Tonight's LA-DC debate: G5 keys to victory

Tonight's LA-DC debate: G5 keys to victory

As the only Division Series to go five games this season, the NLDS between the Dodgers and Nationals -- culminating with Game 5 tonight (8 p.m. ET/5 PT on FS1) -- has been an entertaining one. A total of six runs separates the clubs, three of the four games have been within a run entering the ninth inning, and two of those ended as one-run affairs. That includes Game 4, when the Dodgers scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth to win, 6-5, staving off elimination and sending the series back to D.C.

What follows is a breakdown of what to watch for in Game 5:

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

STARTING PITCHERS

Dodgers: LHP Rich Hill

Hill struck out the side in the first inning of his Game 2 outing but surrendered a three-run homer to Jose Lobaton on a hanging curve in the fourth and ultimately was charged with four runs over 4 1/3 innings. However, the 36-year-old was one of the most effective pitchers in baseball when he was able to pitch this season, posting a 2.12 ERA and 2.39 FIP over 110 1/3 innings, while striking out 10.5 batters per nine innings.

Hill was tough on both lefties and righties, but endurance is a question mark after he battled blister problems this season. Since joining the Dodgers, Hill hasn't thrown more than 93 pitches in an outing, and he hasn't gone more than 5 1/3 innings since Sept. 10. This would be his first time starting on three days' rest after a previous start.

Hill fans the side in order

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer

Although Scherzer took the Game 1 loss, allowing four earned runs over six innings, he's an NL Cy Young Award favorite who posted a 2.56 ERA at home this season. His biggest question today is whether he can keep the ball in the ballpark, as he is a fly-ball pitcher who had the eighth-highest average launch angle (16.5 degrees) this season (min. 400 balls in play), according to Statcast™. During the regular season, Scherzer tied for the NL lead with 31 homers allowed, accounting for 62 percent of his runs. The issue came up again in Game 1, when Corey Seager took Scherzer deep in the first inning, and Justin Turner added a two-run shot in the third.

• Scherzer embracing 'biggest start of career'

The other challenge for Scherzer is that the Dodgers can stack their lineup with as many as seven left-handed/switch hitters, not counting the pitcher, as they did in Game 1. While Scherzer's homer rate didn't show much of a platoon split, overall he was far more dominant against righties (.477 OPS, 11.9 K/BB ratio) than lefties (.757 OPS, 2.8 K/BB).

Scherzer on Game 5 nod

STATE OF THE BULLPENS

After playing on three straight days due to Saturday's rainout in Washington, the off-day before Game 5 is big for both relief corps.

Dodgers
L.A., which got a total of 7 1/3 innings from starters Hill and Kenta Maeda in Games 2-3, has used righty Pedro Baez in all four games and also lefty Luis Avilan in each of the last three. Those two combined to cough up the lead after taking over for Clayton Kershaw in the seventh inning of Game 4. Righty Joe Blanton gets a much-needed day of rest after throwing 54 pitches over three effective innings the past two games.

On the other hand, righty Ross Stripling and lefty Grant Dayton haven't pitched since Sunday, and Julio Urias also could be a factor if Hill falters early.

If Urias is on the mound, any runner that reaches base will have to remain extremely alert. Despite pitching only 77 innings, Urias led the Majors with six pickoffs this season and also had five at Triple-A. On the other hand, that didn't stop runners from stealing seven bases against him, in 10 tries. That will bear watching, particularly if Nats speedster Trea Turner gets aboard.

• LA relievers know it's 'all hands on deck'

Nationals
Since Scherzer last pitched, none of the three Nats starters lasted more than 4 1/3 innings, though the club's bullpen didn't allow a run in the series until Game 4. Thanks to all of the Dodgers' left-handed bats, manager Dusty Baker has leaned heavily on his southpaws, with Sammy Solis taking the ball in all four games (71 pitches), Oliver Perez in each of the past three and Marc Rzepczynski in two of the past three.

On the other hand, closer Mark Melancon and setup man Shawn Kelley -- who has pitched just once in the series -- enter Game 5 with two consecutive days off. Game 2 starter Tanner Roark, who has extensive bullpen experience, potentially could lend a hand as well.

