The question is asked in every sport during the postseason. What team would you rather play? This year that question for the Washington Nationals is would they rather play the Atlanta Braves or St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Divisional Playoff?
The Braves and Cardinals meet Friday in a one game play-in at Atlanta. It is the first scheduled play-in game in MLB playoffs history. The winner will advance to the NLDS and meet Washington in a five game series starting Sunday.
During the 2012 season the Nationals had winning records against both the Braves and Cardinals. Washington and Atlanta met 18 times with the Nationals winning 10. The Braves have won the last four with a three game sweep in September. Washington has only played St. Louis seven times. The Nationals won the series 4-3. Both teams held serve at their place with Washington winning three of four at home and the Cardinals two out of three in St. Louis.
In looking at both possible matchups the Nationals should really be an underdog despite their 98-64 record. Washington has virtually little or no playoff experience. Atlanta was a playoff team in 2010 and barely missed last season.
The Cardinals are the defending world champions. They are making their third postseason appearance in the last five years. St. Louis knows what it takes to play pressure games in October. They came from behind in games six and seven to beat the Texas Rangers in the 2011 World Series.
Another disadvantage for the Nationals is that they will have to play their first two playoff games on the road. As mentioned earlier they were swept in Atlanta three weeks ago. Washington has only won one series in St. Louis since new Busch Stadium opened in 2006. The odds are against the Nationals gaining more than a split in either city.
So back to the question of what team would Washington rather play?
The truth is it does not matter. The Nationals are a good team. This is why they have the best record in baseball. They have won at home and on the road. Whether it is Atlanta or St. Louis, Washington knows it will have to play its first two games away from home and should be prepared.
In the playoffs teams cannot worry about who the competition will be. They should only get themselves ready to play. To win a championship teams have to beat the best whether the name on the jersey says Atlanta or St. Louis. The Nationals should welcome both of them with open arms.
Playoff teams should be confident when facing anyone. Every series and game starts at zero. What has happened in the past doesn’t matter. In 1988 the Los Angeles Dodgers lost 10 out of 11 regular season meetings against the New York Mets then beat them in seven games to win the pennant.
Washington should not care who they play in the NLDS. The Nationals should simply concentrate on preparing for game one and go from there.