Readying for a must-win

It’s clear at this point what has to be done.

“Kind of got our backs up against the wall now,” Adam LaRoche said calmly after today’s game. “It’s a must-win tomorrow.”

The Nationals played great baseball for much of the regular season. They finished with the best record in the majors, earned the top seed in the National League and set themselves up for a long postseason run. Now, all of a sudden, that run is one game from being over.

“It’s the consistent storyline of the whole season - it’s adversity,” closer Drew Storen said. “It’s bouncing back after taking a couple punches. They’ve thrown some good ones, but we’ve just got to come back with some.”

The Nats will come to the park tomorrow with one shot to keep their season going. They need a win. If they get it, they’ll go to Game 5, also at home, feeling pretty good about their chances with 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez taking the hill.

There’s no time to mess around tomorrow. Jordan Zimmermann, whose throw day is tomorrow, will probably be available in relief, something which was pointed out by Jayson Werth. The issues driving in runners in scoring position, the problems with Nats pitchers getting smacked around, they need to cease - and cease quickly.

“You’ve got to figure it out right quick or you could be going home,” reliever Craig Stammen said. “So hopefully a few of us make some adjustments, including myself, and we do a little bit better tomorrow.”

So what can be done tonight and tomorrow? What kind of adjustments should be made to the overall approach or mindset going into a must-win Game 4?

None, the Nats say. Treat this like any other loss, and move on.

“We had the best record in baseball for a reason, so no need to try and figure things out,” Storen said. “No need to reinvent the wheel.”

“Today, you need to wash away and come back,” said veteran Mark DeRosa, who isn’t on the roster for this series but has been in this spot before. “We need to win two games. It’s not something that can’t be done. It’s not something we haven’t done repeatedly throughout the year. So just looking for that big hit. I’d like to see a guy get a big hit with runners on base and kind of let the dugout exhale a little bit.”

The Nats understand that this is how the postseason works. The quote-unquote best team doesn’t always win in the playoffs, LaRoche says; it often boils down to which team is the hottest or can string together a few solid games in a row.

The Cardinals did that last year, going on an improbable run to make the postseason and then winning the World Series. They’ve won the last two in this series in dominating fashion, and now it’s time for the Nats to respond.

“We don’t have a choice now. We put ourselves in this spot,” LaRoche said. “Not something we had planned on, but it is what it is. We need to go out from the first pitch and be aggressive. We know what they are. We know what their hitters are doing: They’re up there, trying to drive something. It’s not a bunt and hit-and-run team. Those guys are trying to do some damage. We need to fire right back, do the same thing.”

If they don’t, there will be no more tomorrow for the 2012 Nationals.

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