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As the MLB playoffs draw closer, the Cleveland Indians look to be in top form while the Los Angeles Dodgers just keep losing. USA TODAY Sports

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Right around the time the champagne-soaked Washington Nationals mugged for a team photo after clinching their second consecutive National League East title Sunday, Walker Buehler served up a grand slam that clinched the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 15th loss in 16 games.

It was a coincidental pair of events, but it also crystallized the recent fortunes of both teams, and inspires a question unthinkable just days ago.

Are the Dodgers no longer the team to beat in the National League playoffs?

As the Dodgers’ collapse morphs from head-scratching blip to legitimate crisis, it’s almost irrelevant to wonder if they can “find their stride” and return to their 116-win pace of just a couple weeks ago.

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Instead, it seems reasonable to accept that they have been exposed on some level, that their overall resume more resembles that of a rank-and-file playoff squad rather than an indomitable juggernaut.

That brings us to today’s events. Buehler was potentially the hood ornament on this high-octane machine, a top prospect who hits 100 mph on the radar gun and, in a perfect world, might make a potent relief weapon come October.

He joined the Dodgers amid their rest-and-tinker September mode, a privilege afforded a team that built a 21-game lead by Aug. 25.

Sunday, however, the Dodgers had lost nine in a row and trailed the Colorado Rockies 2-0 in the eighth inning when they handed the ball to Buehler.

Not a bad mid-leverage spot for the new kid to make his second major league appearance. Yet Buehler caught the yips, too: A walk, two singles and then a towering grand slam by Mark Reynolds. The previously struggling Rockies had their four-game sweep.

And suddenly, the Dodgers’ division lead is down to nine games. Their lead over the Nationals for best NL record is a mere four games – with a three-game set at Washington next weekend.

And when you consider the relative merits of both those teams – to say nothing of the still-dangerous Chicago Cubs and the Dodgers’ most recent nightmare, the Arizona Diamondbacks – is your money best spent on L.A.?

Consider that the Dodgers’ run differential is now down to more mortal +168 – not much better than the Nationals’ +157.

Consider that the Nationals – who have been ravaged by injury and may not have Bryce Harper for their playoff run – haven’t lost more than four consecutive games this season despite near-constant lineup disruption.

And once you get past a Clayton Kershaw-Max Scherzer Game 1 coin flip, who do you like beyond that?

The Nationals’ No. 2 starter, Stephen Strasburg, is rumbling toward the playoffs, with a major league-best 34-inning scoreless streak.

The Dodgers’ No. 2 man….well, just who is their No. 2?

Is it trade deadline darling Yu Darvish? Darvish now has a 5.34 ERA in a half-dozen starts for L.A., and hasn’t made it into the sixth inning since Aug. 16.

Is it first half breakout star Alex Wood? He started 11-0 with a 1.56 ERA, but has a 4.53 second-half ERA, and has seen his strikeout-to-walk ratio nearly cut in half (4.41 to 2.79).

Is it lefty Rich Hill? Arguably the steadiest of this group, Hill’s still striking out more than a batter an inning. But he was erratic a year ago in the postseason, turning in one solid outing against the Cubs but misfiring in a pair of starts against the Nationals.

That’s not unlike the postseason resume of the Nationals’ No. 3 starter, Gio Gonzalez, who has never reached the sixth inning in four career postseason starts. But 2017 has brought the world Peak Gio – he’s going to set career bests in ERA (currently 2.50) and WAR (6.9), and right now looks like a solid playoff No. 3.

Offense? The Nationals have outscored the Dodgers by 67 runs this season, and while most of that advantage was earned as Harper produced MVP-caliber numbers, they’ve nonetheless gone 19-10 since he suffered a severe bone bruise to his left knee in August.

Despite their significant depth, the Dodgers have been largely out of sorts offensively since young sluggers Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager have been felled by ankle and elbow injuries late last month.

Should the Dodgers retain the NL’s best record, they’ll have to beat the Rockies-Diamondbacks wild card survivor in the NLDS. In this 1-15 death march, the Dodgers lost all nine games against Arizona and Colorado; they won’t see either until a season-ending series at Coors Field.

Until then, the conditions are ripe to right themselves: 13 of the Dodgers’ next 16 games are against the Giants, Padres and Phillies.

You could argue that even this stretch doesn’t matter. That maybe the Dodgers would be better served to slip behind the Nationals and avoid Arizona’s Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray, and take their chances with the defending champion Cubs’ uncertain pitching in the NLDS.

Fair enough. But 1-15 is a stretch that’s too ugly to ignore. An aberration, maybe, but also an undeniable piece of the Dodgers’ body of work. As Justin Turner put it after Sunday’s loss, “Right now, we’re the worst team in baseball.”

A World Series run would render all of it a footnote. But as the season-long numbers settle in, that run is looking a lot more complicated.

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