Dodgers, Nats Battle in Possible Playoff Preview on Labor Day - NBC Southern California
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Dodgers, Nats Battle in Possible Playoff Preview on Labor Day

Both teams have played up to their potential as the NL's two best teams



    It's Sept. 1, which means the college football season has started, Week 1 in the NFL is coming and nobody will care that baseball is entering the most exciting time of the season -- the pennant chase.

    But, the three-game series starting Monday between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals is a reason why you should still care. The Dodgers and Nats both lead their divisions, they have the two most talented teams and they're probably going to meet in the National League Championship Series.

    The Dodgers, though, didn't do themselves any favors over the weekend in holding on to their slim 2 1/2-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the NL West. They needed a 7-1 win Sunday against the San Diego Padres to avoid being swept at Petco Park. Not good for team that has the best road record in baseball (43-28) as they return home, where they're one of the worst home teams with their 34-32 record at Dodger Stadium.

    The Nats, on the other hand, have won 14 of their last 19 games, including an unbelievable stretch where they had five walk-off wins during a 10-game winning streak. They hold a six-game lead over the Braves in the NL East.

    Roberto Hernandez (8-9, 3.81 ERA) will get the start for the Dodgers in the opening game, and he's had the Nats' number this year. In two starts as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies pitching staff, Hernandez didn't allow an earned run to Washington in 15 1/3 innings.

    The Nats will counter left-hander Gio Gonzalez (6-9, 3.86 ERA). He didn't pitch when Washington beat the Dodgers twice in three games in May.

    To say Gonzalez is struggling would be putting it lightly. He's 0-5 in his last nine starts, and hasn't won a game since July 5. But, as a team, the Dodgers are only hitting .241 against left-handed pitching this season. So, Gonzalez could do some damage in this series.

    The marquee matchup will come Tuesday in game two when Clayton Kershaw (16-3, 1.73 ERA) and Doug Fister (12-5, 2.55 ERA) will go head-to-head. Kershaw will have to contend with a Nationals offense that's getting hot at the right time.

    Nats slugger Bryce Harper just finished pounding Seattle Mariners pitching in three-game series, going 6 for 13 with three home runs -- one of which would still be going if not for the glass facade in the second deck at Safeco Field.

    The Dodgers-Nats series appears to be a rematch of two of the game's most exciting players. Problem is, Yasiel Puig hasn't looked interested in playing to that level lately.

    Since Aug. 16, the Dodgers center-fielder is hitting .136 (6 for 44) with 13 strikeouts, zero home runs and zero RBIs. In fact, the "Wild Horse" has been tamed, having not hit a homer since July 31.

    The Dodger's haven't really needed Puig to be Captain Cuba. Adrian Gonzalez has turned in another nobody-recognizes-but-I'm-going-to-have-100-RBIs-again season. And, the move to right field has awakened Matt Kemp. Since June, he's hit .297 with 11 homers, 49 RBIs, 17 doubles.

    The Nationals have been paced by leadoff hitter Denard Span, who banged out 40 hits in August and is the fire starter for their offense. He received some help from all-around good guy and player Anthony Rendon, who was robbed of an All-Star appearance. When the big money guys, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman, weren't producing, it was Rendon who kept the Nats from fading into oblivion.

    Carlos Frias (0-0, 5.61 ERA) and Jordan Zimmermann (10-5, 2.93 ERA) will start Game 3 for their respective teams on Wednesday.