Now we wait

This is uncharted territory for the Washington Nationals.

They’ve played 162 games, yet their season isn’t over. The goodbyes, tee times and trips to tropical locations will have to wait.

For the first time in team history, there’s postseason baseball to be played.

With yesterday’s action in the books, the playoff bracket is finally set, and those in Major League Baseball’s office can breathe a major sigh of relief that there were no three-way ties or dramatic schedule-ruining scenarios that unfolded. The only thing left for the Nationals to do now is wait and see where they’ll be headed.

I’ve got a hotel room booked in both Atlanta and St. Louis, awaiting the result of tomorrow night’s wild card play-in game. This might be the most prepared for anything I’ve been in my entire life, which obviously says a lot about my procrastination habits.

The Nats will take the day off today (with the exception of pitchers like Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, who need to get some in-between starts throwing in), have a team workout then watch the wild card game unfold tomorrow, and then hop aboard a plane Saturday morning in advance of Sunday’s Game 1.

No, the start times for Division Series games have not been set, but don’t be surprised if the Nats end up getting a few afternoon games, given they will play their games the same days as the big-draw Yankees.

Both the Braves and the Cardinals are fresh in the minds of Nationals players; the Nats played in St. Louis just last week and had a series in Atlanta just two weeks prior to that.

The obvious question at this point is which team the Nationals would rather see. Atlanta and St. Louis are both playing good ball entering the postseason, each having won seven of their last 10 games. The Cardinals are the better hitting team, ranking fifth in the majors in runs and sixth in OPS (the Braves are in the bottom half of the league in both categories) while Atlanta’s pitching is slightly superior to its wild card opponent (the Braves’ staff ERA ranks fourth, the Cardinals’ ranks eighth).

adam-laroche-swinging-through-sidebar.jpgTaking a poll of the clubhouse yesterday, it appears the Nats truly don’t care who they’ll see in the Division Series, given how things played out in the regular season.

“I don’t think we’ve been hammered or dominated either of them over the season, so that’s why I say I don’t know that it matters a ton,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said, when the topic of possible Division Series opponents was tossed at him. “If it was a team that we were 7-2 against, whatever, and another team that hammers us, then yeah, we’d all obviously want to go somewhere where we’ve got a little momentum. But between Atlanta and the Cardinals, I don’t know that it matters.”

“At the point we’re at now, if we want to do what we want to do, we’re going to have to beat really good teams, no matter what,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “This is where the good teams are, and there’s really not a weak team. So anyone we play, we’re going to have to play our best baseball to win.”

Obviously, the Nats know the Braves a little better than they do the Cardinals, given that they faced their National League East rivals 18 times this season, compared to having just seven games against St. Louis. Their winning percentages against Atlanta (.555) and St. Louis (.571) are fairly similar, but the Nats did outscore the Braves 84-69 this season, while the scoring margin against the Cardinals was 43-40 in the Nationals’ favor.

The Braves will burn their stud right-hander Kris Medlen for tomorrow’s play-in game, while the Cardinals will turn to Kyle Lohse. Whichever team wins wouldn’t have its wild card game starter available next until Game 3 of the Division Series at the earliest, and more likely, Game 4.

That’s obviously a major benefit for the Nats, who struggled mightily against Medlen (14 innings, one run, 20 strikeouts in two starts) this season.

The Nats say they don’t care either way. They’ll face whichever team is put in front of them. But you can bet they’ll be glued to the TV tomorrow, getting an early scouting report on their future opponent and learning which city they should pack for.

I’m interested to hear which team you all would rather see the Nats play, if you have a preferred team at all? Like their chances against Atlanta? Prefer to see them face St. Louis? Let’s hear it.

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