There are some who will say that Washington backed into the title because they lost 2-0 Monday to the Philadelphia Phillies. These are the people who feel that teams should take care of their own business by winning and not have to rely on others.
The truth is that Washington earned their division title over the course of six months of playing very good baseball. Teams who win 96 games don’t back into anything.
The victory guaranteed Washington of at least three post season games. They will begin the NL divisional playoff this weekend. Their possible opponents are the Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.
The news of Atlanta’s loss led to a wild celebration by players on the field and in the locker room. Champagne was sprayed on anyone who could be reached. Then, shirts and hats were donned saying 2012 NL East champions.
By clinching the division title with two games left, Washington can now plan for the post season. Manager Davey Johnson can rest some starters and set up his starting pitching rotation. With five to six days to get ready, Johnson can basically set his lineup as if it were opening day of the regular season. All a team or manager can ask is to go into post season at full strength and the Nationals will.
Another thing that clinching the division does is give Washington a chance to exhale. It seemed as if the team was playing a little tight the last few days. Their record since clinching a playoff spot on Sept. 20 is 5-6. They have split four games with the Milwaukee Brewers and Phillies and lost two out of three to St. Louis. Maybe now that they know a playoff series is guaranteed, the team can take a few days to get themselves ready mentally for post season play.
All of this is knew to the young Nationals. There are very few players on the team who have been through a pennant race. Outfielder Jayson Werth won a World Series with the Phillies. First baseman Adam LaRoche has post season experience with the Braves. Pitcher Edwin Jackson was a member of the Cardinals when they won it all last season. That’s it.
The one person who does have post season experience is Johnson. This is the fifth team that he has managed to the playoffs. He won a World Series with the New York Mets in 1986. Johnson knows what post season play is about and will have to translate it to his young team.
All of this is a story for another day. Today’s news is that Washington has clinched the NL East and the shirts can go on sale.