Time to start watching the Dodgers with a scouting eye

No, the Nationals haven't clinched the National League East title. Yet. The champagne celebration has been pushed back just a bit. But it will happen, probably sometime this weekend in Pittsburgh. Maybe not until early next week when the team comes home to face the Diamondbacks.

And so while one eye obviously should be kept on the immediate task at hand, it's OK to start focusing the other eye on the Nationals' likely opponent in the National League Division Series: the Dodgers. (Just be careful not to do that for too long, lest your eyes get stuck crossed for the rest of your life!)

What was shaping up to be a compelling race for the NL West title is beginning to look anticlimactic. The Giants are an utter mess right now, capped by last night's ninth-inning fiasco at Dodger Stadium, which gave the home team a 2-1 victory and a six-game lead. (By the way, if you're worried about the Nats bullpen, just imagine what Giants fans are thinking right now. That team has blown nine ninth-inning leads this season, five this month alone. For comparison's sake, the Nats have blown three ninth-inning leads all season.)

So while nothing is official quite yet, the Nationals-Dodgers NLDS matchup is quite probable at this point.

And that matchup should be a doozy. Think of the star-power between the two clubs: Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Daniel Murphy, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth. Think of the exciting, young talent: Trea Turner, Corey Seager, Julio Urias, Joe Ross.

Then think of the two big names who sadly won't be part of that series, for very different reasons: Stephen Strasburg (injury) and Vin Scully (calling it quits at the end of the regular season after 67 years broadcasting Dodger games).

Here, then, is a quick primer on the potential matchup, some stuff to keep an eye on over the next two weeks.

Home field advantage: The team with the better overall record will get home-field advantage for the series. Right now, the Nationals (88-62) are three games up on the Dodgers (85-65). If they end up tied, Los Angeles would win the tiebreaker based on a head-to-head record this season of 5-1.

Games 1, 2 and a potential Game 5 would be played in the city with the better record (right now, D.C.). Games 3 and 4 would be played in the other city (right now, L.A.).

Why is home field advantage particularly important in this series? Well, the Dodgers play .640 ball (48-27) at home, but just .493 ball (37-38) on the road. The Nationals play .622 ball (46-28) at home, .553 ball (42-34) on the road.

Kershaw, by the way, is 7-1 with 1.19 ERA at Dodger Stadium this year. He's 4-2 with a 2.28 ERA everywhere else.

Also keep in mind that there are days off for travel between Games 2 and 3, and between Games 4 and 5. What that means in practical terms: You could send your Game 1 starter back to the mound on short rest for Game 4, then send your Game 2 starter back to the mound on normal rest for Game 5, if you so choose.

The Dodgers struggle against left-handers: It's no secret that L.A.'s lineup is not suited to face southpaws. The Dodgers are hitting a collective .211 against lefties, with a .289 on-base percentage and .331 slugging percentage. They rank last in the major leagues in all three categories. (Against right-handers, they bat .262/.329/.439, which ranks fifth or sixth in the majors.)

Gonzalez-Throws-Gray-Sidebar.jpgWhich makes Gio Gonzalez an awfully important figure for the Nationals in this potential matchup. He faced the Dodgers once this season, on July 20 at home, and allowed just one run on three hits in six innings in an 8-1 victory.

The left side of the Nationals bullpen also would be critical in this series. Critical enough to carry three of them, in the form of Marc Rzepczynski, Oliver Perez and Sean Burnett? Possibly.

The Dodgers have all kinds of injury issues: Los Angeles set a major league record this season, and not the kind of record you want to set. This team has placed 28 different players on the disabled list in 2016, most in history.

For comparison's sake, the Nationals have put 10 players on the DL.

And even those that are currently on the active roster still have lingering questions, most notably the two members of the rotation.

Kershaw missed 2 1/2 months with a back injury that nearly required season-ending surgery. He has come back this month and made three starts (including a very strong one last night) but it's still a lingering question. He also hasn't thrown more than 88 pitches in a game since late June.

The bigger concern, though, might actually be Rich Hill, the out-of-nowhere second ace of the staff who has been utterly brilliant when healthy this season (12-4, 2.06 ERA with the A's and Dodgers) but has made only 18 starts because of a blister issue that never seems to entirely go away. The Dodgers can't afford to play it safe with Hill in the postseason and pull him with a perfect game intact the way they did earlier this month, but the veteran lefty always seems to be one skin irritation away from being unavailable altogether.

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