As the focus shifts towards the playoffs, the Washington Nationals still have an agenda to follow the rest of the regular season.
Although the champagne is still in the box, it is time for the Washington Nationals to think and prepare as National League East champions.
With a healthy 10-game bulge over the New York Mets Tuesday, the Nationals could clinch as early as this weekend in Atlanta against the Braves.
As Dusty Baker prepares for a long run into October, here is a short list of things he and the rest of the Washington Nationals need to do to be ready for the NL Divisional Series.
First, you know the Scouting Department is busy following the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants around. With the Chicago Cubs drawing the Wild Card for their NLDS, we know the Nationals will play the NL West winner in their series. Since they play Washington seven times a year, having a closer look at how those teams stack up is important for planning.
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Pitchers will need to know how to approach hitters and defensive players have to find their spots.
Second, it is time to rest the players. With up to 40 on the active roster, players need a blow after a long hot summer. If you have watched a game in the last week, you know Baker is doing it. There is a fine line in making sure a hitter gets enough swings to stay fresh, but enough rest to keep his mental focus.
For the starting pitchers, the need to rest is more important. Yes, Max Scherzer needs to get his work in, but there is no reason to be burning him, like Saturday night against the Philadelphia Phillies, for 110 pitches. Save the stress when you need the win again. With Spring Training and a full year on the arms already, the front guys do not need useless additional innings.
Bullpen management for October wins championships. With Mark Melancon guaranteed pitching consecutive playoff games as closer, who else can be trusted on back-to-back days to get a crucial seventh inning out. The time to do that is now against teams using minor league players.
Last, have fun.
Yes, the goal is the World Series, but winning the division and avoiding the Wild Card game is a big accomplishment. For those few days before every pitch turns into a torture chamber, celebrate with the fans over the division title. It is a big deal. Division titles are rare for most teams. Years from now, 2016 will be remembered a special year by Nationals fans. Take that extra moment and let everything sink in. Why else do you go to Florida to do wind sprints and field bunts?
Now that meaningful baseball in October is almost here, how the Washington Nationals react until then will go a long way into how long they continue playing.