ST. LOUIS - It’s not difficult to keep tabs on the out-of-town scores at here Busch Stadium. They’ve got an entire big screen dedicated strictly to what’s going on around the rest of the majors, so the scores kind of jump out and smack you in the face.
The Nationals will be glancing up at that scoreboard throughout the night tonight, keeping tabs on what’s going on down in Atlanta. Should the Mets beat the Braves, and if the Nats win as well, Davey Johnson’s team will get to break into the champagne tonight as NL East champions.
“Atlanta could lose, and we could win and we could clinch it today. That’s always a good feeling,” Johnson said. “Probably do a little more scoreboard watching than usual. But it’s real easy to scoreboard watch now, they’ve got it plastered over every stadium you’re in. All you’ve got to do is just glance up there, and they’re up to date.”
Johnson would like the Nats to clinch as soon as possible, allowing him to set up his starting rotation for the Divisional Round of the postseason. Because of the playoff schedule this year, however, aligning the rotation is easier said than done.
Even once the Nats lock up the division, they likely won’t know either when they’ll play or who they’ll play in the Divisional Round until the final day or two of the regular season because of the seeding and multiple wild card teams. That will make it tough for Johnson to plan things out the way he’d like.
“It’s very confusing to be able to set up not knowing where you’re going,” Johnson said. “That’s a bad format.”
In a perfect world, Johnson would go with Gio Gonzalez as his No. 1 starter in the Divisional Round. Gonzalez is scheduled to pitch Tuesday in the second-to-last game of the regular season, but if the Nats have clinched by then, Johnson might have Gonzalez throw just a couple innings that day to stay fresh.
If the Nats get the top seed in the National League, they open their series with the wild card play-in game winner on Sunday, Oct. 6, allowing Gonzalez to start that game on normal rest. If they get the No. 2 seed and have to play San Francisco starting Saturday, Oct. 5, Gonzalez could either pitch on three days’ rest, (a scenario Johnson would rather not see) or Jordan Zimmermann could start Game 1 on six days’ rest.
Beyond that, Johnson will determine the rest of his playoff rotation based largely on who the opponent is.
“It depends on who we’re playing,” Johnson said. “This club (the Cardinals) is 30-17 against left-handers. Atlanta is not very good against left-handers. San Francisco is 39-17 against left-handers. So you figure it out.
“If it’s San Francisco or these guys, I’ll probably have my right-handers more at the top. And if it’s the other way, I’ll probably have my left-handers more at the top.”
In other words, if the Nats play the Braves, look for the top three starters in the rotation to likely be Gonzalez, Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler. Outside of that, there are still too many variables to know exactly how things will shake out.