The Nationals may well need to complete this week's series against the Diamondbacks in order to determine home field advantage for the National League Division Series against the Dodgers. And it may well require a return trip to D.C. from the Diamondbacks on Monday to get those games in.
With rain already falling in the area and expected to continue well into Friday, the Nationals have delayed the start of tonight's game. Whether there's enough of a window to get any or all of it played remains to be seen. And that doesn't take into account Thursday afternoon's scheduled finale with Arizona, with more rain in the forecast.
So what happens if one or both of the remaining games in this series can't be played? Under most circumstances, they would be canceled altogether and both teams would end up playing fewer than 162 games for the season. (This happened to the Nationals in both 2008 and 2011, when they played only 161 games due to rainouts that weren't made up.)
But, according to an official from Major League Baseball, the game or games would have to be made up if the outcome could affect home field advantage for the postseason. Indeed, Rule 7.02(b)(5) states that "any postponed game ... that has not been rescheduled and completed prior to the last scheduled game between two teams during the championship season must be played ... to a completed regulation game, if the League President determines that not playing such a game might affect post-season play, including eligibility for the post-season and/or home-field advantage for any post-season game."
The pertinent facts: Entering tonight, the Nationals (92-65) hold a two-game lead over the Dodgers (90-67) with five games remaining on the schedule. Los Angeles secures home field advantage if the two teams end up with identical records, after going 5-1 against Washington during the season.
So, if at the end of play Sunday, the Nationals have more wins than the Dodgers, they would have already clinched home field advantage and not need to play any makeup games. If the Dodgers have enough wins that the Nationals could not surpass them, the makeup games would be unnecessary and Los Angeles would get home field advantage.
If, however, the two teams have the same number of wins, or the Nationals have the opportunity to finish ahead of the Dodgers by playing the makeup games, the Diamondbacks would have to return to town for a game or games that would be scheduled Monday.
This much is certain: The Nationals aren't stressing yet about a situation that may or may not happen.
"Cause we don't even know if it's going to rain," manager Dusty Baker said this afternoon. "How many times the weatherman says it's going to rain, and it don't rain? ... I'm not trying to be facetious or anything, but sometimes we worry about things that are kind of out of our control until we get there. When we get there, we'll deal with it.
"In the meantime, you're wasting a lot of brain energy trying to figure out something the weatherman can't figure out. We'll figure it out when it happens. I mean, I'm hoping it doesn't rain. I hope the weatherman's wrong, like he is 50 percent of the time, and we get this game in and we continue on tomorrow."
Update: Tonight's game is expected to start at 7:35 p.m.
Update II: First pitch was 7:38 p.m. after a delay of 33 minutes.
Update III: With three innings in the books, the Nationals trail 2-0. Gio Gonzalez has labored at times, needing 77 pitches to face 16 batters. But he's been able to get outs for the most part when he's needed them. The Nats lineup hasn't done much against Shelby Miller, with two singles and a walk so far.
Update IV: Make it 3-0 after four innings. Gonzalez gave up three straight two-out singles in the top of the fourth, and with his pitch count at 100, Baker decided he had seen enough. Matt Belisle entered to finish the inning. So Gonzalez's regular season is complete. His final numbers: 4.57 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 32 starts, 3.0 BB/9, 8.7 K/9.
Update V: They've completed five innings, and now the rain has intensified, bringing the tarp out. This is an official game, with the Diamondbacks leading 3-0. Which means if they can't continue, that would hold up as the final score.
Update VI: It's a final, after a second rain delay lasting 69 minutes. The Nationals lose 3-0.