Headed into their September 30th game, the Washington Nationals face a challenge which will have a very significant impact for weeks to come, and it’s not simply because of their “magic number”.
As it stands, winning this game means the Washington Nationals will clinch the National League East division. This is certainly an important step for the team, but there is another reason why they need to perform especially well in this game.
It’s because of their opponent, the St Louis Cardinals.
Having already solidified their status as a post-season team, there are three options which remain, and the St Louis Cardinals factor importantly into two of them.
1 – Washington Nationals Win the Top Seed in the National League
With one additional win than the Cincinnati Reds (and consequently, one fewer loss), the Washington Nationals are currently in the lead for the National League’s top seed. If they’re to hold on to that spot, they will play the winner of the Wild Card Game – which will either be their very familiar division rival Atlanta Braves, or it will very likely be the St Louis Cardinals (who are 2 games ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the 2nd Wild Card Game spot).
If this is the case, the Washington Nationals will get a tired-but-energized Cardinals team who had to fight tooth-and-nail to even secure a spot in the post-season. They could very well be starting the series with the 2nd best overall pitcher if they elect to throw their ace against the Braves in the Wild Card Game. But that’s essentially what the Nationals are doing as well, with Strasburg out for the remainder of the season.
2 – The Washington Nationals Lose The Division Lead
The Cardinals certainly have the ability to defeat the Nationals today, and then Washington gets set to finish their season against the Philadelphia Phillies, who were more than enough of a challenge in seasons past. The Atlanta Braves have the markedly easier task of taking on the New York Mets today and then finishing up the season against their rival from decades ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Neither the Mets nor the Pirates are able to finish the season with a winning record. It is highly conceivable that the Braves could win these next four games, the Nationals could lose the next four, and the division could be lost.
At that point, the Nationals find themselves in the National League’s Wild Card Game, and their likely opponent? The St Louis Cardinals.
Sure, there’s obviously a very likely scenario whereby the Nationals win at least one of their next four games, or the Braves lose one of their next four games, and the Nationals don’t have to worry about the Wild Card Game. And as it stands, the Cardinals aren’t assured that second spot in the Wild Card Game like the Braves are, and it could be the Dodgers or Milwaukee who fights to get to the actual playoffs. Sunday’s game could very well be the last time the Washington Nationals see the St Louis Cardinals until next season rolls around. But with the Cardinals having such a strong recent history of post season play, it’s very possible that the Washington Nationals will need to get a great final look at the Cardinals today in preparation for perhaps seeing them again before it’s decided which team will represent the National League in the World Series. And the two teams who could face one another in the NLCS could be the Washington Nationals and St Louis Cardinals.
Today’s game marks the first time Ross Detwiler will face the St Louis Cardinals this season.