The Washington Nationals and visiting Philadelphia Phillies finish out the regular season today in Nationals Park. On the year, the Phillies hold a 9-8 advantage on the NL East Champion Nats with one game to play in the season series. The 97-64 Nationals are tied for the top spot in the National League with the 97-64 Cincinnati Reds, who finish their own 2012 schedule tonight in St. Louis in an 8:15 pm EDT start with the Cardinals. If the Nationals win this afternoon, they finish first overall in the NL, if they lose and the Reds lose, they're also first, having won the season series, 5-2. Nats lose Reds win, you get the picture. If the Nationals finish first, they'll face the winner of the Wild Card Playoff between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals, who clinched the final Wild Card spot when the LA Dodgers lost late last night. If the Nationals finish second, they'd start the first postseason run by a team from D.C. since 1933 out in San Francisco.
Davey Johnson didn't seem too concerned about whether his team finishes first or second last night when he spoke to the press after the Nats' win over the Phillies.
"I don't how it's that important," the Nats' 69-year-old manager said, "You've got to beat the teams you play. The only nice thing is we don't have to fly across country. That's the only nice thing. The pitching is set up for whoever we play. The kind of year we've had, it would be fitting to finish it off with the best record. More importantly, I'd like to see [Edwin] Jackson get his tenth win, so that's a little higher up on the list than the best record."
The 29-year-old right-hander who signed a 1-year/$11M dollar deal with the Nationals last winter has already had four shots at becoming the fifth Nats' starter with double digit wins. Over those last four outings, including a 1.1 inning start against St. Louis last week in which he gave up six hits, four walks and nine runs, eight earned, before he was lifted, E-Jax is (0-2) with an 8.38 ERA, 25 hits, 20 runs (18 ER), seven walks and four home runs allowed in 19.1 IP in which he's K'd 15. Opponents have a .316/.371/.570 line against Jackson over that stretch and the Nats are 0-4 in those outings.
Jackson will, however, have the benefit of having most of the Nats' regulars in the lineup today, as opposed to the Goon Squad lineup that beat the B-Phillies last night. Davey Johnson thought about sitting Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper last night, but given the option, both players chose to play in the game. Harper went 1 for 3, lifting his average to .270 on the year and LaRoche went 2 for 3 with a walk and a K, hitting his career-high 33rd HR while driving in run no.100 on the year.
"I'd like to give both [LaRoche] and Harper off [Wednesday] since they played today," Johnson said. The rest of the regulars will be in the lineup, with one exception, "... except for [Kurt Suzuki]," the manager said, "I'm going to catch [Jesus Flores.]"
One team's season ends today. For the first time since baseball returned to the nation's capital, it won't be the Nats finishing up the year in game 162 of 162. After today the Phillies head home and try to regroup after finishing outside of the top spot in the NL East for the first time since 2005. It's also the first time they finished outside the top two spots in the division since 2002. The Nationals are playing for the best record in baseball today, then it's on to either San Francisco, St. Louis or Atlanta for their first postseason run...