For all their successes in recent seasons, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals enter their National League Division Series matchup as relative strangers. They have not met in the postseason despite combining for seven division championships in the past five seasons.

The Dodgers’ two NLDS battles against NL East champions came during the two campaigns (2013 and 2015) where Washington was sitting at home.

Both rosters enter the playoffs with their regular seasons defined by pitching excellence and injuries.

The Nationals rank in the top five in nearly every major pitching category, boasting perhaps baseball’s best and one of its most expensive pitching rotations. Per Odds Shark, Max Scherzer is the odds-on favorite to take home the NL Cy Young Award after posting a 20-7 record and striking out a career-high 284 batters. He’s the rare free-agent pitching acquisition who has actually gotten better since getting the money.

Washington has also gotten an excellent season from Tanner Roark, who has taken on Jordan Zimmermann’s old role of being the awesome guy no one talks about. Joe Ross has also been solid for most of the season and would have a legit claim to the third starter role likely occupied by Gio Gonzalez.

Missing? Stephen Strasburg, who has already been ruled out for the NLDS.

“Well, you won’t see [Strasburg] in the first series, and I don’t even know if you’ll see him, you know, maybe in the second series,” manager Dusty Baker said on McNabb & Custer on ESPN Radio (via “You might see him in the World Series.”

Strasburg, himself heading toward a potential 20-win season, has not pitched since Sept. 7. He’s been dealing with a strained flexor mass in his right arm and has thrown just 2.1 innings since mid-August. His effectiveness had taken a steep decline over his final four starts, with Strasburg losing his last three decisions and upping his ERA by nearly a full run after beginning 15-1.

The Dodgers spent a chunk of their regular season dealing with injuries to ace Clayton Kershaw. The former Cy Young winner sat out more than two months with a back injury before returning in September. He’s been his typically brilliant self in working back into shape since, giving up four total runs in five appearances.

“It looked bleak there for a little bit. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to make it to this point,” Kershaw said, per Matthew Moreno of Dodger Blue. “Now that it’s here it’s exciting. But it’s only exciting if we win, so I’ll try to win Friday.”

Kershaw faced Washington once in the regular season, giving up one run and striking out eight in a June 20 win. He finished 2016 with an ERA of 1.69, the third time in four years he’s been under 2.00.

Co-anchoring the staff will be midseason acquisition Rich Hill, who has basically been put in playoff bubble wrap since coming over from the Oakland Athletics. He’s made just six starts since the trade, none of the last three going for longer than 5.1 innings. Hill has been dealing with finger blister issues for months, and the Dodgers have taken every precaution to ensure he’ll be available in October.

But L.A.’s real strength comes after the starters leave the mound. No team in baseball posted a better bullpen ERA, atoning for the Dodgers ranking 29th in quality starts.

Kenley Jansen is poised for a huge payday this offseason after setting a career high with 47 saves and striking out 104 batters in 68.2 innings. Joe Blanton has enjoyed a sudden return to form at age 35 as a setup man, fanning 80 batters in as many innings to lead the team in holds.

The Nationals are nonetheless sitting right behind the Dodgers in bullpen ERA. Mark Melancon was one of the sport’s best midseason acquisitions and might wind up a top-10 Cy Young finisher despite splitting his season with two teams. Blake Treinen and Shawn Kelley have been good in the back end despite not making many headlines.

The series will likely come down to which of these two questionable lineups can catch a little fire. The Dodgers won the season series 5-1. 

“We played fairly well against the Nationals in the regular season, and playoff baseball is a whole different animal,” Chase Utley said, per Doug Padilla of “We’re going to do what we can to prepare for them and put a game plan together and we’ll see what happens.”

That success hasn’t carried over of late, with the Dodgers losing five of their last six regular-season games. The rival San Francisco Giants can thank their three-game sweep of L.A. over the weekend for their Wild Card berth. The Dodgers scored three runs or fewer in four of their last six games and ranked 14th in runs scored overall.

“We as hitters…I think everybody else is the ones that are talking about it,” said Howie Kendrick, per Padilla. “As far as us as players, you just do your best every day, whether it’s a lefty or a righty. I don’t think we go up and try to [think] any differently against a lefty or a righty, we just haven’t hit them this year for whatever reason. Whether that’s good or bad, we can’t really focus on that going into the postseason.”

The Nationals were a much more consistent eighth in runs scored, but they were 17th in batting average and struggled for extended stretches against good pitching. Their staff being better from a righty standpoint also fares well for the Dodgers, who have struggled all season against left-handed pitching.

Essentially, this series is as close to a push as you can get. 

Read more MLB news on