Nationals now face long wait til NLDS opens Friday

Baseball is a sport played every day. Or almost every day.

Yet here are the Nationals and Dodgers, champions of their respective divisions, ready to do battle in their best-of-five National League Division Series ... and they’re forced to take the next four days off before finally returning to the field.

It’s an unfortunate, but necessary, part of the modern postseason schedule. With the two wild card games set to be played Tuesday and Wednesday, the Division Series can’t commence until Thursday. And both NLDS won’t commence until Friday, leaving the Nationals, Dodgers and Cubs to sit around doing very little in the interim.

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The Nationals won’t be completely idle, of course. Manager Dusty Baker is giving everyone today off after playing the last 10 days in a row to finish the regular season. But they’ll all gather at Nationals Park on both Tuesday and Wednesday for workouts. And then Thursday, the Dodgers will join them for the official day-before-Game 1 workouts and news conferences.

“I’m not going to work them to death,” Baker said. “But you certainly don’t want them to rust up in the meantime. That’s it in a nutshell.”

There is a tricky balance to all this. Baker wants to make sure everyone gets a chance to catch their breath and let minor ailments heal, but he also wants to make sure nobody goes ice-cold from inactivity and then has trouble recapturing it once the postseason begins Friday.

The Nationals are trying to view this downtime as a positive for the likes of Daniel Murphy (strained buttocks muscle), Bryce Harper (swollen thumb), Ryan Zimmerman (tight calf) and others.

“It’s a good time for us (to be off) because of Murphy,” Baker said. “And we have other guys ailing, especially some of the older guys. Because right now, you play 162 games, and if you don’t have your stroke by now, it’s going to be tough to get it. Bryce has his thumb. Zim has his calf that he was working on. Almost everybody has something. Our training staff and everybody will be busy to be working on guys.”

From a mental standpoint, the players will try to think of this as something of a second All-Star break.

“So this is not unique,” Murphy said. “We’ve been there before. Jayson (Werth) has been here before. Dusty’s been here many times. We’ll take tomorrow off, if I’m not mistaken, enjoy our families. It’s been a race here, 160 games, and we’ll come back on Tuesday. I’m sure guys need to throw. We’ll take some swings and some groundballs and get ready for Friday.”

The Nationals have to deal with long layoffs in each of their previous postseason appearances, but there’s a new wrinkle this time. In 2012 and 2014, they owned the NL’s best record and thus played the wild card winner (which had no layoff) in the NLDS.

This time around, both the Nationals and Dodgers will have had the same number of days off before taking the field for Game 1.

In other words, one team better not complain about being rusty in this series while the other makes no excuses. This will be a level playing field.

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