Both first-year Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and the Nationals' Dusty Baker have faced many challenges to get to the NLDS. The Dodgers have had 28 different players on the disabled list. As late as June 26, the Dodgers had an eight-game deficit in the NL West and had just learned that Kershaw had to go on the disabled list with a mild herniated disk in his lower back. At that point, most people wanted to write off the Dodgers' chances of making the postseason.
Having a weak starting rotation following Kershaw didn't help Dodgers fans' confidence. The inability of the starters to pitch deep into games was putting stress on a bullpen that had struggled in April. Before this point in the season, the Dodgers' offense had been inconsistent.
The naysayers underestimated Roberts' ability to motivate his players. Roberts was never a superstar until he stole the base that enabled the Boston Red Sox to go to the 2004 World Series where they won their first championship in 86 years. However, no one ever questioned if Roberts was doing his best in center field or at the plate. He instilled the same determination in the Dodgers.
While Kershaw missed two months with his back injury, everything came together for the Dodgers. The starters averaged barely over five innings a game, but Roberts rarely pushed them to go longer. Along with help from longtime pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, Roberts managed the bullpen perfectly. Although the Dodgers' bullpen had pitched the most innings in the league during the regular season, they had the lowest ERA in the Majors, and no reliever seems tired. Thus, when Kershaw had to come out after five innings of struggle on Friday, no one panicked, and the bullpen held onto the slim lead. Kenley Jansen pitched 1 2/3 innings to preserve the victory.
At this time last year, Baker was doing analysis for TBS. He had been a successful manager with the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds, but hadn't earned the elusive world championship yet.
Last year, most knowledgeable people expected the Nationals to make the playoffs at least. During the previous offseason, the management spent money upgrading the pitching staff. The Nationals weren't able to meet expectations and had strife in the clubhouse, costing manager Matt Williams his job. The team wanted to have an experienced manager to calm the chaos. The only frontline acquisition made by the team last offseason was second baseman Daniel Murphy, who competed for the NL batting title.
This year, the Nationals have done everything expected, even though their young superstar Bryce Harper didn't perform as well as the previous season, when he won the NL MVP Award.
Entering the NLDS, the Nationals are banged up. Their starting catcher, Wilson Ramos, is lost for the postseason with a knee injury. Their ace, Stephen Strasburg, can't pitch in the NLDS. Murphy (buttocks injury) and Harper (sore hand) are playing, but the nagging injuries could affect their performances.