I, of course, will be live-tweeting @harpergordek if you are interested in such things and for some reason don't follow me. Ok that should take care of that one person.
Why/How the Nats can win this game :
Scherzer is not as good as Kershaw but he's as close as any mortal, especially in Nats park. Kershaw has been very good since coming back from injury but his strikeouts are way down, and balls in play mean things can happen. It shouldn't get out of hand and I like how the Nats bullpen is performing right now more than the Dodgers. (Fun fact : Dodgers were #1 in reliever ERA, Nationals #2), if that's even an issue. We all know Max can and will go as deep as his arm lets him. The Nats bats have a good mix of guys that have seen Kershaw several times and have been able to get some hits off him, and guys who haven't seen Kershaw a lot but are hitting well. Keep it within a run, start in on Kershaw late, push in a couple. There you go.
Why/How the Nats can lose this game :
Max can be unhittable, but Kershaw more so, and we'd have to imagine Kershaw has more of an advantage especially given their recent performances. Kershaw has relatively cruised into the playoffs while Max has reverted back to early season Max who was at the mercy of the timing of the bombs he'd give up. If there's an errant base hit or walk on base and Max gives up a homer or two, the Nats will find themselves in a pretty big hole. Those chances increase when you realize the Dodgers are Harvey Dent against right-handers, doing good. The Nats line-up, on the other hand, is unstable right now with Ramos gone and Murphy hurt and possibly out. Fall behind early and watch Kershaw mow the Nats down with ease.
Why/How the Nats can win the series :
The Dodgers have a huge weakness. They can't hit lefties. They are so bad against lefties that the Nats should win that Gio game, whether it is game 2 or 3.* If the Nats can win either the Max or the Roark game that would put them at least up 2-1, if not sweeping the series. This seems pretty possible given Roark's consistent quality this year and the fact that Hill (never taxed since returning from injury) and Maeda (staggered cross the finish line) are beatable. Dusty has also been very good with matching up LHRP to LHB and vice
versa this year which will help negate any late inning pushes by the
Dodgers. From there the Dodgers, if they are still in it, are in a bind - choose to use Kershaw on short rest, when he's less effective, just to get to G5, or they can start Urias, who'd likely only go 4-5 innings, taxing their pen. Either way it would be a huge task to win both G4 and G5 for them.
Why/How the Nats can lose the series :
Playoff games are usually lower scoring affairs because we don't see
those bad starters and managers are more willing to sell out bullpens. At the same time the Nats offense is in a spot. While Severino has hit well for Ramos so far, little in his history says that is sustainable. If he hits in the playoffs, it'll be because the Nats got lucky. That likely leaves the Nats with a bottom of an order that any starter can sail through - Espy, Zimm, C, P. If that's not bad enough, we are unsure of how healthy Murphy really is. If he's hampered by his injury at all that leaves the Nats with four decent bats and basically a need for all of them to get hot at the same time. Unmentioned is the potential psychological effects of not scoring many runs for the first say 12+ innings. Outside of G5 in 2012 the Nats offense has been very quiet, scoring 3-4-0-2-7-2-1-4-2 runs in the playoffs. Start out slow and the idea that "we just can't score in the playoffs" might start running through the team, making a bad situation worse. The flip side of the Dodgers doing bad against lefties is they do well versus righties and they are going to see righty starters in 3 of the first 4 games. Plus all the Nats best relievers, Melancon, Kelley, Treinen, are righties. This could set up some troublesome late innings if the Nats pen gets overworked and some of those lefties are unavailable, or if Dusty gets a little too rigid in the 8th and 9th
In a five game series every game is huge but this one stands out as particularly important... for the Dodgers. The Dodgers thrive at home and if they can take away the Nats home field advantage in one of these two, that's huge. Kershaw is obviously the best chance to do it. Plus Kershaw is Kershaw. He is the ace of aces. If they can't win with him, there has to be some sort of negative psychological effect**. Lose game one and to get HFA away from the Nats they have to beat a Roark everyone knows is a tough out with either Maeda or Rich Hill. They are good pitchers but Maeda does not go deep into games regularly and Hill hasn't been asked to since coming back. It'll take several pitchers doing what they need to for the Dodgers to accomplish what they need to. They likely won't be favored to do so. If they can't take that one and HFA sticks, then they have to beat a lefty, which they don't usually do, and beat Max in DC after just failing to do so in G1, to take the series. That's a tall order
So anything can happen, it's a short series, etc. etc., but I see this game 1 as very critical. It's more so for the Dodgers, as I described above, but it's also more than just a typical bad start for the Nats. If Strasburg was healthy, they could probably weather a G1 loss as well as any team. Thanks to the Strasburg injury, however, the Nats are probably in more trouble than your average team. Ross has been fine since coming back, but just fine and lefties hit him hard. Thinking about him starting in Dodger Stadium... I don't see good things. The Nats probably don't either and really don't want to use him in a win or go home game. At the same time Max and Dusty both lean toward not using Max on short rest for that game either. I feel like the Nats are at a big disadvantage in winning that game. The Nats should be favored in both G2 and G3 (at least in my mind), so I don't think it's as critical for the Nats to win G1 as it is for the Dodgers but it's not far off because of the implications for later in the series if the Nats don't catch all the breaks.
*I think what others have said - Gio goes G2 if Nats win G1, Roark goes if they lose
**granted it could last all of two batters into the next game but still.
UPDATE : ROSTER THOUGHTS
Basically it was the roster predicted by me with Belisle out for Michael A Taylor. This is a curious choice in my mind - Belisle had been very effective and the Nats G4 situation was precarious with one more arm in the pen. Taylor does give them the late game D replacement for Werth, and a 2nd pinch runner, so it's not useless but I would have went the other way.