WASHINGTON -- Preview schmeview.
Everybody knows that when it comes to the playoffs, pitching trumps all. That’s why this weekend’s three-game set between the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers holds barely any predictive value whatsoever.
Edwin Jackson vs. Alex Wood? Not a matchup we’ll see come October.
A.J. Cole vs. Rich Hill? We’re more likely to get Nat King Cole vs. Lauryn Hill.
Even the Sunday night faceoff between Stephen Strasburg and Hyun-Jin Ryu -- which is the least unlikely playoff pairing of the series -- stands no chance of actually happening, because in the event that Ryu cracks L.A.’s postseason rotation (which he probably won’t), he would never find himself going toe-to-toe with Strasburg.
But let’s start with Jackson against Wood. That was the matchup on Friday night in the series opener, and it went more or less how you’d expect, with the Dodgers roughing up Jackson for seven runs in two-plus innings en route to a 7-0 victory.
Yes, Wood deserves credit, and plenty of it. After going 10-0 with a 1.67 ERA during a first half of the season, in which he was one of the biggest surprises in baseball, the 26-year-old lefty had been 4-3 with a 4.53 ERA since the All-Star Game. Entering the weekend, opponents had posted an .826 OPS against him since the break, as compared to just .476 before.
But on Friday, he shut down a potent Nats lineup that -- unlike Thursday’s youth-movement special against the Atlanta Braves -- was filled with regulars from top to bottom. Even though there was no Bryce Harper (still), the six innings of three-hit, shutout ball that Wood tossed bodes well for L.A.’s postseason plans, regardless of whether the Dodgers and Nats actually end up locking horns in October. Just how good was Wood against Washington? Three of his eight punchouts came against Daniel Murphy, who went three full years (from the 2014 All-Star break through the 2017 All-Star break) without whiffing three times in a game.
Whether the Dodgers deserve credit for jumping all over Jackson is another story. Sure, the veteran hurler was shockingly effective after replacing Joe Ross (Tommy John surgery) as the fifth starter out of the break, winning five of his first eight decisions while posting an ERA south of 3. But there’s a reason that Jackson, who now has pitched for 31 (give or take) of MLB’s 30 teams, was released earlier this season by a Baltimore Orioles club whose starting rotation ranks dead last in the American League. And that reason is, small sample sizes notwithstanding, he’s no longer a very effective big league starter.
Against the Dodgers on Friday, the 34-year-old righty got taken yard three times. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, Jackson has served up 16 long balls since the All-Star break, tied for most in the majors. In other words, hanging a 7-spot on Edwin Jackson isn’t quite the same as hanging a 7-spot on, say, Max Scherzer.
Still, manager Dave Roberts and the Dodgers will take it. After losing of 16 of 17 during a freakish free fall that shrunk their cushion over Washington for the National League’s top seed from 15½ games to 3½ games, they’ll take a third straight win. (So what if the first two came against the San Francisco Giants?) After a 23-game stretch in which they averaged less than three runs per contest, never once scored more than six and batted a league-worst .218, they’ll take it. They’ll take their seven runs on nine hits and, Edwin Jackson or no Edwin Jackson, run with it, thank you very much.
As for manager Dusty Baker and the Nationals, it’s hard for them to take much of anything from this game, except for the sinking feeling that comes from getting blanked for the second time in four games.
“Nobody likes to get shut out,” said Baker, whose team has spent the past month since Harper got hurt averaging just 4.1 runs per game (down from 5.4 prior). Regarding Wood, Washington’s skipper had this to say: “We’ll see him again, hopefully.”
If the Nats do see Wood again this year, it won’t be until the National League Championship Series. And if that happens, he’ll probably be matched up against Tanner Roark, or perhaps Gio Gonzalez, neither of whom would be confused with Edwin Jackson. In other words, Friday’s series opener wasn’t very preview-ish. Which is not to say that it was unimportant.
Roberts, who admitted before the game that he slept a little better on Wednesday night after winning a series for the first time in forever, could sleep even more soundly on Friday night. The Nationals? Not so much.
“Obviously, we’re all locked up, and there’s still games to be won and there’s an outside chance to get home-field advantage throughout,” Jayson Werth said after the Nats fell to six games behind the Dodgers for the NL’s top seed. “But we’re still out there competing and playing games. You want to win every game you play. Big game.”
Just not playoffs big.