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Washington Nationals playing out regular season; thinking about postseason roster

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Nats’ skipper Dusty Baker and Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo have talked this week about playing out the regular season and making important roster decisions down the stretch...

MLB: Washington Nationals at Miami Marlins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Dusty Baker talked before the second game of three with the Marlins in Miami about how the Washington Nationals, (who ended the night with a 17.0-game lead in the NL East and a magic number of 8 to lock up the division), will approach the home stretch with 24 games left in the regular season and a return to the postseason all-but locked up.

“At this point, this is the last leg of the marathon when everybody is tired,” Baker said.

“It just depends how you’ve taken care of yourself through the year, how you’ve tried to maintain your weight, tried to maintain your strength, because see, you start the season with a full tank and I don’t care how you try or whatever it is, your tank is going down towards empty, and then at the end there if you’re fortunate to make it to the playoffs and World Series then you’re operating on fumes.”

Baker, who went to the World Series three times as a player (1977, 1978, 1981) and once as a manager (San Francisco Giants, 2002), has been there before.

“The World Series that I’ve been to, man, you sleep for about two weeks and still don’t get enough sleep and so it’s more of a mental grind. Like this streak that we’re on now, this 21 out of 20 days at this time of the year — that’s the wrong time of the year, you can’t control it — but it’s the wrong time of the year to have this consecutive streak thing. And so the off days, one day’s rest is not going to help you, but one day’s rest does wonders for your mind and your mental strength.”

Washington is headed for their second-straight postseason appearance and the fourth in the last six seasons.

Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo talked to 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies this morning about remaining motivated and playing out the regular season schedule with a goal of making some noise in October, and for the Nationals, hopefully advancing beyond the NLDS for the first time.

“Believe it or not these guys really believe that these games are meaningful,” Rizzo said when asked about what it’s like to switch from “meaningless” games when you’re up as big as the Nationals are, to meaningful games in October.

“There are certain reasons to play each and every game. You could see the way we play, we play the game extremely hard, we go all 27 outs, and you could see during that Milwaukee series, the frustration and the anger when we weren’t swinging the bats like we thought we should, it comes to the forefront and you’ve got guys breaking a helmet and slamming the bat, and that type of thing. It’s good to see. This is a very competitive group.

“We go out and our mindset is to win each and every game, and of course in the playoffs things will ratchet up and tensions will be higher and each pitch is more magnified and that’s the way we like it.”

No one is taking their foot off the gas pedal just yet.

“We’re still in the mindset we’re trying to win each and every game,” Rizzo added, and, “... obviously we have to be smart about it. But we want to win as many games as we can, we want to stay sharp, we want to play our players and with that said we’re trying to find out right now what the playoff roster is going to consist of. So players are playing for things. It’s playing time, it’s roles, it’s roster configurations and who’s going to be on the roster in the first round and who’s not.”

With last night’s 2-1 win over the Marlins, the Nationals took their seventh-straight against their NL East rivals and their seventh in the last ten overall.

“That was a great victory for us,” Baker said after the win, which left the Nationals 84-54 on the season.

“We’re back to 30 over,” he said, “and so we want to keep marching from here and our magic number goes down every day.”