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Washington Nationals’ magic number for NL Wild Card Game in D.C. down to 1

While they wait to find out which team they’ll play in the NL Wild Card Game, and where it will be played, the Nationals are hard at work preparing the possibilities...

Kansas City Royals v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

While the talk all week, especially after the Washington Nationals clinched a spot in the NL’s Wild Card Game, has been about whether the game will be played in D.C. or Milwaukee, the Brewers have been playing well enough recently that they’re within reach of the NL Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals, so Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez pumped the brakes a bit earlier this week when he was asked about preparing for Tuesday night.

“They’re playing really well,” Martinez said of the Brewers, who’d won 18 of the last 20 and seven in a row going into Friday night’s game in Colorado’s Coors Field. “St. Louis, they’re right behind St. Louis. Everybody keeps talking about Milwaukee. We might end up playing St. Louis, so I mean, we’ve got guys — I know we’ve got scouts flying all over God’s green Earth to watch different teams play.”

Martinez and his club are well aware of how good the Brewers have been, of course, and if they’re the opponent in the Wild Card game, they know what they’re going up against.

“They’re clicking right now,” the second-year skipper said. “I talked about this the other day because people have asked me questions about, ‘We want you guys to play at home,’ and I said, ‘Well so do I.’ ‘Well, why are you giving [Anthony] Rendon and Trea [Turner] a day off?’

“And I said, ‘You know what, it doesn’t just come down to two players, even though they’re really good.’

“And then I brought up, look at the Milwaukee Brewers, they lost [Christian] Yelich, and look what they’re doing, so once again I said it takes the whole team to contribute, and we’ve been doing that.”

Going into Friday’s series opener with the Cleveland Indians in D.C., Martinez’s club had five straight wins, and they’d won seven of their last eight and nine of their last 12, giving them a 14-11 record in the month of September.

Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies this week that if they do end up playing the Brewers, they’d, obviously, prefer to play them at home in Nationals Park.

“I think it’s important,” Rizzo said.

“I think it’s a credit to our fanbase. I think that they deserve it, and they’ve earned it, and I think that it’s important for them, and just strategically to win a baseball game, you have a better chance of winning a home game than a road game, and the Brewers play well at home. When that dome closes it gets really loud in [Miller Park], and I think it’s important to try to win out, to play a home game not only baseball-wise but for our fanbase because they’ve earned it and they deserve it.”

The Nationals were 2-4 in six games with the Brewers this season, getting swept in three in a row in Miller Park in early May before winning two of three in D.C. in mid-August, but both teams are different clubs now, Rizzo told the Junkies.

“They’re — when they had Yelich and [Mike] Moustakas, obviously there is a big left-handed presence in that lineup,” Rizzo said, “... so lefties were effective with them. We still haven’t really drilled down into the numbers yet and kind of [had] a strategy session. Don’t forget, we were swept in Milwaukee with a team that was like an emergency room team. The lineup you wouldn’t have noticed today, so we don’t feel that that is indicative of how we’re going to play them.

“They’ve got a really good team, they’ve got a great bullpen and we think we match up well with them and we’re confident that we can win a playoff game with Milwaukee.”

Martinez said on Thursday, before the Nationals completed their five-game sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies, that he thought his club was peaking at the right time after they’d struggled at the start of September.

“It feels good that all of a sudden guys are swinging the bats a lot better, our pitching is doing good, our bullpen is pitching better, everything seems to be clicking right now, so we’re in a good place right now, so let’s continue to play good baseball, and that’s all I’ve been preaching the last few days. Play good baseball. And this is a time right now where we’ve really got to focus on staying in the moment.

“Not getting ahead of ourselves, just one game at a time, going 1-0, and just focus on the here and now.”

Once they know who they’re going to play, they can go about making roster decisions, but they’ve already been considering the possibilities, and the one thing we do know is that it’s going to be Max Scherzer on the mound for the Nationals, wherever they play.

“We’ve got to win that game,” Martinez said, stating the obvious, “so we’re weighing all our options of how to construct the roster for that one game.

“It will be all hands on deck, so [Stephen] Strasburg will be in the bullpen. [Patrick] Corbin will be in the bullpen. There might not be guys that were here, that will be on the roster for that day, but they’ll definitely be on for the next series, but this is stuff that we’ve got a couple days to really hone in on and get everything together.”

A win over the Cleveland Indians on Friday night, the Nationals’ sixth straight, and a loss by the Brewers to the Colorado Rockies left the magic number at 1 for a home game in the NL Wild Card.

Though they still don’t know their opponent, for sure, with the Brewers 1.0 back of the Cards with two games left, Martinez said he’s working on lineups for either possibility.

“I don’t usually wait on those things,” Martinez told reporters. “I woke up today with a lineup in my head if we played one team, and another one if we played another team, so we’ll have to see who we’re playing. That’s the biggest thing is to see who we’re playing.”