When healthy, Clayton Kershaw was the best pitcher in the National League this season. Max Scherzer very well could take home the league's Cy Young honors this season. Who has the edge in their NLDS Game 1 showdown?
Go inside the numbers and matchups that will decide Game 1, and then vote for which team will win at the bottom of the page.
Inside the pitching matchup
When Kershaw is on the mound: Very few runs are scored! In 21 starts, he allowed 31 runs. He walked just 11 batters, and one of those was intentional. He struck out 172 batters in 149 innings and batters hit just .184 against him. He missed two-plus months with a herniated disk in his back and some believe he was so good outside of that missed time that he deserves Cy Young consideration. He pitched well after his return, allowing just two earned runs his final four starts.
Kershaw continues to evolve a bit as a pitcher. He now throws his slider more than ever, 33 percent of the time, as his fastball rate has dropped from 62 percent in his first Cy Young season in 2012 to 50.6 percent. What makes that pitch so tough is that unlike a lot of sliders, it's actually in the zone much of the time, making it a pitch he can throw in any count, not just as a two-strike sit-'em-down offering. Batters hit .138/.152/.191 against it.
If there's hope for the Nationals, it's that Kershaw wasn't as dominant away from Dodger Stadium. He had a 2.31 ERA on the road, where he also allowed seven of his eight home runs. He completely shut down left-handed batters (.138, no home runs in 138 at-bats), so don't expect Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy to do much damage. After losing four straight postseason starts, Kershaw had two good starts against the Mets last year, although -- let's admit it -- he has yet to have that Bumgarner-type outing in 10 career playoff starts. Note also that he hasn't gone more than 91 pitches since his return (and exceeded 110 just three times all season). -- David Schoenfield
When Scherzer is on the mound: Scherzer ended up leading the NL in wins, innings, starts, strikeouts, strikeout-to-walk ratio (Kershaw didn't pitch enough innings to qualify) and home runs allowed, with 31, although his rate dropped significantly in the second half. Scherzer's pure stuff is absolutely electric -- as we saw in that record-tying 20-strikeout game -- playing off a four-seam fastball which averaged 94.3 mph. Because he gets good armside run with the pitch, it generates more swing-and-misses than most four-seamers. Only Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello had a higher swing-and-miss rate with the fastball.
Scherzer also throws a curveball and changeup, but it's the slider that makes him unhittable at times. Only Jose Fernandez generated a higher miss rate with his slider among qualified starters -- both were over 49 percent. Batters hit just .146 against it.
Scherzer did have a big platoon split which may play into the lefty-heavy Dodgers lineup. Lefties hit .242/.315/.445 against him compared to .156/.189/.288 against righties. His changeup isn't the same wipeout pitch against lefties as the slider is against righties. It will be interesting to see if he changes his pattern a bit and throws more sliders and fewer changeups. Scherzer can also get into trouble when he's behind in the count and simply tries to throw his fastball past hitters. Because he pitches up in the zone with his four-seamer, he's a fly ball pitcher with the fastball, explaining some of his home run issues. -- Schoenfield
Player in the spotlight
Daniel Murphy: He hit seven home runs in last year's postseason for the Mets (all in the NLDS and NLCS), led the NL in slugging percentage and OPS (beating out Joey Votto when extending to four decimal points) but batted just once in the final 11 games as he battled a strained buttocks. The Nationals say he's ready to go. -- Schoenfield
What will decide tonight's game
Look for Kershaw's best pitch to help him dominate a team that's particularly susceptible to it. Kershaw held batters to a .192 average on his curveball this season, which ranked third among pitchers with 300 or more curves thrown, and he held batters to just a 2 percent hard-hit rate, baseball's best mark. Nationals hitters posted a .565 OPS versus curveballs this season, which ranked 22nd in MLB. -- ESPN Stats & Info
Choosing sides: Who will win?
Scherzer is a big-game pitcher. Don't believe me? Just ask the Tigers, who fanned 20 times earlier this season against their former teammate in a game he was totally jacked up for. As for Kershaw, he's not a big-game pitcher. Just ask pretty much anyone who has ever faced him in the postseason. Nats gets a curly W in the opener. -- Eddie Matz
It will be Clayton Kershaw with a fresh arm and loads of motivation going for the Dodgers in Game 1 on Friday. But the Dodgers made their chops this season on the back of a surprise bullpen and a rejuvenated offense, and that is what ultimately will win them the opener late, in what figures to be a classic pitchers' duel between Kershaw and Scherzer. -- Doug Padilla
Where the series stands
The Nationals were favored to beat the Giants two years ago in the division series, but dropped the first two games at home and lost in four. With some of their injury issues, it seems more people are picking the Dodgers. Their best bet it to have Scherzer outpitch Kershaw, not just in the opener, but perhaps later in the series if they match up again. -- Schoenfield