An hour or so before the National League playoffs began, a scout with one of the participating teams wondered what the New York Mets had been thinking.

“Why’d they let Murphy go?” he asked, incredulously.

For the record, the scout does not work for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but don’t you think the Dodgers are asking themselves the same question? Why did the New York Mets let Daniel Murphy leave as a free agent, setting him free to torment the Dodgers for a second straight postseason?

And how did Murphy figure out how to hit left-handed pitching, something that remains an unsolved mystery to everyone in Dodgers blue?

This National League Division Series certainly took a left turn on the way to the left coast, with the left-handed hitting Murphy collecting three hits and driving in two runs as the Washington Nationals took Game 2 by a 5-2 score Sunday. They head into Game 3 on Monday in Los Angeles with the series tied at a win apiece, in part because Murphy is proving as big a Dodgers nemesis as a National as he was 12 months ago when he was a Met.

“Left on left, right on left, it really doesn’t matter for Murphy,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, admiringly, in his postgame press conference.

It matters to Roberts’ Dodgers, who are 1-for-14 in two games against the Nationals’ left-handed relievers, after hitting a major league low .213 against lefties this season.

It could matter greatly in this series, with the Nationals starting lefty Gio Gonzalez in a Game 3 that now becomes pivotal. If the Dodgers don’t find a way to survive a game against a lefty, they’re in danger of losing the series without getting a second start from Clayton Kershaw.

The Dodgers could also use an answer for Murphy, who has four hits in six at-bats in this series, after hitting three home runs (two off Kershaw, one off Zack Greinke) in last year’s Division Series.

Murphy hits left-handers and he hits right-handers, and while there’s no guarantee he would have helped the Mets against San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner in the Wild Card Game, his ability to hit good pitching makes him especially useful this time of year.

The Chicago Cubs, who watched him hit .529 with four home runs in four games in last year’s National League Championship Series, can’t be thrilled at the possibility of seeing him again on the same stage next week.

The Nationals have to get there first, and they’ve still got plenty of work to do to make it happen. As Roberts rightly pointed out, the Dodgers had opportunities to put Sunday’s game away early against Nationals starter Tanner Roark. They had 11 baserunners in 4.1 innings, but by scoring only two runs, they set up Nationals manager Dusty Baker to unleash his parade of three left-handed relievers.

Baker went to Marc Rzepczynski in the fifth, Sammy Solis (to replace Rzepczynski) in the sixth and Oliver Perez in the eighth. Roberts immediately went to his right-handed pinch hitters, but it didn’t help.

This is becoming a postseason dominated by bullpens, interrupted only occasionally by a starters’ duel between Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard or Jon Lester and Johnny Cueto. The emphasis on relievers should suit the Dodgers, who lived on their bullpen all season.

The two bullpens in this series have already combined to pitch 15.1 innings, allowing just one run between them.

The guy who drove in that run? Murphy, of course. His two-out single off Grant Dayton in the seventh inning Sunday made the final two innings more comfortable.

After notching the Nationals’ first hit of the game in the second inning, Murphy worked a leadoff walk in the fourth-inning rally that ended with Jose Lobaton’s three-run home run. His second hit made it 4-2 Nationals and knocked starter Rich Hill from the game in the fifth inning, and his third hit added an insurance run to push the score to 5-2 in the seventh.

None of it should have been a surprise. Murphy was second in the major leagues with a .347 batting average and first in the National League with a .595 slugging percentage and a .985 OPS.

He has proved exactly what Mets hitting coach Kevin Long claimed last October. Long said Murphy’s great 2015 postseason wasn’t a fluke but rather a show of how he had improved as a hitter.

Too bad for the Mets that they didn’t believe it, or that they didn’t believe in Murphy enough to make him anything more than a qualifying offer last November. They moved on quickly by trying for Ben Zobrist and then moving to pick up Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera.

Walker and Cabrera had fine seasons, but they’re home for the winter along with the rest of the Mets. Murphy, who eventually signed with the Nationals for three years and $37.5 million, is back in the Division Series, back tormenting the Dodgers and perhaps concerning the Cubs, too.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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