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Dodgers’ struggles open up a window of opportunity for the Nationals

The Los Angeles Dodgers have been a shell of their former selves and the Washington Nationals could reap the benefits.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Washington Nationals Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

It seemed to be foregone conclusion that the Los Angeles Dodgers were on a quest to be the best team in the history of baseball, but their recent slide has the Washington Nationals in a good position to challenge them for the pennant.

Entering play Aug. 26, the Dodgers were 91-36 — on pace to win 116 games, which would tie the MLB record set by the 2001 Mariners. Since then, however, Los Angeles has dropped 12 of their last 13 to fall to 92-48 on the season.

While that .657 winning percentage still has the Blue Crew sitting 10 games up on the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West and six games over the Nats for the best record in the National League, their fall to Earth has shifted the momentum away from Los Angeles.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Los Angeles Dodgers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Poised to take advantage of that momentum shift are the Nationals, who’ve slowly built up their roster back to relatively full health after injuries plagued them throughout the regular season. Bryce Harper still remains an uncertainty for the NLDS, but Trea Turner, Michael Taylor and Jayson Werth have all returned to the field following lengthy DL stints.

“We’re still in the mindset we’re trying to win each and every game,” Mike Rizzo told the Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan. “Obviously we have to be smart about it. But we want to win as many games as we can, we want to stay sharp, we want to play our players and with that said we’re trying to find out right now what the playoff roster is going to consist of.”

Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg have both spent stints on the shelf as well, but the rotation is back at full strength and firing on all cylinders. Since the All-Star Break, the Nats stand alone with the best team ERA in the Senior Circuit by over half a run — 3.15 by Washington compared to 3.67 by Los Angeles.

The bullpen has also seen a resurgence since the acquisitions of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler. Since joining the Nats, Doolittle has converted all 16 save opportunities, Madson hasn’t allowed a run in 12 appearances and Kintzler is posting even better numbers than he did when he was named an All-Star with the Minnesota Twins earlier this season.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers have struggled across the board. Key hitters like Justin Turner (-.247 change in OPS between first and second half), Enrique Hernandez (-.096) and Yasmani Grandal (-.065) have all seen a dip in production since the All-Star Break.

So far in the month of the September, the team has a 5.63 ERA. Yu Darvish hasn’t been as good as advertised (4.50 ERA with the Dodgers) and Rich Hill hasn’t been himself as of late (4.41 ERA since Aug. 1). Even Clayton Kershaw struggled in his last outing, allowing four earned runs in just three and two thirds innings against the Colorado Rockies in L.A.

“Our guys are upset and frustrated, trying to figure out a way to win one game, when a few weeks ago it seemed like there was nothing we could do to lose a game,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, as quoted by True Blue LA.

The Dodgers are still certainly the favorite to win the World Series, but the rest of the league need not concede their season to the L.A. powerhouse. The way things are going right now, the Nationals could take that title from them before October rolls around.