The Nationals made some fans happy in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh today. After they were mathematically eliminated from contention last night, Manager Davey Johnson could have rested his regulars and given a look to some call-ups. But he didn’t – the Nationals’ full lineup is back in there tonight.
The games may have no impact on the Nationals’ chances, but they matter to the NL Central, which the Cardinals lead by two games with five to play. Johnson wants to make it a fair competition by putting his best team on the field.
“These games are important for the division race,” Johnson said. “If they’re gonna win the division, they need to earn it. And I think we’ve got enough pride here that we don’t want ‘em to have an easy road. And I know my guys feel the same way, too.”
The message was well received around the league. An official from a contending NL Central team said in a text message he appreciated Johnson’s decision to continue to play his regulars.
It was well received in the Nationals’ clubhouse, too. It’s unlikely the Cardinals will clinch against the Nationals. Both the Pirates and Reds would need to lose the next two nights for them to even have a chance. But the Nationals do not want to see the Cardinals, that team that knocked them out of the NLDS last year, celebrate again.
“We definitely don’t want to see St. Louis clinch the division on us,” center fielder Denard Span said. “I’m not sure how the standings is, but if we can beat them the next two days, they definitely won’t be jumping around on the field. That’s the mood right now. I wasn’t here last year, but I saw what they did to this team last year, and they did it to us again last night. If we could spoil their moment for a little bit, that would be gratifying for us.”
The Nationals will close with three games in Arizona, against a Diamondbacks team that also has nothing to play for. Even then, Johnson said, he plans to play his regulars. He thinks giving them chances to reach milestones is more important than seeing young players in a limited stretch.
“These guys also have goals and know what they want to achieve,” Johnson said. “I know the talent and the organization knows the talent. We’ve given them a little experience up here. Most of them here have been in ballgames. All of them have been in ballgames. If somebody can’t go, we’ve got some guys that I’m sure are champing to get in there. But surely we don’t need any rest. We’re gonna have an off-day, and then we’re gonna have five months, six months. So it’s not like we’re gonna be worn out.”