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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, October 09, 2019 1:00 am

NL Division Series

Dodgers, Nats dealing out aces for deciding Game 5

HOWARD FENDRICH | Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Stephen Strasburg's 2012 shutdown is a distant memory by now.

This sort of setting and stakes – Game 5 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, with the outcome of the NL Division Series on the line – is exactly why the Washington Nationals protected the pitcher they drafted No. 1 overall all those years ago.

Strasburg will get the ball for visiting wild card Washington, and Walker Buehler will be on the mound for league-best LA tonight in the finale of the best-of-five series.

“Better to be at home than on the road in Game 5,” Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger said.

The Dodgers are trying to reach the NL Championship Series for the fourth straight year, while the Nationals have never won a playoff series since moving from Montreal to Washington in 2005.

“We've got their big horse against one of our horses,” Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki said.

Each starter already had a fantastic outing to earn a win in the series: Buehler gave up just one hit while tossing six scoreless innings in Game 1; Strasburg struck out 10 and gave up one run in six innings in Game 2.

That made Strasburg's postseason ERA to 0.64, the lowest for anyone with at least four career starts.

“It's something that you train for, you dream about as a kid,” he said, “and you want to have those opportunities to just see how your stuff stacks up.”

It's the sort of production Washington was envisioning when general manager Mike Rizzo held the righty out of the playoffs seven seasons ago, a year after Strasburg had Tommy John surgery.

“Try not to look in the past. Try not to look in the future. Really just try and be in the moment,” Strasburg said when asked about 2012. “Once you start thinking about how things could have been or what things might happen, it takes your focus away from what your job is.”

Buehler will be making his sixth postseason start; he is 1-1 with a 3.03 ERA. Last year, he appeared in one game in the NLDS, two in the NLCS and one in the World Series.

“Something I'm familiar with,” he said of the pressure of the playoffs, “and getting to do it at home certainly helps.”

As important as Strasburg and Buehler are, the bullpens could be the key.

Washington's relievers had the worst ERA in the NL in 2019, but manager Dave Martinez has relied on starters to come out of the 'pen during the playoffs, with mixed results, including giving away Game 3 of the NLDS during LA's seven-run sixth.

It was the Dodgers' turn to struggle in Game 4, when the Nationals produced a four-run inning against relievers.

One thing to keep an eye out today: The Dodgers will have three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw available to enter in relief.

Three years ago, when LA eliminated Washington in the NLDS, Kershaw came in during Game 5 to earn the first save of his career.