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Nats stars must shine in Game 5

In order for the Washington Nationals to win Game 5 against the Los Angeles Dodgers and advance to the NLCS, the Nats stars — Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper — must come through.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

So, here we are again. An elimination game in the NLDS. In 2012 it was the St. Louis Cardinals, in '14 the San Francisco Giants. Now, the lefty-heavy Los Angeles Dodgers.

We all know how those ended — poorly — for the Curly Ws.

The Washington Nationals can erase, or at least push further back into the recesses of memory, those series if they can win on Thursday — with their ace on the mound — and advance to the NLCS against the Chicago Cubs, who vanquished the even-year destiny of the Giants on Tuesday night.

But it’s gonna take some doing.

The Nats have gotten consistent production from rookie Trea Turner (despite the strikeouts), Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon, as well as the bullpen up until Game 4. It’s time for the stars to lead them in Game 5.

The Dodgers, winners of a dramatic, back-and-forth Game 4 in L.A., have momentum coming into the final game. They’ll be fired up for winning late and pushing the series to the max.

The Nats should take comfort and confidence that they will send their ace, Max Scherzer, to the hill, as planned. He’ll face reclamation project Rich Hill or 20-year-old rookie Julio Urias. Unless, of course, they decide to pitch Clayton Kershaw again on one day of rest.

Scherzer, in his pre-start press availability, said, "This is probably the biggest start of my career, the biggest start of my life." It’s the biggest for this franchise too, since the last time a Nats starter took the mound in an elimination game, two years ago, and lost.

The starting pitcher is a focal point of the team’s hopes and expectations. He sets the tone. The Nats need Scherzer to be the "Mad Max" that dominates batters and flirts with no-hitters with 20-strikeout stuff — and not "Bad Max" who will give up a couple of home runs and always flirt with blowing up.

Boy, the Nats sure could use a special performance from that heterochromiatic goofball.

The bend-but-don’t-break bullpen faltered in Game 4. They’ve all had a day off — such that traveling across country can provide — and should all be good to go. But count me among those that would prefer not to see a single one of them pitch on Thursday night.

The other guy the Nats would benefit greatly from seeing is Bryce Harper. You know, MVP Bryce Harper, not 3 for 14 with one extra-base hit and one RBI in the series Bryce Harper. Harper’s postseason (.214/.421/.286) eerily mirrors his regular season power outage. Lots of walks and not a whole lot else.

In fact, he hasn’t homered since Sept. 10 and has just four homers since July 21 covering 236 plate appearances. For all the protestation from the Nats brass that Harper isn’t injured, they damn sure better hope that he is and they can fix him once the season is over.

Anyway, the Dodgers have been hammering Harper up and out with fastballs. He can’t catch up to them and they know it. Even when he gets a pitch to hit, he’s merely fouling it off. It’s almost better if the Dodgers start the lefty Hill in Game 5 as he’d have a harder time hitting that upper corner as a lefty pitcher against a lefty hitter.

Boy, the Nats sure could use Harper "running into one" Thursday evening.

The Nats are the latest D.C. team to bear the burden of expectation and hope to advance in the playoffs. It’s been 18 years since the Capitals lost in the Stanley Cup finals — the last time a team from D.C. even advanced to a conference championship series or game. The last time D.C. had a title was 1991, the last Redskins’ Super Bowl year.

So there’s an entire generation of D.C. sports fans that know nothing but playoff failure. The D.C. teams have been good enough to get to the playoffs on a routine basis, then manage to flame out in the most bizarre or spectacular of fashions.

The time for that to stop is Thursday.

The Nats need their stars to lead in Game 5.