(Photo Courtesy Cheryl Nichols/DistrictSportsPage)
It’s not often that a team bursts into high fives and hugs in the middle of a game they’re losing, but that’s exactly what happened last night as the Washington Nationals clinched their first ever division title. They ultimately lost the game 2-0, but no one was talking about that game afterward. It was all about the honor of winning the division.
As the Nats left the field after Drew Storen pitched a 1-2-3 top of the ninth inning, a dull roar started in the stands that didn’t stay dull for long. Jared Hughes, the Pirates pitcher, had just retired Brian McCann to end their game, making the Nats magic number invisible. If you haven’t already seen it, or if you want to see it again, I highly recommend checking out the video of the events unfolding through the eyes of MASN.
The 2012 Nationals’ 96 wins are already the best in franchise history, besting the 1979 Montreal Expos by one game. The Expos finished second that year in the division to the Pittsburgh Pirates. This year’s Nats have two games left against the Phillies before they get a couple days off until the National League Division Series begins.
This has been, without a doubt, the most exciting season in Nationals history, but it is not over yet. With the two games remaining this year, the Nats will try to beat out the Cincinnati Reds for the best record in Major League Baseball. With that honor comes the number one seed on the NL side of the playoff bracket. If the Nats and Reds end the year with the same record, the Nats will get the advantage, because they have a 5-2 record against the Reds this season.
This positioning is not irrelevant. If the Nats tie or best the Reds, they’ll play the Atlanta Braves or the St. Louis Cardinals/Los Angeles Dodgers starting on Sunday, October 7. The Cardinals are the odds on favorite here, as their magic number is one to get in, so I'll assume it'll be them. The Nats have been handed some recent defeats by these teams, but travel to Atlanta or St. Louis for the first two games of the NLDS is the best case scenario to keep the team rested.
If the Nats fall below the Reds, they’ll have to travel to San Francisco for the first two games of the DS to face the Giants starting Saturday, October 6 before heading back home for three games. The Nats have had some success against the Giants this year, posting a 5-1 record against them. However, after a long season and a grueling push to the finish, the cross country travel to play games back-to-back days and then fly back would be exhausting.
Either way, the Nats aren’t in a bad position, and if you ask them, they probably don't care who they face. I'm not sure either matchup gives the Nats an advantage, either. They’ve won their division and have guaranteed themselves a five-game series rather than a one-game playoff. It's absolutely the best case scenario. They can rest a few starters to keep them fresh for the postseason, which the Nats hope will stretch into November.