While the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ 25-man roster for the NLDS, including the initial trio in the starting rotation, has already been set, the Washington Nationals have yet to commit to a working roster or even a starting pitching scheme beyond Max Scherzer in Game 1.
Obviously, we already know the absences of pitcher Stephen Strasburg and catcher Wilson Ramos create sizable holes on the Nationals’ roster. Washington management seems confident enough that Dodger nemesis Daniel Murphy will be ready to go for Game 1 after having battled a glute strain for the better part of a month, although Murphy himself hasn’t made any promises.
“I don’t like trying to predict the future. I’ve been really poor at it in my career,” Murphy told reporters after a team workout on Wednesday. “I felt really good today. I think today was a step in the right direction. See how we respond tomorrow. Get some work in tomorrow. We’ll see Friday.”
Murphy has had only a few limited pinch-hit appearances since the onset of the injury last month, however, the 31-year-old infielder projects to be a critical part of the Nationals’ offensive attack in the NLDS. He earned the honor of National League Championship Series MVP last season, having gone 19-for-58 at the dish with seven home runs in 14 games. This season, he’s been one of the top producers in the NL, hitting .347/.390/.595 with 47 doubles, 25 home runs and 104 RBI over 142 games.
Last year’s National League MVP, Bryce Harper, appears to be fully healthy after recently battling a nagging thumb injury. Overall, he’s had a substandard year compared to seasons past. After recording a 9.9 WAR in 2015, one of the best in recent baseball history, he topped out at 1.6 in 2016, ranking just sixth among Nats position players. He was able to muster 24 long balls, but hit a paltry .243 in just over 500 at-bats this season. Still, Harper feels the playoffs offer him a clean slate in his approach against the Dodgers.
“I’ll take 24 homers and 86 RBI for a down year. I’ll take that any day of the week,” Harper said. “I’m just excited to get going and get to playing in the postseason. Hopefully, I can keep stealing bags and play good defense, hopefully mix a few homers in there and just have a good series.”
Veteran outfielder and former Dodger prospect Jayson Werth appears to be completely healthy after fighting a bit of lower back tightness during the final week of the regular season stretch run. Werth leads the Washington charge in terms of playoff experience. This year will be Werth’s eighth postseason, as many as the rest of the position players in the Nationals’ starting eight have played combined.
“He’s a good influence,” 23-year-old rookie phenom Trea Turner told members of the media. “I think everybody in the clubhouse, young or old, respects him. He’s been a champion. He’s been a great player for a long time.”
On Thursday afternoon, Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker said rookie Pedro Severino will start Game 1 at catcher because Jose Lobaton is “a little bit injured right now.” Severino appeared in 16 games this season, hitting an impressive .321/.441/.607 with two home runs and two doubles in 34 plate appearances.
Baker also revealed that the Nationals plan to utilize three southpaws in their bullpen, pointing out the Dodgers’ offensive weaknesses against left-handed pitching. Marc Rzepczynski, Sammy Solis and Oliver Perez will presumably be the leftys involved, as there’s a good chance Washington will carry a total of eight arms in their relief corps.
The Nationals still have time to ponder the remainder of their prospective 25-man roster, as the list must be submitted to MLB on Friday morning. The NLDS kicks off at 5:38 p.m. Eastern time on Friday, with Scherzer squaring off against Dodgers’ resident ace, Clayton Kershaw.