Daniel Murphy and left-handed pitching for the Washington Nationals have played key roles in the first two games of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Murphy is 4-for-6 in the first two games and the Dodgers are 1-for-14 against left-handed pitching in this series.
Now the series shifts to Dodger Stadium on Monday afternoon for Game 3 and not only will the Dodgers have to face Murphy three or four more times, their hitters will have to face left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez.
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"He wants to be in that position," Washington manager Dusty Baker said of Murphy. "You know, that's where it starts. You have to want to be in that position. He has a high level of concentration, and he has a pretty good idea what he wants to do with the ball. And he knows when he's supposed to keep it off the ground. He knows when he's supposed to make contact. He also knows when he should go for the bunt, go for the homer. He has a great idea on how to play and how to hit and how to play this game."
In seven postseason games against the Dodgers, Murphy is 11-for-27 (.408) with three home runs and five RBIs. He was 7-for-21 last year for the Mets, hit two home runs in Los Angeles and had three hits in two RBIs in Sunday's 5-2 win.
Murphy also was on second base prior to Jose Lobton's three-run home run that turned an early 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead.
"He has a way of -- what he always does is he puts an at-bat together," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "You know, especially in the post-season, he really doesn't go out of the zone. He really stays in the strike zone and finds a way to use the whole field. And left on left, right on left, it really doesn't matter for Murphy."
Meanwhile getting the left-handed hitting second baseman out has hardly been the only issue for Los Angeles, which is tied heading into Game 3 for the fourth straight season. After finishing the regular season with an MLB-worst .213 average against left-handed pitching, the Dodgers have not been productive when facing southpaw relievers Sammy Solis, Marc Rzepcynski and Oliver Perez.
Solis held the Dodgers to one hit in seven at-bats in the series opener and retired Adrian Gonzalez for the final out of the sixth with two on. Rzepcynski issued three walks Sunday but struck out Yasmani Grandal and retired Howie Kendrick with the bases loaded in the fifth before retiring Charlie Culberson and Corey Seager in the sixth.
"I don't really think that guys are too concerned about the history," Roberts said. "I think that we are looking forward to this one game, Game 3, and we've got some history with Gio. So he's going to have to make pitches to beat us."
Gonzalez is 3-1 with a 1.69 ERA in five career starts against the Dodgers. On Aug. 10, 2015, he allowed seven hits over eight shutout innings in an 8-3 win at Los Angeles and on July 20 in Washington, Gonzalez allowed one run and three hits in six innings of an 8-1 victory.
The hitters on the Dodgers' postseason roster have combined for a .163 average (23-for-141) against Gonzalez. Gonzalez is 2-for-17, Yasiel Puig is 1-for-11, Utley is 3-for-20 and Justin Turner is 2-for-19.
"It's never easy facing that lineup," Gonzalez said. "I would never say, hey, just go out there and pitch. You definitely have to some have common sense to throw some of these guys. You can't just groove a fastball right down the middle."
The hitter with the best numbers against Gonzalez is catcher Carlos Ruiz, who is 7-for-29 (.241).
Gonzalez was 11-11 with a 4.57 ERA during the regular season and was 0-2 with an 8.31 ERA in his last three starts. Against left-handed hitters, he gave up a .241 average with one home run.
Monday will be Gonzalez's fourth postseason start for the Nationals and he has a 3.21 ERA in three no-decisions in the playoffs. He started Games 1 and 5 against the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012 and two years ago Gonzalez pitched four scoreless innings in the Game 4 loss at San Francisco.
Even if Los Angeles struggles against Gonzalez and other left-handed pitching, it might have the edge in starting pitching by sending Kenta Maeda to the mound. Last year Brett Anderson started a 13-7 loss in New York and lasted three innings in Game 3.
Maeda went 16-11 with a 3.48 ERA in 32 starts during his rookie campaign. He led the Dodgers in wins, innings (175 2/3) and strikeouts (179). Maeda also led qualifying rookie starters with a .229 opponents' batting average, a 1.14 WHIP and a 3.58 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Maeda also was the only Dodger to make every start.
"It was an honor and I was happy that I was able to pitch throughout the whole season, and especially this year with a lot of injuries, there was no time for me to afford missing starts," Maeda said through an interpreter Sunday morning before flying back to Los Angeles to rest.