In a best-of-five series, teams that lose the first game find themselves on high alert.

There is little margin for error, and especially in the case of the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants, there is plenty of work to do.


Los Angeles at Washington, Game 2 (Los Angeles leads series 1-0)

Homestanding Washington dropped Game 1 of its National League Division Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers. While the contest was expected to be a razor-sharp pitcher’s duel between Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Max Scherzer of the Nationals, neither starter was on top of his game.

The Dodgers took a 4-0 lead in the third inning, but the Nats had closed to within 4-3 by the bottom of the fourth. That’s how the game ended, as the bullpens did not yield any runs.

The Los Angeles bullpen was one of the team’s greatest strengths all year. Dodgers relievers led the majors with a 3.35 ERA (Washington was second with a 3.37 ERA), and manager Dave Roberts used his relief pitchers in an MLB-high 590.2 innings.

Kenley Jansen is one of the best closers in the game, and he was called on with five outs to go in Game 1. While that was a departure from his usual three-out save, Jansen got the job done, allowing just one hit and striking out three.

During the regular season, Jansen recorded 47 saves in 53 chances, a 1.83 ERA and a remarkable 0.67 WHIP.

Los Angeles also has Joe Blanton, Grant Dayton and Pedro Baez, all of whom were superb in Game 1.

“Whatever we’ve got to do to win, right? Those guys are up to the challenge,” Dodgers rookie shortstop Corey Seager said, per the Associated Press’ Howard Fendrich. “And they’ve been up to it all year.”

Therein lies the key for the Dodgers: Get the lead by the fifth or sixth inning and turn the game over to the bullpen.

On the other hand, if the Nationals can take an early lead, that will remove quite a bit of the pressure that Dusty Baker’s team will have on its shoulders throughout Game 2.

Washington needs to have its big hitters come through. Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy filled the second, third and fourth spots in the Nationals’ batting order Friday, but none of them drove in a run in Game 1.

That has to change if the Nationals are going to tie the series before the two teams head to Los Angeles.

Key for Los Angeles: Get a lead, and get the ball to the bullpen.

Key for Washington: Get run production from Harper, Werth and Murphy.


San Francisco at Chicago, Game 2 (Chicago leads series 1-0)

While the Nationals fell short on their home field in Game 1, the Chicago Cubs did not.

They won a tight, emotional pitcher’s duel 1-0 thanks to Javier Baez’s home run in the bottom of the eighth inning, which ruined a sensational effort by San Francisco starter Johnny Cueto.

“He’s been pitching me inside. I was just waiting for him to make a mistake, and he left it over the plate,” Baez said, per the Associated Press (via the Los Angeles Times).

Chicago starter Jon Lester earned the win, and fireballing closer Aroldis Chapman picked up the save.

Game 2 figures to feature more hitting—for one team, at least. Former Cub Jeff Samardzija will start for the Giants, while Cy Young Award candidate Kyle Hendricks will take the mound for the North Siders.

Samardzija was 12-11 this season with an unremarkable 3.81 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, and he gave up 8.4 hits and 1.1 home runs per nine innings. It would not be a surprise if Chicago—after facing the dominating stuff of Cueto in Game 1—got its offense going against “Shark.”

Look for Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to take good swings against Samardzija and put at least five runs on the board.

San Francisco, which ranked 28th in the majors with only 130 home runs during the regular season, may have a hard time against the sensational Hendricks. The right-hander had a 16-8 record with an MLB-best 2.13 ERA and 0.98 WHIP and features two different changeups. While his pitches—including an 87.8 mph fastball—often look hittable, opposing batters just can’t figure him out.

Hendricks may not be a hard thrower, but he still struck out 170 hitters in 190 innings this season.

The Giants need to play their best game to get a split at Wrigley Field. The lineup has to figure out Hendricks, and Samardzija and the bullpen must be on point.

Key for San Francisco: Play near-perfect baseball.

Key for Chicago: Hit Samardzija hard.

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