Nationals manager Matt Williams has respect for the Cardinals as they begin a four-game series at Nationals Park, with both teams at 9-6. They have a lot in common, with great starting pitching and timely hitting. But is Williams intimidated by playing them because the Nats' record early this season against better teams?
"They play the game really well," Williams said. "They do a lot of things really well. It starts with their rotation. They have got one of the best catchers in the league, who runs a great game, both offensively and defensively. They got power, they got some speed, they play exceptional defense. All of that combined is a reason that they are at where they are at.
"So do we measure ourselves (up against them)? I guess, yes. But ultimately we have to worry about ourselves and play the game the way we want to play it in order to have a chance to beat them."
The Nationals were 0-6 against the Cardinals in 2013, and St. Louis ended their 98-win 2012 playoff season. Starting 2014, the Nationals are 8-1 against teams not named the Atlanta Braves, but 1-5 against their rivals from Georgia. Does that mean facing a good team like the Cards will pose problems?
Williams says it has more to do with playing good baseball versus the caliber of the team you happened to be playing.
"You go into Atlanta and it doesn't go well for you, you are going to get beat," Williams said. "If you don't play well against these guys, you are probably going to get beat. But that is the case with everybody. So I don't know if we so much measure ourselves against anyone, but we understand that we have to play the game right and play it well to have a chance to win."
Second baseman Danny Espinosa said having to face Marlins ace Jose Fernandez Wednesday in Miami and now arrive in D.C. to see the Cardinals Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha waiting for you in the first two games certainly makes for a daunting task. But there is a strategy to playing well.
"We just got to play a fundamentally sound game against them," Espinosa said. "Wainwright, can't allow him to get comfortable I think. The farther he goes in the game, the more comfortable he gets, the better he gets. That is like a lot of your really good pitchers.
"Outside of that, just play fundamental defense, play good defense, have good at-bats, get on base, when we have our opportunities we have to take advantage of them."
The Nationals arrived back in D.C. in the early morning hours Thursday, but Espinosa said that is a baseball life and spins it in a positive way as they prepared for the Cardinals.
"It can be tough, but you just kind of try to push through it," Espinosa said. "We don't have BP today, so we did get a little extra sleep and somewhat get back on schedule, on track. You don't let it creep into your head and you just go out and play.
"I guess you can kind of just treat this like a day game. Day game is when you don't take the BP. You go in the cage, and you warm up, you get everything done inside. You treat it like that and just go out and play."
It was also nice to finish the road trip winning two of the last three games in Miami after getting swept by the Braves.
"Going from Atlanta to where we had a tough series, and then we needed to win that series," Espinosa said. "Didn't necessarily have to sweep, you don't always have to sweep, but I think the goal is to always win every series.
"So to be able to come out of that, and come out in a positive note, win the last game of the series, and to come in here to a good series here with a really good team, I think it helps us mentally to go into this series."