There is going to be a side story to the Dodgers-Nationals series this weekend, and like many side stories, it is flat and pointless, a time-filler to help get to the end of the season. Kind of like my run on sentences. This story is not a tale as old as time but it is one that is asked all the time of fans, players, media and front office staff: Who would you rather play in the first round? The Cubs have suffered a World Series hangover and limped through the season, but still have Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Báez to haunt the dreams of any pitching staff that faces them, while the Diamondbacks and Rockies have played well enough to win a division if they weren’t in the National League West with the Dodgers.
The thought is simple. The Cubs have a weak pitching staff and haven’t played as well this season, so it is better to play them than a young and hungry team like the Diamondbacks or Rockies. With Dusty Baker’s mistake in Max Scherzer’s last outing, Zack Greinke is now the favorite for NL Cy Young Award and the rest of the Diamondbacks rotation isn’t shabby either. Then there is the offense with Jake “Not from State Farm” (sorry) Lamb and America’s first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. I apologize for any awful jokes I make. When I was growing up, “SportsCenter” was good and MTV played music.
Back to the baseball talk ... While the Diamondbacks have their litany of strengths, the Cubs are the defending World Series champions. While some might argue that makes them weaker since they have already accomplished that goal and it is harder to defend a title than win a title, they will still be motivated to remain the reigning, undisputed champions of the world. While the Cubs rotation has struggled this season, they stil havel Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester and are plenty capable of returning to form at any given moment in a short series.
The reality of it all is if the Nationals are going to win the World Series, they are going to have to survive the gauntlet. They will have to beat the Cubs, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Indians, Astros, Yankees, Red Sox or whoever else appears in front of them. It doesn’t matter who the Nationals beat in the first round because it is very likely that the team you or they or whomever was hoping to avoid will be waiting in the second round, and if you want to go to the third and final round, you have to beat that team anyway. So it doesn’t matter if the Diamondbacks or Cubs are the tougher team, the Nationals are going to have to beat them or someone who beat them eventually. Isn’t it better to take care of your own business and overcome the obstacle in front of you at the moment anyway?
You can worry about who you’re facing in the first round of the playoffs or you can beat the hell out of whoever is in front of you, and the Nationals have done a good job of the latter this season. The Nationals have played 20 different teams this season and have a losing record against three of them. The Nationals are 26-20 against teams with a .500 record or better. Despite countless injuries and hardly playing any games with their projected lineup, the Nationals have done the most important thing they could do. They have beaten the opponent in front of them and that is all they have to do when the calendar flips to October. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Cubs, Diamondbacks or Rockies in the first round, the Nats need to aim not just to survive the meat grinder of the playoffs but to be the meat grinder.
David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals at Citizens of Natstown. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHuzzard. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our regular roster of writers.