WHO'S HOT

Daniel Murphy, 2B, Nationals: The NL leader in OPS drove in four runs in Game 4, two on a game-tying, seventh-inning single. He is 13-for-34 (.382) with a 1.098 OPS and 11 RBIs in nine NLDS games against the Dodgers dating to 2015.

Murphy's four-RBI Game 4

Turner, 3B, Dodgers: He is 5-for-11 with four walks and a .647 on-base percentage and now owns a 1.395 postseason OPS in nine games over the past two years.

• Tide Turner: LA's 3B shining in postseason

WHO'S NOT

Danny Espinosa, SS, Nationals: He has managed to get hit by a pitch three times but is 1-for-11 with eight strikeouts. However, Espinosa picked up a key single in the seventh inning of Game 4 and later smacked a 108.8-mph barrel that was caught in right field despite the ball's .862 expected average.

Yasmani Grandal, C, Dodgers: Since picking up two hits in Game 1, the switch-hitter is 0-for-11 with a walk and four strikeouts.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Dayton vs. Bryce Harper, Murphy: It seems likely that the Dodgers' 28-year-old rookie left-hander will get a shot at these two tough lefty batters at some point, though the Nationals have been deploying a lineup with Jayson Werth hitting between Harper and Murphy. In Games 1 and 2, Dayton retired Harper both times, but he allowed a walk and an RBI single to Murphy. During the regular season, lefties posted a .428 OPS against Dayton in 46 plate appearances.

Scherzer vs. Adrian Gonzalez: The Dodgers first baseman went 0-for-3 and hit into a double play against Scherzer in Game 1, and he was having a quiet series until his first-inning two-run homer in Game 4. Gonzalez, who is just 5-for-29 (.172) with no homers off Scherzer in his career, is a much more dangerous hitter against right-handed pitchers (89.9-mph average exit velocity) than lefties (85.5 mph). If the homer-prone Scherzer makes an early mistake, Gonzalez needs to take advantage.

Statcast: A-Gon's two-run shot

KEY MANAGERIAL DECISIONS

Roberts: The Dodgers' first-year skipper figures to be walking a tightrope all night, given the situation with his starting pitching. His biggest test could be in deciding when to deploy All-Star closer Kenley Jansen. Will Roberts show flexibility and aggressiveness, as Indians manager Terry Francona did with Andrew Miller in the ALDS against the Red Sox?

With the Dodgers on the road, Roberts could face the same dilemma that ended up haunting Buck Showalter in the AL Wild Card Game, when he saved Zach Britton for a save situation that never came. Considering the criticism Showalter received for that tactic, it will be fascinating to see how Roberts handles Jansen if this game is tied in the ninth.

Jansen's Game 4 save

Baker: Scherzer is the Nats' ace, and he went six or more innings in 30 of his 34 starts this season, including seven or more 20 times. In Game 1, Baker pulled Scherzer after a modest 91 pitches over six frames. With the season on the line, how much rope will Baker -- a highly experienced skipper -- provide him with?

Baker was notoriously burned earlier in his career for sticking with starting pitchers too long, such as the Cubs' Mark Prior in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS against the Marlins, but has done well this series to have a quick hook as needed. And remember this: As good as Scherzer is, he allowed a .577 OPS the first time through the order in 2016, .557 the second time through, and .743 the third time through.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Cubs' dramatic 6-5 win over the Giants on Tuesday night pushed the NL's top seed into the NL Championship Series, which begins at Wrigley Field on Saturday night (8 ET on FS1). Chicago's opponent will be determined in Washington, where the winner-take-all Game 5 will be a bit of a mulligan for the Dodgers, who lost the NLDS in five games to the Mets a year ago. The Nationals, meanwhile, will be looking to erase the memories of Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS, when they squandered a 6-0 lead against the Cardinals at home.

What follows for the winning club is not exactly a parting gift -- a Cubs team waiting and watching, ready to continue its quest for the franchise's first World Series title since 1908.

The Dodgers will win if … their left-handed pitchers can figure out Murphy, who is 6-for-12 with two walks against them in the series and had a .924 OPS off southpaws for the season.

The Nationals will win if … Scherzer keeps the ball in the yard. When he didn't allow a homer this season, he gave up two runs or fewer 11 of 13 times (including six scoreless outings), and the Nats went 11-2.

Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.