MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Nationals stick together to mount playoff run

Despite injuries, Washington is one win away from trip to NLCS

Nationals stick together to mount playoff run

WASHINGTON -- No Wilson Ramos. No Stephen Strasburg. But still no disappearance by the Washington Nationals.

Without Ramos, their starting catcher who was having a breakthrough season, and without Strasburg, a mainstay of their rotation who was having a big season of his own, conventional wisdom said the Nats were likely to find a rapid postseason exit.

And yet, here they are, set to face the Dodgers in a deciding Game 5 of their National League Division Series on Thursday (8 p.m. ET/5 PT on FS1) at Nationals Park. The winner advances to play the team with the best record in baseball, the Chicago Cubs, in the NL Championship Series that starts on Saturday (8 p.m ET/5 PT on FS1) at Wrigley Field.

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 7 LAD 4, WAS 3 video
Gm 2 Oct. 9 WSH 5, LAD 2 video
Gm 3 Oct. 10 WAS 8, LAD 3 video
Gm 4 Oct. 11 LAD 6, WAS 5 video
Gm 5 Oct. 13 LAD 4, WSH 3 video

How have the Nationals hung in against a highly talented Dodgers club? Sometimes, it takes a village.

It hasn't been just one or two players with individual heroics. A bunch have made indispensable contributions offensively. And in place of Strasburg, the entire Washington bullpen has emerged as perhaps the most important component of this club.

Rookie center fielder and leadoff man Trea Turner has hit .353 and scored five runs through the first four games. More than that, he gets it. He understands perfectly that this is a collective, team operation.

Turner is postseason force at plate for Nats

"I think that's what baseball is," Turner said. "You know, every day could be a new hero. Watching Giants games, [Conor Gillaspie] has been the hero and you've got World Series champions like [Buster Posey] and Hunter Pence and guys like that on those teams.

"That's what I expect. I expect it to be someone new every day. J-Dub (Jayson Werth) had a huge game and he's always had big postseasons in his past. The next game may be somebody new. I think that's why you've got to battle and compete and fight for everything you can, because something could go your way."

Werth has been a force, with a .467/.556/.800 slash line. Ryan Zimmerman has been the hitter the Nats hoped he would be in this series (.333/.412/.400). Daniel Murphy, well, he is encoring from his immense 2015 postseason -- that helped carry the Mets to the World Series -- with another major contribution (.462/.529/ .462), with six RBIs. Murphy may be Mr. October for the new millennium. Anthony Rendon has not hit as often, but he has driven in four runs.

3 keys for Nationals in NLDS Game 5

And in Game 2, when it appeared that the Dodgers might take a 2-0 series lead, backup catcher Jose Lobaton hit a three-run homer into the teeth of gusting winds that changed the course of that game and perhaps even the entire series.

The Nats' bullpen was spotless for the first three games, producing 12 1/3 shutout innings. The bullpen finally gave up something of value in Game 4, when the Dodgers' Chase Utley singled in the eighth to drive in a run off Blake Treinen, helping Los Angeles to a 6-5 victory that evened the series at 2-2.

Nationals manager Dusty Baker has managed his bullpen both aggressively and skillfully.

Scherzer on starting Game 5

Now, for the decisive fifth game, the Nats will have two apparent edges: Home-field advantage and their ace, Max Scherzer, on the mound.

"We have Max and we have our home fans," Baker said. "That's why you play so hard for the home-field advantage. You know, this year, it's coming to fruition."

Scherzer took the loss in Game 1, giving up four runs and two homers over six innings. But you've seen him be nothing less than great, contending for another Cy Young Award this season, producing a 20-strikeout performance against Detroit. He knows that this is his moment.

Scherzer embracing 'biggest start of career'

"This is probably the biggest start of my career, the biggest start of my life," Scherzer said. "How you handle that, going out there and using the emotion of that scenario that everything's on the line -- look, I'm not going to shy away from it. This is the biggest start of my career."

The Dodgers, of course, will have something to say about this. They already have had something to say about it.

"I mean, we beat him once already," first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. "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 used their ace, Clayton Kershaw, in Game 4. He pitched superbly, for the most part, and they won. But now, against Scherzer in Game 5, Los Angeles will go with veteran lefty Rich Hill.

On paper, at home, with Scherzer pitching, the Nats seem to have put themselves in good position. They have never won a postseason series in their 12 seasons in Washington. But they are very clearly all in for this attempt. And they are just as clearly all in this together.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.