Unlike the San Francisco Giants and Cincinnati Reds, the Washington Nationals have yet to win their division. Despite having the best record in all of baseball Washington’s magic number for clinching the National League East stands at five after today’s 12-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. The Nationals are five games up on the Atlanta Braves with 9 games to go.
Because the Braves are still in the race, Washington has to continue to play meaningful baseball for at least another week. With a playoff spot clinched they can pick and choose spots to rest players. Michael Morse was benched today due to an injury to his left thumb that has not totally healed. However, if the Nationals want to avoid playing a one game wildcard playoff then they must hold off the Braves.
This is how adding a fifth playoff team has affected team’s play down the stretch.
Before 2012, the Nationals would not have to worry about a one game playoff. They would have at least the fourth seed locked up and be guaranteed a best three of five series in the first round. Washington would still have to beat out Atlanta in order to win home field, but could begin preparations for post season play early. They would not know who their opponent was going to be, but could prepare for three games instead of one.
This year, the Nationals have to hold off the Braves or face playing a one and done game. If they were to drop down to a wildcard Washington would be the home team. However, they would have to use one of their best pitchers in order to win it. With everything at stake, Washington would also have to make moves in the bullpen to win that day’s game. This will affect their pitching staff throughout the post season.
So Washington plays on. Barring a monumental collapse coupled with an Atlanta hot streak the Nationals are probably going to win the NL East. This would probably earn them at least the two seed. They currently lead the Reds by one game for best overall record while San Francisco trails them by four.
However, until the Nationals can reach that magic number of five they will have to play to win. Meanwhile the Reds and Giants prepare for a five game opening playoff series.
Somehow this just doesn’t seem fair, but a team must play the hand that is dealt to them.