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With pivotal Game 3 win, Nats now have luxury that Dodgers probably can’t afford

The third game of any series, but especially a five-game set, is critical. The Washington Nationals now have the luxury of holding their ace for Game 5 (if necessary) — and have forced the Los Angeles Dodgers into a very difficult decision.

MLB: NLDS-Washington Nationals at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The third game of any series, but especially a five-game set, is critical.

And with the pitching situation for the two teams involved in this series, it was even more so.

By virtue of the Washington Nationals’ Game 3 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday, the Dodgers are faced with a very difficult decision the Nats now don’t have to make.

Back to that in a moment.

Let’s first once more savor Anthony Rendon’s first career postseason home run. Take the time to appreciate Sammy Solis and Shawn Kelley’s dominant outings out of the pen. Pause to appreciate Jayson Werth’s mammoth ninth-inning blast off L.A. closer Kenley Jansen or Ryan Zimmerman’s “double” off the glove of Josh Reddick in right field.

Let’s just, I don’t know, be happy for a little while longer.

For a franchise that, in its short history, has had its share of frustration in the postseason, it’s a good feeling to have a series lead regardless of the situation.

But back to that difficult decision, one the Nats could just have easily have faced.

As I type these words, at 9:23 p.m. Pacific Time Monday, neither team has named their starter for Game 4 on Tuesday.

Do the Dodgers bring back Game 1 starter, their ace Clayton Kershaw, to start Game 4 on Tuesday in an elimination game?

The Nats have the luxury now of holding Max Scherzer back for Game 5 (if necessary) on Thursday at Nats Park, and manager Dusty Baker said as much. It’s the Dodgers with the conundrum of starting Kershaw. Let’s list some of the issues:

  1. Kershaw just recently returned from a back injury that caused him to miss two months of the regular season, starting just 21 games.
  2. If he pitches on Tuesday, it would come on short rest.
  3. He wasn’t particularly effective in Game 1, allowing three earned runs on eight hits and a walk in just five innings, throwing 65 of his 101 pitches for strikes.
  4. Their other option is 20-year-old Julio Urias, who has started a grand total of 15 big league games.

The Nats would have been in the same boat the Dodgers are in now if they had dropped Game 3. Would they have asked Scherzer to start on short rest, or turn to a two-headed monster that is full of questions?

The Nats’ presumed Game 4 starter now is Joe Ross, who has a wealth of experience compared to Urias — a whopping 32 career MLB starts. Add in that Ross missed roughly the same amount of time that Kershaw did to injury this season, and the situations are fairly similar.

Ross has been pretty good since returning from the D.L. with a shoulder strain — he only gave up one earned run in each of his three appearances down the stretch. The problem, of course, is that those three appearances consisted of 3, 2 23, and 4 innings.

This is why Reynaldo Lopez (he of 11 big league appearances with six starts) is on the playoff roster — but hasn’t pitched yet, despite the bullpen logging 12 innings in three games thus far. Should Ross falter, or pitch effectively but only give them four innings on 90 pitches, Lopez is there to hopefully pick up the slack.

It’s much more palatable to send Ross/Lopez to the hill for a Game 4 start knowing they a) have a 2-1 lead in the series and b) that Scherzer will be rested and ready for Game 5 (if necessary), and presumably wouldn’t have to face Kershaw again.

It’s the Dodgers with the tough choice, all the while facing elimination.