Dusty Baker faces a tricky challenge over the next week.
His Nationals have already clinched the National League East title, and some key regulars are dealing with nagging injuries and could use some rest. (And that was true even before Wilson Ramos suffered a potentially serious knee injury last night.)
Yet his team needs a strong week to hold off the Dodgers and secure home field advantage for itsupcoming National League Division Series.
How does a manager find the right balance?
"One thing's for sure: You can't have everything," Baker said. "You can't have rest and win games and home field advantage and still have everybody rested and strong. So we'll see. A lot of times you play by ear. You make plans, but invariably you have Plan A, B, C and D. And then you activate that plan when you get to that time. I always plan stuff. It doesn't necessarily work, but I plan it."
Much, of course, depends on how both teams play over the next few days. After the Nationals' loss to the Diamondbacks last night, they now hold a slim one-game lead over the Dodgers (who were off). Washington's magic number to secure home field advantage remains six.
How much, though, does home field advantage really mean? Recent history suggests it means very little, with lesser-seeded teams regularly winning series.
Then again, the Dodgers posted a .654 winning percentage at home this season, and were at .493 on the road heading into this week at San Diego and San Francisco. And ace Clayton Kershaw's pitching splits? He's 8-1 with a 1.08 ERA at Dodger Stadium, 4-2 with a 2.28 ERA on the road.
Once again, the Nationals find themselves in a tricky situation, balancing the desire to ensure Games 1, 2 and 5 of the NLDS are played at home versus the desire to rest everybody before the series.
"It's not necessary, because you've seen sometime the home field doesn't really matter," Baker said. "It depends who's hot during that series. Right now, the Dodgers are playing well. Sure, any time I can get home field advantage, we'll take it, especially because you don't have to go back to the (West) Coast twice. Let them come to us.
"Right now, we have the lead over them, so there's no sense giving it up. Sometimes it can be taken from you, but that's up to us. It depends on how we play. I'd like to finish strong. We have a situation here where we're at home and we have a chance to finish strong."