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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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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

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Nationals offense provides no support in Strasburg's return

Nationals offense provides no support in Strasburg's return

SAN DIEGO -- Yangervis Solarte hit a two-run home run off Stephen Strasburg in the first inning of the right-hander's first start in almost a month and the San Diego Padres beat the Washington Nationals 3-1 Saturday night.

Strasburg (10-4) retired the first two batters he faced before allowing a single to Jose Pirela and then the homer to the switch-hitting Solarte, who drove a 96-mph fastball to right for his 13th.

Strasburg then settled down against his hometown team, retiring 10 straight batters and 13 of 14. He went six innings, allowing two runs and four hits while striking out eight and walking one.

He hadn't pitched since July 23, when he went only two innings at Arizona. He went on the disabled list with an elbow nerve impingement.

Strasburg pitched at West Hills High in suburban Santee and then at San Diego State for coach Tony Gwynn before going to the Nationals with the No. 1 pick overall in the 2009 draft.

While Strasburg pitched well, the Nationals had only three hits.

San Diego's Travis Wood (2-1) also settled down after laboring through the first inning, when he threw 35 pitches but didn't allow a run. He was unscathed until the fifth, when he allowed a one-out single to Jose Lobaton and a two-out double to Adrian Sanchez. The run was unearned because of Woods' throwing error on Strasburg's sacrifice bunt that advanced Lobaton.

Wood allowed just the unearned run on three hits in seven innings, with two strikeouts and two walks.

Brad Hand pitched the ninth for his 11th save.