Will Dodgers-Nationals pivot on starting pitching?

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By Cary Osborne

Our starting point for the upcoming National League Division Series between the Dodgers and Nationals is starting pitching.

It’s particularly important in this series, with the Dodgers and Nationals ranked Nos. 1 and 2 respectively in bullpen ERA among all big-league teams. A major factor for both teams will be which can score the most runs early.

The Dodgers were 5-1 against the Nationals this season. But of those five wins, only one came against the trio of Washington starters who figure to pitch games one through three in the NLDS — Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark and left-handed Gio Gonzalez. It was a 3-2 win on June 21, when Roark pitched seven shutout innings until surrendering a three-run home run to Yasmani Grandal in the eighth.

The one Dodger loss was an 8-1 setback on July 20 in which Gonzalez allowed five baserunners and a run in six innings. (Bud Norris started that game for Los Angeles.)

Gonzalez is poison for Dodger batters. He also beat the Dodgers last year, pitching eight shutout innings.

The quartet of right-handers Yasiel Puig and Justin Turner and left-handers Adrian González and Chase Utley is a combined 6 for 70 (.086) in their careers vs. Gonzalez. The only duo with some semblance of success against him are Carlos Ruiz (7 for 29) and Kiké Hernandez (2 for 7). Ruiz is the only Dodger with a homer against Gonzalez.

Then there’s Scherzer, whom current Dodgers have had historically more success against.

The trio of Howie Kendrick, Josh Reddick and Puig are 12 for 38 (.316) against Scherzer. Andre Ethier, who’s expected to come off the bench, has the most success of any Dodger against Scherzer: 8 for 24 with the lone homer against him.

The Dodgers figure to go left-handed heavy against Scherzer because there’s an extreme split against him — righties OPSed .473 vs. him this year and lefties .728.

Roark is the least-seen pitcher of the three by the Dodgers. The June 21 game was his first career start against Los Angeles.

Washington’s potential Game 4 starter, right-hander Joe Ross, faced the Dodgers June 22 in a 4-3 L.A. win, but Ross didn’t figure in the decision, going 6 1/3 innings, allowing two earned runs. Ross spent two months on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation and has pitched 9 2/3 innings in three starts (allowing three earned runs) since returning on September 18.

The Dodgers have beat the Nationals in nine of their last 12 meetings. In those nine Dodger wins, the Nats have scored a combined 15 runs.

Clayton Kershaw won three of those games. He’s 8-0 against Washington in his last eight starts against Washington with an 0.86 ERA, 0.62 WHIP and 73 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings.

After Kershaw, it’s very much the unknown. Kenta Maeda didn’t face Washington this year, and Rich Hill has faced one current National more than three times — Ryan Zimmerman, who is 2 for 4 against him.

Julio Urías started twice against the Nats and allowed three earned runs in nine combined innings.

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