After the Washington Nationals' 12-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday, the Nats' magic number was down to 5 with nine games left on the regular season schedule. The Nationals are now 93-60. The win this afternoon gave the Nationals a 4-3 record on the current homestand and got them one step closer to the pennant the Nationals' 69-year-old skipper has said is the goal as far back as last November. It's getting closer now, every game's important. And as Davey Johnson told reporters after the win on Monday, his players know it. "My guys feel it," Johnson said, "There's no doubt about it. I mean, we ran into a hot club. They're swinging the bats awfully good and we [needed] to hold our own with them and we did, so it's a good win to go on this road trip, six games against a couple good ballclubs too. So... I mean, they're feeling it."
Before Monday's game, the Nationals' manager said that the pennant chase has been a learning experience for everyone involved, from his players to the fans in the nation's capital. "They're great fans," Johnson said, "I mean, they're into it. They sure learn quick. Standing up, hollering at two strikes. I like it. The players like it. It's fun."
"We're in a pennant race," the manager who's led four different franchises to the postseason said this afternoon, "That's something that's great to experience. Shows what you're made of and I like what we're made of. So, it's never easy. I don't care... it's never easy. This ballclub's come along way, it's really developed quickly. It's a tribute to the makeup, the tenacity of really working hard. So, we've got a nice, rough row to hoe. I like it."
As the Nats' skipper has reiterated all season, every game is important, every day important as the next and that's how he's approached the entire schedule. "They're all important," Johnson said, "And this [game] is important, this is our focus today and we'll worry about where we're at tomorrow. But today, that's a pennant race. Every game you play from April 3rd to here." The focus is on each day, every day. Johnson said he even had to tell the Nationals' general manager yesterday not to break down the potential playoff scenarios for him.
"I said to [Nats' GM Mike] Rizzo yesterday," the manager explained, "'Don't tell me what it is, because I don't even want to know.' There [are] so many variables in there that there is no solution to the equation until you see where you finish up. I mean, there are multiple things that could happen. The Wild Card. If there's a tie. We've got ten games left, I know if we win six out of ten we win the division and we've got a good chance of probably having the best record. With my background [bachelor's degree in Mathematics] that was pretty easy to figure out."
If the Nationals do manage to lock the division down, Johnson told reporters this afternoon that he won't hesistate to rest his players and get everyone ready for the first postseason for a team from the nation's capital since 1933, regardless of what anyone else has to say about his approach. "Interesting you brought that up," Johnson said when a reporter asked about what he plans to do should the Nats clinch, "I really don't give a rat's ass what somebody thinks about my club and who I put on the field to either help somebody else or I'm supposed to not rest my regulars after we clinch it?"
"I'm resting my regulars. End of conversation."
"I have a lot of confidence in the other guys too," Johnson continued, referring to his bench players, "That they're fully capable, as they've shown all year long when they've had the opportunity to play. My responsibility is to get my club ready for the next day. But it's happened to me in the past, I've had criticism. I said, 'Fine.'"
"I've still got a big responsibility to make sure my guys are ready for the postseason," Johnson said, "And it has nothing to do with what the rest of the league is doing."
The main goal, as Johnson has said from the start and did again today after a long discussion of how the playoff format this year handicaps managers who don't know who they'll be facing until the very end, is to win the division. "I don't care about the best record," Johnson said, "I care about winning the division. If winning the division we have the best record, wonderful. If that gives us an advantage? I don't know yet. But the main concern? Win the division. And if you win it quickly enough then you have a pretty good idea who your oppponent might be and you can set up your pitching accordingly."
There are three games in Philadelphia, three in St. Louis and then three more at home against the Phillies in the D.C. The postseason is coming back to the nation's capital and Davey Johnson is leading the way.