Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies during his weekly interview on Wednesday morning that as much as the team has stressed going 1-0 every day and remaining focused on the task at hand, they’re also planning ahead, and the battle for a postseason berth has been underway for some time now.
“We’re playing playoff games right now and that’s the way this team is looking at it,” Rizzo told the Junkies.
“We’ve been serious about it for a while now,” Rizzo said when asked about the battle for postseason spots getting serious with twelve days left on the regular season schedule.
“The last day off I think you noticed a little tweak in the rotation. And we’ve got our horses lined up to pitch down the stretch, and depending on what the race looks like we’ll determine who will pitch Game 162 and then who will pitch — if we’re fortunate enough — to pitch that Wild Card Game and if we’re even further fortunate, who will pitch the next series after that. We’ve got it all planned out, we’ve got a good strategy in mind, and we’ll — like I said — but until then we just have to take it one game at a time and try to win today and move on.”
The Cubs and Brewers were both 2.0 behind the Cardinals in the NL Central at the start of play on Wednesday, with seven games between Chicago and St. Louis over the next week-plus, while Milwaukee plays San Diego, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Colorado as they try to continued a stretch that included 13 wins in 16 games in September and 11 in their last 12.
Washington wraps up their regular season schedule with three in Miami (against whom they are 13-3 this season), then five at home with the Philadelphia Phillies (9-5), and three games with the Cleveland Indians (88-63, 0.5-game out of the second AL Wild Card spot as of early Wednesday).
The Nationals started the series finale with the Cards on Wednesday 7-9 in September after winning one against Miami on the 1st of the month, to complete a sweep of the Marlins, dropping 2 of 3 to the New York Mets, losing 5 of 7 against the Atlanta Braves, and winning 2 of 3 from the Minnesota Twins, before splitting the first two in St. Louis.
“I always say, you’ve heard me say before, it’s not who you play, it’s when you play them,” Rizzo said.
“It’s where you’re getting teams and how are they playing at the time that you play them.
“The Brewers are playing some of the lesser-win teams in the league right now, and we’ve gone through the gauntlet, and that’s just the way it is. That’s baseball, and you’ve got to play the teams that are on the schedule when they’re on the schedule, and I think we’ve shown on the last couple of road trips that we’re in the conversation with these teams and we can compete with just about anybody, and you go and 2 out of 3 in Minnesota and then come to St. Louis and play the Mets a bunch of times and the Braves a bunch of times down the stretch and then you end up with a tough Phillies team and a tough Cleveland team, so that’s just the luck of the draw and you’re going to play them as they show up.”
He remains, however, confident that his team can get to the postseason and make a run.
“This team is capable,” Rizzo said, “they’re up for it.”
“We’ve got several guys that have done it before,” he added, “and I’ll tell you what, these guys are embracing it, they’re certainly not shying away from it, and they’re having fun, they’re enjoying it, and it’s fun to see this group interact and really come together and kind of really rally behind Davey [Martinez’s] illness and see this team go down the stretch and be really excited about it.”
Martinez, of course, experienced chest pains during the finale of the Nationals’ three-game set with the Braves in D.C. this past weekend, and after undergoing tests, he was cleared to go home from the hospital and will rejoin the team soon when he’s gets the go-ahead to fly.
“Yesterday he was home,” Rizzo said, “he had much more energy than the day before when I spoke to him and I think he’s resting comfortably and doing well, and he had that procedure to check his heart valves and that type of thing and hopefully when the doctors give him a clearance to travel he’ll be joining the team and the doctors tell me when he does join the team he’ll have no limitations and he should be fine.”
With Martinez is away from the team, Bench Coach Chip Hale is at the helm, though the Nationals’ second-year skipper has been giving his input before and after games.
“I know Chip and Davey are in constant contact, not during the game, but leading up to the game,” Rizzo said.
“Davey gives the lineup and they go over strategy how he thinks they should be used and Chip kind of takes that plan and administers it, and don’t forget Chip Hale has been a minor league manager for probably about 15 years, and a big league manager, and he knows his way around a game card and how to handle these guys. [First Base coach Tim] Bogar has been a manager, we moved him into being the bench coach.
“We’ve got a lot of experience on that staff, we won’t miss a beat,” he added.
“We miss Davey’s presence and his energy and his enthusiasm, and the players really miss him, but until he gets back this team is under great care and great baseball people.”
With a loss in the series finale with the Cardinals in St. Louis, the Nationals were left 7-10 in September, but the Cubs and Brewers lost as well on Wednesday, so the Nats were +1.5 up on both NL Central clubs.
Milwaukee beat San Diego last night though, while Chicago lost to St. Louis, so the series in Miami starts with Washington 1.0 game up on the Brewers for the top Wild Card spot, with the Cubs 1.0 back in the race for the second spot after losing three straight.