The Washington Nationals need to win the National League East. If they do not, Washington will have to play a one game wildcard playoff in order to advance to a best of five league championship series. After spending almost the entire 2012 season in first place and with the best record in baseball, losing the division could be a serious blow to the young Nationals.
Washington is currently four games up on the Atlanta Braves with eight to play. The Nationals’ magic number for clinching the East is five. In a best case scenario, they could clinch the division by Friday. In the worst case, they could be caught by Atlanta and end up a wildcard.
Though there have been setbacks, the 2012 season has been pretty smooth for Washington. They moved into first place in the East on May 22 and have been there since. Their largest lead was 8 1/2 games on September 12. The team has battled with the Cincinnati Reds for best record in baseball status since late July. If they were to finish at the top, Washington would be guaranteed home field advantage throughout the post season.
The division title and home field have been out there for so long. If the Nationals were to blow a 8 1/2 game lead in less than a month, it could have a devastating affect on the team’s psyche going into the playoffs. When a young ball club like Washington has things going their way for so long, any adversity could have lasting repercussions.
The Nationals have believed that they are going to win the East. They have believed that they will not play a one game playoff. They have believed that they would play at least three post season games. They have believed that they would have home field advantage at least in the first round.
If Washington were to blow a four game lead with eight to play, it will change the entire dynamics of their season. Instead of having ace Gio Gonzalez pitch the first game of a best of five series, they would have to use him in the wildcard playoff. If Gonzalez cannot go the distance, then the Nationals would have to use its bullpen, which would weaken it for the rest of the post season.
If the Nationals were to lose the wildcard game, it would be a sour note to the end of a fantastic season for players, management and a city that has waited 79 years for post season play. Because of these scenarios, Washington would rather not have to play in it.
The Nationals need to win the NL East. They need to go into the post season on a high note. If they lose, it may be very tough for them to bounce back after coming so close.