Aside from the Twins – whose poor fans have certainly had enough of squaring off with the Yankees in the playoffs – we’ve had about the most competitive set of MLB division series in recent memory. Now, there’s three deciding Game 5’s scheduled for the next two days, with the National League wrapping things up first this evening with two fantastic pitching matchups. Still, while no one can dispute the allure of watching Jack Flaherty pitch for the Cardinals, Nationals-Dodgers is the headliner, with about as star-studded a pitcher’s duel as you could ask for in a double-elimination situation.
I’m excited. You’re excited. Let’s break down Washington-Los Angeles from a Showdown perspective.
Note: All salaries will be Flex prices unless noted as Captain’s Pick prices.
— The Dodgers have won each of their past 11 Wednesday home games against NL opponents.
— The first inning OVER 0.5 runs market has hit in each of the Nationals’ past six games.
— Washington has led after three innings in each of its past four Wednesday night games as underdogs.
— Seven of the past eight games between the Nationals and Dodgers in Los Angeles have gone UNDER the total runs line.
— The Nationals have won the first inning in each of their past three Wednesday night games as underdogs.
Stats provided by DraftKings Sportsbook
Los Angeles DodgersLike seemingly every pitcher in the Dodgers’ rotation, Walker Buehler ($11,000) has been absolutely incredible when given the opportunity to pitch at home. I mean, if we’re being completely honest, he’s been a marvel to behold wherever’s he’s thrown, but his numbers are especially staggering at Dodger Stadium. In the regular season, Buehler’s faced 354 opposing hitters within the split. That collection of players combined to slash a measly .208/.234/.352 with a .247 wOBA. However, that’s only the beginning of the dominance. The right-hander also possessed a massive 11.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the 14 starts he compiled in Los Angeles – the highest qualified figure in baseball by a considerable margin. It wasn’t as if Buehler was sacrificing strikeouts to maintain his control, either. By season’s end, the 25-year-old had produced an eye-popping 31.6% strikeout rate in his home ball park. Again, he’s been nearly infallible in Southern California and, as it pertains to this evening’s matchup, that’s not the only spilt advantage working in his favor. While the Nationals led the National League in wOBA (.347) and wRC+ (111) against left-handed pitchers, their statistics versus RHPs are far more pedestrian. That’s not to suggest the team’s lineup isn’t still daunting, yet these small differences do add up in the end. Buehler is extremely viable on this slate.
When it comes to the Dodgers’ positional pieces, they’re drawing just as impossible a matchup. There’s more than a couple of reasons to like Stephen Strasburg ($11,600) entering tonight’s tilt, but, for a second, let’s just focus on the playoff-related ones. Strasburg is the lone pitcher in MLB history to record double-digit strikeouts in three of his first four postseason starts. Additionally, with a 0.64 ERA in his pocket, the former first-overall pick has the lowest playoff ERA among pitchers with at least 25 innings thrown. Essentially, if you’re looking for someone who might be effected by the gravity of this evening’s environment, it isn’t Strasburg. On top of all that, Strasburg isn’t especially flawed within any particular handedness split. He’s struck out 30.1% of the RHBs he’s faced in 2019 and 29.6% of LHBs. Lefties have a meager .265 expected wOBA off of the veteran, while righties have mustered just a .261 mark. Heck, he’s surrendered exactly 1.03 home runs per nine to both sides of the plate.
So, instead of selecting hitters based on handedness, you should be focusing on which Los Angeles players best handle the curve. Strasburg threw his breaking pitch in 40.0% of counts in Game 2 of the this series, the highest usage rate he’d had with the offering since an outing he’d made back on May 12. The opponent that night? The Dodgers. Clearly Washington has a way they think the 31-year-old can attack this lineup and I don’t expect that to be altered this evening. With that in mind, Corey Seager ($7,600) is a name to keep an eye on. Seager’s hit fifth in each of Los Angeles’ past two contests and, for the season, he’s hit .400 with a jaw-dropping .840 slugging percentage off of right-handed curveballs. Joc Pederson ($8,600) has also had success with the pitch, managing four home runs and a .364 ISO within the split. Conversely, Cody Bellinger ($9,600) has struggled with curves from RHPs and Max Muncy ($9,000) has produced an ugly .115 average and .215 slugging percentage off the offering this season. The latter becomes an obvious asset to avoid tonight.
