Davey Johnson wanted nothing to do with the Wild Card Game. The Nationals manager was focused on winning the NL East crown from the start. Asked about the new format before the regular season finale this past Wednesday, the Washington Nationals' manager said bluntly that he'd disliked the idea of the one-game showdown. "I said that when they came up," the 69-year-old skipper said, "I hate it. I mean, I'm old school. Back to when I was in Baltimore. We came back and made a good rush and got the Wild Card. We were in. We got to play Randy Johnson and company, but for five games. And now they took that 25% of the playoff spots, they took it away really and added two more teams to play one game to see who goes."
"From a manager's [perspective]," Johnson continued, "It lessened my spots available to me. So why would I like it? And I'm sure that Atlanta doesn't like it either. They'd like to go back to the old way. But evidently, there's more interest. Everybody in those cities... it's helped attendance all that good stuff, but from my perspective, no. I'd tell you further, I'd rather have the first series four out of seven too."
The Braves probably like it even less after losing the Wild Card matchup with the Cardinals last night in a game that saw them commit several errors, struggle to drive in runs and have a questionable call by the umpires affect the outcome of the one game that decided which team would face the Nationals on Sunday in Game One of the NLDS. At 3:07 pm EDT it will be the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals facing off with Gio Gonzalez on the mound against a Cards' starter to be determined.
The defending World Series champs against the best team in the National League this season. Davey Johnson said he wasn't concerned about the relative lack of postseason experience on the Nats' roster. Jayson Werth's been there before, Adam LaRoche with the Braves, Edwin Jackson with the Cardinals last year, Mike Gonzalez has seen some action. But the Nats' skipper said that the lack of playoff games played didn't concern him. "You gain your experience by playing 162 games," Johnson said, "And winning those games or winning most series. That's how you gain your experience."
"We treat every game like a big game," Johnson explained, "So now we have some more games. You don't prepare any different than you prepare for any of the ones April 3rd."
"You don't need to have a whole lot of guys with postseason experience," the Nats' manager continued, "And I've got a ton of it and it's always been the same way whether I had a young club or a veteran club or whatever."
The Nationals took four of seven from the Cardinals this season, winning three at home in the first series of the year between the teams, from August 31-September 2nd. Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez handled the Cards in the first two games in D.C., giving up just one run total between the two in 8-1 and 10-0 wins. Jordan Zimmermann got knocked around and out early in game three, but the Nationals scored nine runs in that loss and came back to win a close game four with a strong outing by Stephen Strasburg.
In the three-game set in the next-to-last series of the year from September 28-30th, the Cardinals took two of three at home in Busch Stadium, where game one of the NLDS will take place on Sunday. Edwin Jackson brought little to the mound in the first game of three, leaving after just 1.1 IP having surrendered six hits and nine runs (8 ER). Jordan Zimmermann bounced back with a strong start in game two, outdueling Kyle Lohse and holding St. Louis to three runs on seven hits in 6.1 IP in what ended up an extra innings win. The Cards got up early and ran away with game three in another short outing by a Nats' starter, this time Ross Detwiler.
As MLB.com's Paul Hagen wrote last night, however, in reporting on the post game press conference following the Cardinals win over the Braves, Cards' skipper Mike Matheny, "... reacted strongly to the idea that his team won 'handily,' in that last series with the Nats in St. Louis, when it was put that way in a question by a reporter, telling the press, "'There was nothing 'handily' about it.'"
"We have the utmost respect for Davey Johnson and [the Nationals]," the Cards' manager told reporters, "and they've got all the components to a winning team."
"You can take your predictions and underdogs and do whatever you want with them," Matheny said, "because it all happens out on the field and our guys are ready to go and compete."
The Nationals will be ready too. They have Gio Gonzalez lined up and ready to face a Cardinals team that hit left-handers well all season with a .276/.338/.450 line on the year good for 1st (AVG), 1st (OBP) and 2nd (SLG) amongst National League teams. Gonzalez fared pretty well, however, in his one start of the year (and in his career) against St. Louis in the first series between the two teams, throwing a complete game shutout in which he allowed five hits and three walks while striking out eight and earning his 17th win of the year.
The 2012 Washington Nationals play the first game by a D.C.-based team since 1933 tomorrow with their well-rested ace on the mound in the home of the 2011 World Series champs. But it's not 2011 anymore nor is it the regular season. None of that matters now. As Davey Johnson said on Wednesday, you throw everything out the window. The second season starts Sunday.