The Nationals and Braves will begin their three-game series tonight at Nationals Park, weather permitting. The tarp is on the field right now, but the forecast calls for a window (yes, the dreaded window) from about 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., and that could be all the teams need to get the game in tonight.
That's worth watching, of course, because the Braves are up by just two games on the Cardinals in the NL wild card race. It stands to reason Major League Baseball will do everything it can to get all three games played, even if it means bringing the teams back next Thursday after the Nationals' scheduled season finale in Florida on Wednesday (and players in the Nationals' clubhouse are hoping hard against that scenario). But with a shot to get the game in tonight and Stephen Strasburg facing Tim Hudson, everything could be fine.
A couple pregame notes:
* Strasburg will make his fourth start back from Tommy John surgery tonight, and Johnson is moving closer to taking some restrictions off the right-hander. He said he won't have Strasburg on a strict pitch count - "I'll let him go until I think he's had enough," Johnson said - and he isn't worried about scratching Strasburg because of rain, like he was in his first start back on Sept. 6. "I'm turning the page," Johnson said. "As far as I'm concerned, he's healthy. It would be like a regular season game."
* The Nationals' big pursuit before the trade deadline was a center fielder, but asked on Friday about whether he thinks the Nationals still need one, Johnson made it sound as though the need wasn't as pressing. Jayson Werth has been playing center field, and could end up there next year if Bryce Harper claims one of the corner spots in the majors a some point. The Nationals could also bring Rick Ankiel back as a reserve. If anything, Johnson said, the team needs more outfield depth. "The minor league system has a lot of good young outfielders, but they're not knocking on the door yet," Johnson said. "That's an area where if we could pick up somebody, that would be good. If we can't, I think we have them in-house, and we could deal with that."
* Laynce Nix starts at first base instead of Chris Marrero tonight, largely because of his career .979 OPS against Tim Hudson. Michael Morse, not Nix, is in left because he'll likely be there next year, and Nix is still coming off a groin injury. "I want to give the at-bats to Marrero, but you have to look at what St. Louis is trying to do," Johnson said. "Not that Marrero is an easier out than Nixie, but Nixie's had some pretty good numbers against Hudson."