WASHINGTON -- Amid the clubhouse chaos of Tuesday night, Davey Martinez crossed paths with Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon. Martinez’s recent health scare forced him into celebratory sobriety -- he was drinking grape juice, doctor’s orders -- while surrounded by booze-soaked revelers, Turner and Rendon among them.
“I looked at them [Tuesday] night and I said, ‘You’re not playing [Wednesday] and you’re not playing [Wednesday],’” Martinez said. “They looked at me, ‘OK.’ I said, ‘OK, good because I wasn’t going to argue about it.’”
Wednesday began Martinez’s first grapple with a push for home-field advantage vs. resting players. Turner had not missed a game since May 17. Rendon had not missed a game since May 9. They watched Wednesday.
Martinez is operating with a depth luxury following Tuesday night’s clinch of a postseason berth. He was able to provide Rendon and Turner a needed -- if brief -- break from the field while rolling out a reputable lineup. Asdrúbal Cabrera slid to third from second. Wilmer Difo played shortstop, Brian Dozier second base and Howie Kendrick first. The outfield remained the same.
Adam Eaton hit second, Kendrick third, Juan Soto fourth, Cabrera fifth, Yan Gomes sixth. Dial back to May to view several less capable Washington lineups.
Soto and Victor Robles could also use a break. Scuffling through September with a .230 batting average -- but a .408 on-base percentage -- has dropped Soto’s average to .285 entering Wednesday. Martinez said a break will be coming for Soto, though he wanted him in the lineup Wednesday to face left-hander Drew Smyly and possibly Thursday to face left-hander Jason Vargas. Why the intentional lefty-lefty matchups? Martinez thinks Soto is flying open at the plate and stays in longer against left-handed pitching. His season splits also show him to be capable against pitching from the same side.
Because of the depth, Martinez can deploy a segmented strategy for rest while maintaining a push. The Nationals rallied to for a 5-2 win Wednesday night, their fourth consecutive against Philadelphia, giving Martinez further leeway.
Turner and Rendon could return Thursday. Michael A. Taylor could play left to relieve Soto. Ryan Zimmerman could give Howie Kendrick -- who homered again Wednesday -- a break. Dozier, who also homered Wednesday, could receive another start, which takes Cabrera off the field. Rest days don’t mean white-flag days thanks to the flood of everyday players.
Also, planning in earnest can begin now. Milwaukee clinched its postseason spot Wednesday night. The Brewers’ win finished the National League bracket. So, the Nationals are assured of playing them -- or St. Louis.
Milwaukee is just 1 ½ games behind the Cardinals in the National League Central. The Brewers deal with effective Reds starter Luis Castillo on Thursday before a weekend series against lowly Colorado arrives to wrap the regular season. St. Louis is off Thursday before a weekend home series against the eliminated Chicago Cubs. The Central Division is in play.
Which puts the Brewers in a spot similar to, but more complicated than, the Nationals. Do they want to push for the division title by playing everyone hard until the end?
Washington wants home-field. That’s clear in voice if being managed lightly in practice. Martinez mentioned it Wednesday. Players followed up.
“I've been telling these guys, NLCS last year when I was with the Dodgers facing the brewers, it's the most electric stadium I've ever been apart of my whole career,” Brian Dozier said. “I mean it's, when you pack that stadium out, it was electric and it gets so loud and I think just the fact of us trying to stay here and not, which I’m not saying we can't win there by any means, but I think it's important we try to stay here for sure.”
Dozier has a point in an emotional sense. However, history suggests home-field in the Wild-Card Game matters little.
The road team is 8-6 since the one-game wild card was added to the playoffs in 2012. Madison Bumgarner dominated two of those games. So, the lesson instead appears simple: rest, play well, pitch better and the ballpark becomes irrelevant.
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