The Washington Nationals beat the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday by a 5-1 margin to end their regular season with the best record in baseball at 98-64. It’s been an incredible and improbable ride for this Nats team, but they’re now headed to the National League Division Series on Sunday. Not to mention, Teddy won the President’s Race, but we'd rather talk about actual baseball.
Edwin Jackson put together a great start to recover from a deplorable game in St. Louis last time out and earned his 10th win of the season. Now all five of the main Nationals starting pitchers this season (Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson, Detwiler) have double-digit victories with Gio Gonzalez leading the group with 21. Jackson went six and two-thirds innings and gave up just one run on six hits. Davey Johnson said Jackson told Steve McCatty he was “tiring” before he went out in the seventh inning, and he was pulled with two outs in that frame. The only run that scored on Jackson was when Carlos Ruiz scored on a Darin “Nats Killer” Ruf sacrifice fly.
For the offense, home runs continued to be the Nats primary way of getting offense, especially in the second half of this season. Four of the Nats five runs were scored on bombs: solo shots by Ryan Zimmerman in the fourth and Tyler Moore in the sixth and a two-run blast by Michael Morse in the eighth. Morse also scored on a Moore double in the fourth inning.
Morse left his 3-for-4 game a little early after he hit his eighth inning home run. He felt “a spasm in his hammy” on his home run, according to Davey. “Hopefully it was just a spasm and not any kind of slight pull,” he said. The Nats and their fans will be hoping, too. Morse has been a huge part of this Nats lineup, and the offense wouldn’t be the same without him.
The Nats bullpen continued its great work holding it together behind Christian Garcia and Sean Burnett in 1 1/3 innings until Morse blew the game open a bit to a four-run lead in the eighth. Michael Gonzalez locked down the Nats ninth. The Nats bullpen went through a bit of collective struggles a couple weeks back, but things seem to be back on line for the most part.
The Nats will work out at the Park on Friday before leaving Saturday morning for Sunday’s game. They had originally planned on leaving late Saturday, but they adjusted the schedule because MLB hasn’t set the times for the Wild Card games yet, and they now know they will play on Sunday for their first game, even if they don’t know the location yet.
The Nationals will play games one and two of the NLDS at the away park against whoever wins the Wild Card game between the Braves and Cardinals, and they’ll return to Nationals Park for games three through five between Wednesday through Friday next week. So the Nats technically have “home field advantage,” despite not playing at home for game one. It’s not the way the new system will be forever, but simply a factor of throwing the new system together at the last minute.
It’s been a fun season, and Nats fans aren’t done having fun yet. While we’ll be Nats baseball-free for about three days, the American League postseason push is going to be a blast, and we have some NL teams to scout between the NL Wild Card and the other NLDS that starts on Saturday. Time to get your postseason caps on, folks.