The four-day layoff awaiting the Nationals before their NL Division Series against the L.A. Dodgers begins makes evaluating the final games of the regular season a complicated exercise. Players can catch fire over the course of a few games, or fall ice cold. But with a full four days off, it's unlikely anything will carry over.
Like, seriously anything. The Nationals won 17 of 22 to finish the 2014 regular season, then scored just nine runs in four games against the Giants in the NLDS. The Kansas City Royals, conversely, went 15-17 in September and October of 2015, then won the whole thing.
The Nationals aren't exactly on fire themselves this time around. Even with their win over the Marlins on Saturday, they are just 3-3 in their last six, all played against teams that will be watching the playoffs from home in a few days.
But in their victory over Miami, the Nats saw a few positive signs for what could be to come. Tanner Roark logged an effective 5 2/3 innings in his final playoff tuneup. Trea Turner had another excellent game with two hits - including a homer - two runs, a walk and a steal.
Closer Mark Melancon logged a four-out save and didn't allow a baserunner. Bryce Harper landed an RBI single after going hitless on Friday, his first game back from his left thumb injury. Even Danny Espinosa, who was hitless in his previous six games across 20 at-bats, dropped in two singles.
The Nats will need all of those guys to do their jobs in order to beat the Dodgers and feel encouraged by the progress of each of them.
Manager Dusty Baker was particularly pleased to see Harper and Espinosa turn a corner.
"[Harper] had to get the rust off. And it was against a left-hander and thats who he's gone see the first two games of this series is left-handers."
Of Espinosa, he said: "That's all he needs to do because the home runs come when they want to, but you've got to mix in some singles and doubles in between so that's big going into the playoffs."
For Melancon, Baker made a point to give his closer an opportunity for four outs. It's a situation he's likely to be used in come playoff time and this was a valuable rep.
"I haven't done it much in the past," Melancon said. "But I expect that to happen in the playoffs. I keep the same mindset."
Roark held the Marlins to one run off three hits and four walks. He approached the start with a particular adjustment in mind.
"I feel like I figured a couple things out towards the end, which was my problem my last outing was not staying on line to home plate. I was flying out open a little bit. But I figured out that I got that down and got the feel back for that so that’s a positive out of that," he said.
Turner also had a triple and two steals in Friday night's loss. He feels about as ready as he can be as he heads into his first career MLB postseason.
"I'm going to compare it - as much as this might not be a good comparison - to the College World Series. Every pitch of those games were pretty intense," he said.
"It's the same game. 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."
Turner hasn't appeared in the playoffs before, but Melancon is a veteran of six playoff games spread across three different seasons.
He's seen the ups and downs of the playoffs and believes Turner and the Nationals as a team are in good shape as they near Game 1.
"It's as ready as I've seen," he said.
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