Nationals lock up home-field advantage throughout playoffs

After 98-win regular season, focus now turns to postseason

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And on the 182nd day, the Washington Nationals rested.

The heavy lifting of the regular season’s 162 games finished Wednesday afternoon with a 5-1 victory over the once-fearsome Philadelphia Phillies.

The months of baseball delivered the Nationals the National League East pennant and Washington’s first trip to Major League Baseball’s postseason since 1933. All that remained Wednesday at Nationals Park were the final touches to their creation.

So, long-suffering mascot Teddy won the president’s race for the first time in 538 tries or, for those keeping track at home, seven years. The 37,075 supporters on hand chanted his name. And, on the field, the Nationals secured home-field advantage for as long as they remain alive in the postseason.

As the National League’s top seed, the Nationals (98-64) face the winner of Friday’s wild card game between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals. The five-game division series opens Sunday on the road; the first home game at Nationals Park is Wednesday.

The talk of postseason schedules (the Nationals fly to St. Louis or Atlanta early Saturday) and pitching rotations for the best-of-five series (Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann will start the first two games) revealed a hard reality.

“That number,” shortstop Ian Desmond said of the Nationals’ 98 wins, “is pretty irrelevant.”

Now the season built on the arms of five pitchers who reached double digits in victories and a steadily-improving offense starts over. So do the storylines. The shutdown of Stephen Strasburg after 159⅓ innings. The 1,121 games lost to injury. The cortisone shot that rescued Ryan Zimmerman’s season. The attendance of 2,370,794, best since Nationals Park opened in 2008. The pile of wins. All of it comes down to securing 11 wins over the next 3½ weeks.

Edwin Jackson understands what that involves. The right-hander contributed 78 innings to the Cardinals‘ World Series drive last season.

On Wednesday, he tried to distance himself from a disastrous outing where the Cardinals shelled him for eight runs, six hits and four walks in 1⅓ painful innings. It was a rare dissonant note in a season where much went right.

Against the Phillies (81-81), expected to contend in the National League East, but who instead finished at .500, Jackson focused on finding a rhythm and keeping the ball away. Besides, he didn’t want to be the only one of the five Nationals starters to not record 10 or more wins. The simple formula worked as Jackson scattered six hits and one run over 6⅔ pain-free innings.

The same couldn’t be said of Nationals manager Davey Johnson. He left the dugout in the third inning after he lost feeling in his left leg. Bench coach Randy Knorr assumed his duties. A series of X-rays diagnosed the problem as a narrowing of his L3 and L4 vertebrae.

Johnson expects to treat the issue with medication and, possibly, and injection.

“I’m OK,” Johnson said. “There’s nothing wrong with me.”

The discomfort extended to Michael Morse. After he smashed a two-run home run in the eighth inning, he felt spasm in his left hamstring while rounding first base.

The injury isn’t expected to be serious.

Ryan Zimmerman and Tyler Moore added home runs as part of an offensive onslaught that followed Teddy’s victory.

As players slipped from the clubhouse with a day off waiting, they felt like a work in progress.

“We haven’t really had a chance to sit back and think about it,” Zimmerman said of the history-laden season, mascots notwithstanding. “It’s a feeling a lot of us haven’t had a chance to feel before.”

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