16-30
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 3-7
Notable Performance: Brad Hand (.300/.500/.600 last week)

Wil Myers' underwhelming season continues. The outfielder is hitting .150 over the last week, and only .219 over the last month. The Padres best position player is only worth .6 bWAR, and that's 5th-best on the team.

28. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2017 Record: 15-26
Previous Ranking: 23
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Notable Performance: Daniel Nava (.429/.429/.571 last week)

They ran into Texas at exactly the wrong time. Getting starts that are consistently like Aaron Nola's last one will be huge for his development this season. 

27. KANSAS CITY ROYALS

2017 Record: 18-25
Previous Ranking: 27
Last 10 Games: 6-4
Notable Performance: Lorenzo Cain (.087/.125/.087 last week)

They're starting to play better, but upcomming series with the Yankees and Indians aren't making life any easier for KC. Jason Vargas (?!) has been their most valuable player this year (2.0 bWAR). 

26. ATLANTA BRAVES

2017 Record: 18-23
Previous Ranking: 30
Last 10 Games: 7-3
Notable Performance: Matt Kemp (.375/.423/.708 last week)

Losing Freeman for three months because of some dumb unspoken beef is just a testament to how stupid unwritten baseball rules are. The silver lining to this year, though, is that the Braves are going to fleece some team for Matt Kemp in July. 

SEE THE REST OF THE RANKINGS HERE