Washington Nationals: Focus Shifts To October and Los Angeles Dodgers
The Washington Nationals know who they are playing in the NL Divisional Series. Now, they must ensure they face the Los Angeles Dodgers first at home.
With the regular season goal achieved of winning the National League East, the Washington Nationals turn their focus on the playoffs and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Since the Chicago Cubs locked up the best record in the NL and home field for everything leading to the World Series, we know the Nats are playing the champions of the West in the Dodgers. The big question is where will the series start?
At the moment, Washington carries a 1.5-game advantage over Los Angeles for home field in the NL Divisional Series. These last seven games for the Nats are important to a degree. Starting the series and getting Game 5 at Nationals Park instead of the not-so-friendly confines of Dodger Stadium is huge.
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If the Washington Nationals need two starts out of Max Scherzer to advance, you want the biggest games of the year in front of the faithful. As daunting as it is to face off against Clayton Kershaw, doing it in the California twilight doubles the difficulty.
Grabbing home field also places Tanner Roark’s lone start in friendly territory and puts Gio Gonzalez on the hill where he has pitched well in Los Angeles. You want to avoid the worst-case scenario of having to save the season with Gonzalez and Joe Ross burning the bullpen at home. It is important for Washington Nationals fans to be loose and loud, as much as you can in the postseason, and not apprehensive starting with the first pitch.
As with Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper, the Nats cannot afford any injuries this week. Players need rest. Starting pitchers the bare minimum of work to stay fresh and liberal use of the bullpen. Although they cannot control what the Dodgers do, the Nats have a tightrope to balance.
It is important not to concede home field, but if on Friday night a pitcher is used hard to preserve it, is the risk worth it?
We have seen it the last couple weeks. Clinching the division was a matter of time. Dusty Baker did his best to keep players interested in games that had all the intensity of a beautiful March afternoon in Jupiter. The lone thing missing nights were wind sprints in the outfield after a pitcher finished. Still, there were no guarantees until the Magic Number hit zero.
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Expect more of the same this week. With the Arizona Diamondbacks, the task should be easy at home against a bad team. The Miami Marlins are different. They close 2016 on raw emotion. When they visit over the weekend, the Nationals players will feel the same way.