On Tuesday night, they celebrated like they’d never celebrated before. Which was appropriate, considering they’d never won the National League pennant before.
So what did the Nationals do on Wednesday?
“Nothing,” reliever Sean Doolittle said. “Nothing. I woke up at like 11, I took the dogs for a walk and grabbed some bagels from Bethesda Bagels, and then realized that I didn’t have anything to do. So I went back to bed and slept until 5:30.”
Suffice it to say, the Nats happily took a day of rest following a roller coaster couple of weeks that included the wild card win in D.C., two cross-country trips to Los Angeles to win the NL Division Series, a flight straight to St. Louis to open the NL Championship Series and then two emotional wins at home to complete their sweep of the Cardinals.
The problem? Even after a well-deserved day off, they still had five more days without a game to play before they open the World Series on Tuesday night in either Houston or New York.
History suggests this is a bad situation for any team to be in. Since Major League Baseball’s current postseason format was instituted in 2012, the team that had more rest between the LCS and the World Series went 1-6.
And there are a few more particularly notable cases last decade, with the 2006 Tigers and 2007 Rockies coasting through the first two rounds of the postseason, then coming out flat in the World Series following a long layoff and losing in four or five games.
“For me, everything that happened in 2012, I think it’s more mentally,” said Aníbal Sánchez, a member of the Tigers’ team that swept the Yankees in the ALCS and then got swept by the Giants in the World Series. “I think, if I don’t mind, that happened in 2006. They worried so much that it would happen again to them, that didn’t happen. I think it’s more mentally.”
So that’s the challenge facing these Nats, who were back on the field at Nationals Park this afternoon for a 90-minute workout that included baserunning, fielding drills and batting practice. Everyone on the roster participated, except for second baseman Howie Kendrick, who had to leave due to a family emergency. (Manager Davey Martinez said he “absolutely” expects the NLCS MVP to return in time for the World Series.)
Today’s session was a fairly light affair. The Nationals will begin ramping things up this weekend, with a Sunday evening workout scheduled that will include something resembling an intrasquad game.
“We kind of figured out who needs what, and it’s mostly about the hitters getting their timing and the pitchers getting their innings,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We want to make sure everyone is as close to their routine as possible. We conferred with a lot of the pitchers and the players and see what they wanted to do, and how much we wanted to push them. And we still have a couple of days left, so you’ll see us starting to ramp things up as we get closer.”
What’s the biggest concern about such a long layoff?
“For me, it’s their legs,” Martinez said. “I want to make sure they keep their legs underneath them. We ran them today. They had a full workout in the gym. They did a bunch of agility stuff. For the everyday guys, it’s their legs.
“And for the pitchers, it’s getting everybody to throw. And we’ll continue to do that the next couple of days.”
The layoff wasn’t necessarily frowned upon by the pitching staff, especially those who have handled the bulk of the workload so far this postseason.
“The break was definitely welcome, I think, for a lot of guys in here,” said reliever Daniel Hudson who has appeared in six of the Nationals’ 10 postseason games so far. “Getting those four wins (in the NLCS), the same guys kind of kept throwing for those four games. To get a couple days off is big.”
“It definitely helps,” added Doolittle, who has pitched in six of the last eight games. “You’re feeling a little tired. But when the crowd energy is like it was in the Championship Series, that gets you over the hump. And I think both (Hudson and I) had been throwing pretty well and we had been in a pretty good routine. So I was in the camp of: Take a day off, then let’s get back to work. Just cause I felt like I had a pretty good rhythm going. But there’s stuff we’ll be able to work on the next few days and combine that with some rest. I think we’ll be in a good spot.”
Besides, it sure beats the alternative, which would have involved another trip to St. Louis for Games 6 and 7 of a series that would’ve flowed directly into the Fall Classic.
“Turn on the lights and you go for Game 1, everything goes out the window,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “Adrenaline will kick in. The anxiousness of getting the games going. Having the layoff, obviously people can say whatever they want. For us, I always joked around that we’ve got the oldest team. It kind of gives us time to rest our bodies, recover a little bit.”