- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2016

If the Washington Nationals are able to dispatch the Los Angeles Dodgers in their best-of-five first round of the playoffs, the seeds may have been planted on the second-to-last day of the season.

On that final Saturday night, the Nats’ win over Miami ensured homefield advantage in the National League Division Series against the road-challenged Dodgers

Playing at home is big for the Nationals, 50-31 at Nationals Park this year. What’s more, these Dodgers don’t travel well: They were 38-43 on the road.

During the season, Nationals manager Dusty Baker tracked the Dodgers. He didn’t describe homefield advantage as a necessity, but more as a pleasurable option. The Nationals obtained it against the only team in the National League playoffs with a losing record on the road.

They can also deploy one of their biggest question marks against one of the Dodgers‘ great weaknesses. Left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez, all the more crucial because the Nationals will be without Stephen Strasburg, struggled much of the season. September, in particular, was a mess. Gonzalez pitched five times. He finished the month with a 7.43 ERA. As disconcerting as that is for the Nationals, they can think salvation for Gonzalez is possible against the Dodgers. No team in the major leagues performed worse against left-handed pitchers this season. Left-handed San Francisco Giants pitcher Ty Blach dominated the Dodgers the last weekend of the season in his second career start. And, amid all inconsistency this season, Gonzalez even controlled them with a six-inning outing in which he allowed three hits and one run.

Washington will also be carrying three left-handed relievers to pile on the Dodgers‘ main problem.

In the dugout should also be a distinct advantage. Baker will be entering his eighth postseason as the man in charge of a club. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will be overseeing his first postseason game. Baker expressed admiration for Roberts this week — the two are the lone African-American managers in baseball and become the first to face each other in the playoffs — then pointed out one issue. “He’s in the way,” Baker said.

Being at home with more experienced management and their weakest link having to face the Dodgers‘ largest problem are the reasons Washington can move beyond the first round for the first time since baseball returned to the District in 2005.

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