Jayson Werth, left, and Bryce Harper were among the Washington Nationals who celebrated after the team won the National League East Division’s title Monday. Now it’s on to the playoffs — and maybe even the World Series! (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

The Washington Nationals have a new magic number: 7. That’s how many games the Nats have to win to get to the World Series: three games in the National League (NL) Division Series and four more in the NL Championship Series.

Playoff baseball is different from regular-season games. All the teams are good. There are no games against easy teams such as the Astros, Cubs or Rockies. To win, a team must have good starting pitching, a solid lineup that can score runs and a dependable relief pitcher (called a “closer”) to get the final outs in a close game.

Let’s see how the Nats stack up against the other four National League playoff teams in these three important categories.

(Remember: The Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals are the NL wild card teams. They play a winner-take-all playoff game Friday. The loser is out of the playoffs, and the Nats won’t have to worry about that team.)

Starting pitching

1. San Francisco Giants

2. Washington Nationals

3. Cincinnati Reds

4. St. Louis Cardinals

5. Atlanta Braves

Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann have been terrific for the Nats all season. They are as good as any starters around. The key may be the Nats’ other two starters, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler. They have struggled lately. If they pitch well, the Nats will be tough. I think the Nats made the right decision by benching their ace pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, so he wouldn’t hurt himself by pitching too much after his elbow surgery. Still, like lots of Washington fans, I’m saying, “I wish we had Strasburg!”


1. St. Louis Cardinals

2. Washington Nationals

3. Cincinnati Reds

4. San Francisco Giants

5. Atlanta Braves

Surprise! After depending much of the season on their pitching, the Nats have become a good hitting team. Ryan Zimmerman, Michael “the Beast” Morse and Danny Espinosa hit much better in the second half of the season. And teenage sensation Bryce Harper is red-hot. The Nats will score runs.

The Closer

1. Atlanta Braves

2. Cincinnati Reds

3. St. Louis Cardinals

4. Washington Nationals

5. San Francisco Giants

I’m nervous about the Nats’ bullpen. They don’t have a fireballing relief ace like the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel or the Reds’ Aroldis Chapman. Manager Davey Johnson will choose between Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen. Clippard has been shaky lately. Hopefully, Johnson will make the right choices.

So, can the Nats win seven games and go to the World Series? Sure; they are as good as any team in the playoffs.

Will they go to the World Series? I’m not so sure about that. As I said, all the teams are good, and many of the games will probably be super close.

Will the playoffs be fun to watch? Most definitely!

Fred Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 18 sports books for kids, including eight books about baseball. The latest is “Throwing Heat.”