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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 stage spirited rally in ninth but fall just short in series opener vs. Cubs

Nationals stage spirited rally in ninth but fall just short in series opener vs. Cubs

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Wade Davis struck out batting leader Ryan Zimmerman with runners on second and third to end Washington's ninth-inning rally, and the Chicago Cubs held off the Nationals 5-4 Monday night.

In jeopardy of being shut out for the first time this season, the NL East-leading Nationals scored four times in the ninth. Their comeback began against Hector Rondon and continued when Davis entered.

MORE: CSN'S UPDATED MLB POWER RANKINGS

With Washington down 5-3, Bryce Harper's single loaded the bases with two outs. Davis threw a wild pitch that scored a run before striking out a swinging Zimmerman, who's hitting .344. The final pitch bounced, and catcher Willson Contreras zipped a low throw to first baseman Anthony Rizzo to close out the victory.

Contreras hit a leadoff home run in his first career game-opening at-bat and Eddie Butler (4-2) worked five scoreless innings to keep the Cubs ahead.

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2017 MLB Power Rankings: The Dodgers don't lose anymore

2017 MLB Power Rankings: The Dodgers don't lose anymore

The Dodgers are living their best life right now. 

Cody Bellinger looks like he's just going to go and hit two home runs a game for the rest of the year, Yasiel Puig is fun again and they're fresh off a 10-game win streak. Kenley Jansen went 112 batters without issuing a walk. All of this is coming, by the way, during a year when Clayton Kershaw is more Very Good than he is Great.

It's a good time to be a fan of an incredibly young and talented team in a top-5 market with a well-regarded front office that's been written a blank check. How did everyone not named the Dodgers do this week? To the rankings! 

2017 MLB POWER RANKINGS

30. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2017 Record: 24-49
Previous Ranking: 30
Last 10 Games: 3-7
Notable Performance:  Maikel Franco (.333/.419/.481 last week)

And there goes Maikel Franco, right back on the trade block. The Phillies' rebuild is starting to look a lot murkier. 

29. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

2017 Record: 27-50
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 1-9
Notable Performance: Brandon Belt (.316/.409/.947 last week)

It's weird to see the Giants play THIS poorly. Johnny Cueto is arguably the best available starter on the trade market though, and that obviously bodes well for their future. 

28. CINCINNATI REDS

2017 Record: 29-38
Previous Ranking: 27
Last 10 Games: 1-9
Notable Performance: Joey Votto (.360/.385/.680 last week)

When you go 1-9 over the last 10 and let the Nats put an 18-spot on you, you drop a spot or two in the rankings. Them's the rules. 

27. SAN DIEGO PADRES

2017 Record: 31-44
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 6-4
Notable Performance: Yangervis Solarte (.364/.462/.909 last week)

In an annual July tradition, the Padres will fleece someone for one of their relievers. Brad Hand in a Dodgers uniform, anyone? 

26. DETROIT TIGERS

2017 Record: 32-42
Previous Ranking: 15
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Notable Performance: Miguel Cabrera (.400/.444/.840 last week)

The Tigers are our biggest fallers of the week. 2-8 in their last 10, including a frustrating Perfect Game bid broken up by a bunt single. Not their best week. 

SEE THE REST OF THE RANKINGS HERE