ST. LOUIS — It was a quirk of the major league baseball postseason schedule this year that the Washington Nationals ended up here. That they, owners of the league’s best record, opened their first postseason series on the road.
But after a win in Game 1 of their National League Division Series with the Cardinals the Nationals now face the attractive prospect of heading home to Washington in position to need only two wins, and possibly one if they can beat the Cardinals again on Monday.
“With the first two on the road, you say to yourself, ‘If we get out of here with a split, we’re in good shape,’” said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo after Sunday’s win. “Now you get greedy. You get the first one and you try to get the sweep here and go home even better.”
“It’s tough to start on the road,” said first baseman Adam LaRoche. “Game 1 in a short series like this is huge, I think, more than anything. Because now, for the Cardinals, since we won Game 1, this is kind of a must-win. You don’t want to get down two games in any series, but definitely not in a five-game.”
For the Nationals, what would appear to have been a disadvantage at the start — starting on the road — became an advantage as soon as they won at least one game. The five-game series in the format it is in this year — next year it will return to 2-2-1 and will start with the higher seed at home — puts less emphasis on where the games are played because it’s such a short series.
But the Nationals were acutely aware that the home field matter will be important should they advance to the NLCS.
“If you want to win a series you’re going to have to win a game on the road whether you’re home field or not,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “I think obviously you don’t want to look ahead and we have a lot of work to do to win this series but it really helps you next series.
“In a five-game series anything can happen. If you start on the road you split on the road, you’re looking pretty good going home. If you can somehow win both games you’re looking really good going home. I think in a seven-game series it’s huge, which, because we won the regular season and all that, we’d have that next. But we’ve got to take business here and this isn’t going to be an easy series to win.”
The Nationals still don’t know what time any of their home games will be with MLB still delaying the announcement of those times. There could be four games on Wednesday, the day they are scheduled to play Game 3, so MLB will have to decide which games they’d like to have in primetime.
Manager Davey Johnson put in his plea for a primetime game given the issues with sun in the outfield at Nationals Park.
“We’ve played in shadows all the time, so it’s no big deal,” Johnson said, referring to the shadows at Busch Stadium in the afternoon that make it very tough on hitters, particularly on breaking pitches.
“The only point I’m concerned about is the one at home. I hope it’s not four o’clock. We have a terrible sun field, and I hate for games to be decided because somebody happens to hit one in the sun. That’s four o’clock, five o’clock, when the sun is really terrible at our place.”