Washington baseball fans will revel in excitement on Wednesday at the city’s first major league postseason game since 1933. Red towels will be handed out to fans, who, for once, will experience the feeling of packing a stadium to watch baseball in October in their own city. And with the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals tied at one game apiece, they will have a chance to see the Nationals potentially continue their strong play at home.
“We’re all excited to go out there tomorrow, in front of our fans, in front of a full stadium of Nationals fans finally and see what it’s like,” Ryan Zimmerman said.
The Nationals were one of baseball’s best home teams during the regular season. They finished tied with five other teams with a 50-31 home record, just behind the major league-leading New York Yankees who posted a 51-30 at their stadium. And with the NLDS series tied, the Nationals essentially have a three-game series left. They played 16 three-game series at Nationals Park this season, and won 11 of them and lost only five.
“They don’t call it home-field advantage for nothing,” Zimmerman said. “… We feel very comfortable playing at home. We’re a good home team and we put ourselves in a good position to come home and just win a series. If we can do that like we’ve done a lot of times this year, then we’ll be sitting pretty.”
The Nationals finished the regular season with an attendance of 2,370,794, the15th highest home total in the major leagues and most in Nationals Park history, and an average of 30,010, 14th in the major leagues. Last season, the total home attendance was 1,940,478 (21th) and average attendance was 24,877 (20th). Throughout the season, as the Nationals continued to win on the field and win over fans, players began detecting an uptick in crowds and their changing demeanor.
“We’ve seen it a lot,” Adam LaRoche said. “It doesn’t go unnoticed. You could tell early on that is was almost more of a social gathering. Nothing else to do, we’ll go hang out at the park. Now it’s turned into some diehard fans, people probably skipping work and skipping school to come see the Nats. Our last few regular season home games, I think were about as close to playoff atmosphere as you can get. When you get fans getting up, getting into it in the second and third inning, I’m sure that’s what it will be like.”
The home-field advantage isn’t just an emotional difference. At home during the season, the Nationals had a slightly better team OPS (.762) than on the road (.738). They hit 101 home runs at home and 93 on the road, and struck out less at Nationals Park (597) than on the road (728).
The players who may benefit the most at home are Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond and Zimmerman, all of whom hit better at Nationals Park. Werth leads the team in home OPS (.915) and Zimmerman is second (.908). But on the road, Werth’s OPS drops to .720 and Zimmerman’s to .746.
The Nationals’ pitching was also been better at home, too. Their home ERA is slightly better (3.29) than on the road (3.40). The confines of Nationals Park may help no two starters more than Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler.
Jackson, Wednesday’s starter, has a 3.35 ERA at home versus a 4.78 ERA away. Detwiler, Thursday’s pitcher, has an even starker difference: 2.59 ERA at home versus a 4.38 ERA on the road. They have the biggest home-road splits of the Nationals four playoff starters.
“Coming in to play and going deeper in the postseason with these fans, having Edwin on the mound is going to be huge for and coming back home is going to be huge for all of us,” Bryce Harper said. “With our fans and playing with them here, it’s going to be fun.”