Nationals thrilled to open postseason at home

The Nationals tried to insist all along that home field advantage for the National League Division Series really didn't matter all that much. They would have liked their chances against the Dodgers just the same had they been forced to open next weekend's series in Los Angeles.

But once it actually was clinched today, once they finished off a 2-1 victory over the Marlins and the Giants beat Clayton Kershaw 3-0 at AT&T Park, the Nationals did admit that, yes, they preferred this scenario all along.

"I feel great any time you get home field advantage," manager Dusty Baker said. "You get the first two games here, and it could be very important. It's not necessary, but I'd rather have it here than to travel out there."

The Nationals will make only one cross-country flight out west, next Saturday night following Game 2 of the NLDS here. They'll return home no matter what a few days later, either for a do-or-die Game 5 on South Capitol Street or a breather in advance of the club's first-ever National League Championship Series appearance.

First things first, of course. They need to find a way to win three-of-five from the Dodgers, a task that officially begins Friday at Nationals Park.

"I just think you definitely want to start off at home, for sure," said Tanner Roark, the projected Game 2 starter. "And then some people like to think that the time difference and time change will be a factor. But it's always fun to be in front of your home crowd where you have been for 81 games, and now you get two more."


By winning their 94th game of the season, the Nationals ensured a better record than the Dodgers, who will now finish 92-70 at best. They did so behind the performances of two key figures who weren't necessarily expected to performance quite like this during this particular season: Roark and Trea Turner.

Few knew what to expect out of Roark, given his roller coaster career to date. Owner of a 15-10 record and 2.85 ERA as a full-time starter in 2014, he wound up getting bumped to the bullpen in 2015 following the acquisition of Max Scherzer and never really found his groove, going 4-7 with a 4.38 ERA in 12 starts and 28 relief appearances.

Roark made it clear to Baker over the winter he wanted to start again, and the new manager gave him the opportunity. Roark never looked back, tossing 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball today to finish his regular season 16-10 with a 2.83 ERA (remarkably similar to his 2014 numbers).

"It feels good that I'm still able go out there and compete," the right-hander said. "Last year and having the 15-win season in '14 was a big confidence-builder. And mentally, too, was a big mental part of my career. And it taught me that I don't have to throw the ball by everybody. Just go back to your roots and locate the ball and make them feel uncomfortable at the plate."

The Nationals had seen Roark enjoy big league success prior to this year. They hadn't seen it from Turner, despite plenty of optimism about the speedy 23-year-old's potential.

Turner wound up exceeding even the most optimistic predictions by leaps and bounds. Despite spending the first half of the season in the minors, he has managed to compile hefty totals in a bunch of offensive categories in only 72 games: a .342 batting average, 13 homers, 53 runs, 32 stolen bases.

"That combination of speed and power, which is rare these days," Baker said. "You don't know if he's going to top one, bunt one, get a walk, steal. And the opposition doesn't know, either, so they're going to try to get ahead of him. They don't want to get behind him, because they don't want to walk him because of his speed. So, one complements the others."

Turner put all those tools on display today. He singled and wound up scoring from second base in the first inning. He homered in the fifth inning. He walked and stole second (on a delayed steal) in the eighth inning.

Now, the dynamic rookie prepares for the challenge of his first-ever postseason, where the stakes are so much higher, the spotlight so much brighter.

"Same game," Turner said. "You make it more than it is, it's going to speed up on you, the game may go a little different. There may be more sac bunts or situational plays. Other than that, same game. Go out there relaxed and do what you've done all year."

It's what the Nationals will attempt to do as a team. They've got one more tune-up Sunday afternoon, with Scherzer seeking his 20th win. Then they get four days off. And then, come Friday, it all begins.

And thanks to today's win, it all begins right here in D.C.

"I think this group is just ready to go," closer Mark Melancon said. "And we're going to be ready wherever we're at, but having home field advantage does help on the travel and that stuff. And then if we are in a Game 5, we definitely want to play in front of our home fans."

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