Washington NationalsIn a twist of fate that one would have to deem ironic, Strasburg appears to be as comfortable pitching on the road as Buehler is toeing the rubber at Dodger Stadium. In fact, dating all the way to the beginning of 2016, no qualified starter has amassed a lower opponent slugging percentage away from home than Strasburg’s mark of .329. He just simply seems like he was specifically designed to beat Los Angeles. There’s his high strikeout rate, there’s his reluctance to pitch primarily off his fastball to one of the league’s top four-seam hitting teams, there’s also his ability to be a right-handed pitcher not flummoxed by facing a predominantly left-handed lineup. On that last point, no qualified National League RHP actually possesses a lower expected wOBA from LHBs, with only Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Lucas Giolito besting Strasburg overall. It’s a trait that’s kind of important considering the Dodgers lead MLB in wRC+ (131) and ISO (.261) in left-on-right plate appearances. Strasburg checks every possible box and is justifiably the highest priced player on this slate.
As you might expect, I’m not exactly thrilled about the prospect of using many Washington bats against Buehler. However, it’s important to illustrate that a few players in the middle of their lineup have had a great deal of success against right-handed pitchers with overpowering velocity so far this season. Juan Soto ($8,800) led all qualified NL batters with a .506 expected wOBA on pitches exceeding 95 mph from RHPs and that figure only fell to .489 in situations where the velocity ramped up to 97 mph – Buehler’s average fastball rate. Kurt Suzuki ($6,800) was equally adept at handling the heat from right-handers, mustering a .411 xwOBA at 95-plus and an impressive .537 xwOBA at 97-plus; though, it should be noted that the sample sizes we’re dealing with here a quite small. Aside from that, all you need to know is Anthony Rendon ($9,400), who is never in a bad spot, had a 153 wRC+ in right-on-right plate appearance in 2019 and Adam Eaton’s ($6,600) price point seems a little low for the anticipated No. 2 hitter in his preferred handedness split. Honestly, I’m expecting a pitcher’s duel.
However, at some point, the Nationals will turn to their bullpen. Fortunately, unlike a Dodgers’ team flush with arms, Washington’s relief hierarchy is pretty obvious out of necessity. Where the Dodgers might be able to turn to Clayton Kershaw ($11,000) or Kenta Maeda ($10,400) – options priced far too high to be viable on this slate and with their expected role – Patrick Corbin ($10,400) is the lone starter that might get a look in a late-inning situation for the Nationals and Dave Martinez might not even be willing to do that after getting burned in Game 3. No, if Washington needs to retire some potent left-handed bats late in this evening’s contest, it’ll turn to Sean Doolittle ($3,000), who possessed an 11.5 K/BB ratio and a 0.93 WHIP against LHBs this year in the regular season. With Daniel Hudson ($7,600) inexplicably carrying the salary of a starter, Doolittle is the Nationals’ RP I’ll be saving with.
THE OUTCOMEThis truly feels like one of those Showdown slates where you need to be rostering both starters. You can attempt to get creative by not putting either Stephen Strasburg ($17,400 CP) or Walker Buehler ($16,500 CP) as your Captain’s Pick, but it’s vital to have exposure to both right-handers. No one’s pitching on short rest. No one lacks strikeout upside. No one is tainted by a recent poor performance. Feel free to sprinkle Corey Seager or Juan Soto in where necessary, but I’ll be focusing primarily on the two starters and some high-usage relievers this evening.
Final Score: Los Angeles 2, Washington 1
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