Prior to this season, the Nationals added veteran position players in catchers Yan Gomes, Kurt Suzuki and second baseman Brian Dozier to their roster. All of them have something important in common — prior experience in postseason play.
That was no coincidence. A winning mentality was something that came up in players’ conversations with Washington general manager Mike Rizzo.
Dozier told The Washington Times he turned down more “lucrative” offers to sign a one-year deal with the Nationals because winning was a priority of his.
“Me and Rizzo had a lot of talks back and forth,” Dozier said. “He said he wants to win. That was obviously something good to hear from the head man running the organization. He wanted winners on this team. He has done a good job of getting those people.”
Getting “those people” seems to be paying off. Now, for the first time, Nationals fans could be treated to a real division race in the final weeks of the season.
Washington has won four National League East titles since 2012 by an average of more than 12 games. The closest win came in 2012 when they beat out the Atlanta Braves by four games. In 2014, the Nationals won by 17 games. In 2017, they won by a staggering 20.
Some fans, like season-ticket holder Ken Wegener of Alexandria, would prefer an exciting race to the finish.
“When you have to fight for first place you are playing better at the end of the season,” said Wegener, 75. “I would rather have them be in the wild card than win the division by 20 games. I like the race. It helps.”
Entering Wednesday’s doubleheader with Colorado, Washington (53-46) sat 5½ games back of the Braves in the NL East and just four back in the loss column.
“It is tough to envision it not being a tight race,” Dozier said.
Gomes appeared in the playoffs with Cleveland four times between 2013 and 2018. Gomes recalled coming back from a separated shoulder and helping the Indians make the playoffs in 2016.
“The crowds get bigger wherever you go,” Gomes said. “It is fun when you get to play in crunch time. It is like a preview of what it is like if you do make the playoffs.”
Gomes has struggled offensively of late, but manager Dave Martinez likes his defense.
“He handles our pitching staff, when he is in there, very well,” Martinez said.
Suzuki appeared in the NLDS with Washington in 2012 and then with the Braves last year.
In May, the Nationals added another player with a postseason resume — infielder/outfielder Gerardo Parra. He was in the playoffs with Arizona in 2011 and the Rockies the previous two seasons.
But other new Nationals, like 33-year-old reliever Javy Guerra, are hoping to be part of their first playoff team.
“You come to the park every day feeling like every game matters — as it should be,” he said.
The Nationals’ series with the Rockies ends Thursday with ace Max Scherzer on tap to pitch. The homestand lasts another six days, with three games against the MLB-best Dodgers and three against the Braves.
The pressure is sure to be on.
“Anytime you are home, you need to take advantage of it,” Guerra said.