The Nationals’ attention has been focused squarely on clinching the National League East, but there is another race, tighter and more overlooked than their battle with the Braves, that will shape Washington’s postseason.
The Nationals remain a half-game ahead of the Reds in the fight to claim the NL’s best record and the top overall seed. The winner will ensure home field advantage in the NLCS, and it would also get to play the winner of the wild card play-in game, and therefore potentially face a team that has exhausted its ace.
The stakes are not as high as winning the division, but it surely matters. Still, Manager Davey Johnson isn’t bothered by the Reds’ portion of the out-of-town-scoreboard.
“I haven’t put much thought in that,” Johnson said. “It may be even better to be the No. 2.”
Johnson has one point. Both top seeds will open on the road due to a one-year postseason scheduling quirk. While the second seed will at least know its destination on the day the season ends, the top seed must wait for the outcome of the play-in, then travel to start a playoff series two days later.
It should be noted that the Nationals, even if they’ve had the best record in baseball since early August, have not yet secured a top-two seed. The Giants have snuck up on everyone. After a 9-1 surge, the Giants have all but wrapped up the National League West and they sit only 3 ½ games behind the Nationals.
The Nationals now have two pursuers for the top seed. With a dozen games remaining, it would take a huge swing for the Giants to pass them. But it’s feasible, and also possible that the Nationals will be passed by both the Giants and Reds and open at home after all.
All of that will sort itself out in the next two weeks, which is all Johnson cares about.
“I just want to win every game we play,” Johnson said. “I want to win today. I’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. And I’ll worry about who has the best record Oct. 3.”