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Nationals balancing rest versus pursuit of homefield advantage

Nationals balancing rest versus pursuit of homefield advantage

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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Ryan Zimmerman can't wait for 'most unique World Series celebration of all-time'

Ryan Zimmerman can't wait for 'most unique World Series celebration of all-time'

April 2 was supposed to be a historic day in Nationals history.

It was scheduled as their home opener against the Mets and the day they would raise their first World Series championship banner. But with coronavirus delaying the start to the season, Nats fans, players and personnel will have to wait a little longer. 

No player has had to wait for a World Series title in DC longer than Ryan Zimmerman, and he didn't hide his disappointment in an interview with 106.7 The Fan Thursday

"The bummer is today," Zimmerman said. "Today was going to be the day we all thought would be the one day where we actually look back on [the World Series].

"It's a beautiful day outside and it’s tough to look outside and think of what could’ve been," he said. 

Looking on the bright side, it's not like the wait will diminish anyone's excitement. Zimmerman also made an interesting point. The fact that the Nationals had an unforgettable and unprecedented run to a World Series title, it makes a little sense the celebration would be delayed for unforgettable and unprecedented reasons. 

"It'll be the most unique World Series celebration of all-time," he said. "A lot of things will not be forgotten about our 2019 season. The way we won it, the comebacks in the playoffs and it's only fitting that it won't be forgotten how long it took us to celebrate it."

We still don't know exactly when baseball will begin again, but when it does Nats fans will have plenty more to celebrate than just a World Series banner going up. 

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Remembering the roller coaster of emotions that was Bryce Harper's return to DC

Remembering the roller coaster of emotions that was Bryce Harper's return to DC

Over the course of his seven-year stint in the nation’s capital, Bryce Harper stepped to the plate 1,994 times at the Nationals’ home ballpark. The D.C. faithful cheered him on each time, hoping the at-bat they were about to see was going to produce something special.

That 1,995th time, however, was different. When Harper arrived at Nationals Park on April 2, 2019, he was no longer the face of their franchise. He was the $330 million prized offseason addition of the Philadelphia Phillies, an NL East rival looking to climb back into contention following a lengthy rebuild.

Harper stepped to the plate in the top of the first faced the with the challenge of batting against former teammate and three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. It was unclear what to expect of a Nationals Park crowd that included a throng of Phillies fans in center field, but there was no confusion as to whether Harper was treated to jeers or cheers when his name was called.

The former NL MVP worked the count to 2-2 against Scherzer before striking out swinging on a changeup to electrify the Nationals Park crowd.

Other than another Harper strikeout, however, there would be little else that Nationals fans would cheer about that evening. The Phillies broke open a 5-0 lead against Washington’s bullpen before Harper hit an RBI single for his first career hit against the Nationals.

The home team would put two runs on the board to get within striking distance, but Harper had the last laugh that night after he put the game away with a 458-foot homer off Jeremy Hellickson before taking the time to toss a spinning bat flip at the Nationals’ home dugout.

Of course, the Nationals were really the ones who had the last laugh after they eliminated the Phillies from playoff contention with a five-game sweep in September before making a miracle run to their first World Series win in franchise history.

As for the Phillies, well, they have 12 more years with Harper to try and top that.

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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