ST. LOUIS - It's hard to believe - from my perspective, at least - but tomorrow will mark the start of the last regular season turn through the Nationals' rotation.
Jordan Zimmermann will take the ball for the Nats tomorrow and then not pitch again until the postseason. As I mentioned earlier, the rotation alignment for the final four games of the regular season will depend on when the Nationals are able to clinch the division title.
Manager Davey Johnson will have options when it comes to how he sets up his rotation for the playoffs and how he'll keep his starters fresh going into their first postseason starts. If the Nats get the top seed in the National League, they'll have a full three days off in between their final regular season game and Game 1 of the Division Series, which would fall on Oct. 7.
Johnson still hasn't set a definitive postseason rotation, likely because he doesn't know how things will play out over the next six days and also because he really is staying focused on locking up the division. Only then will he publicly start to set things for the Divisional Round.
But Johnson did say that Zimmermann will not throw a simulated game in between tomorrow's start and his first postseason outing. That's notable because Zimmermann is far better when pitching on a standard four days' rest (8-3, 2.01 ERA in 17 starts) than he is on five or more days' rest (4-5, 4.06 ERA in 14 starts).
Johnson knows that the extended rest just comes with the territory, however.
"This time of year, it doesn't really matter," Johnson said. "Guys are going to be starting on six days' or seven, it doesn't matter."
For what it's worth, Gio Gonzalez is 11-3 with a 3.15 ERA on regular rest and 10-5 with a 2.91 ERA on extra rest. He doesn't seem to care when he gets the ball.
Meanwhile, the Braves just keep on winning, going 10-2 in their last 12, drawing out this process and putting the pressure on the Nats to win and lock up the division themselves.
Johnson sees both the positive and the negative in having these games down the stretch still being so important for his team.
"It'd help us a lot more if (the Braves) played worse," Johnson said with a laugh. "But I like these games all meaning something. I think it's a good education. It makes it more fun to know the Cardinals got a lot riding on it, and we've got a lot riding on it.
"This is what it's all about. My feeling is that it's a whole new different feeling when you're playing for a pennant or in the postseason. Every pitch means something. Experience does help, but going through it helps too. It helps a great deal. Just keep doing the same things you did to get here. You'll be fine."