Don't expect the Washington Nationals to experience a hangover -- literally or figuratively -- following their postseason-clinching win Thursday night over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Champagne and celebration were both kept to a minimum in the clubhouse, with the upstart Nats setting their sights on larger goals.
The next step toward a potential division crown and playoff success is a difficult one, as the homestand continues with a four-game set against red-hot Milwaukee. The Brewers have been racing up the standings recently in a last-ditch effort to claim the final wildcard slot, and should give the Nationals a taste of playoff-type baseball.
Washington Nationals vs. Milwaukee Brewers
Friday, September 21, 7:05 p.m. EDT
Edwin Jackson (9-10, 3.89) vs. Shaun Marcum (5-4, 3.91)
Saturday, September 22, 1:05 p.m. EDT
Gio Gonzalez (19-8, 2.95) vs. Wily Peralta (2-0, 2.14)
Sunday, September 23, 1:35 p.m. EDT
Chien-Ming Wang (2-3, 6.92) vs. Yovani Gallardo (16-8, 3.59)
Monday, September 24, 1:05 p.m. EDT
Jordan Zimmermann (11-8, 2.96) vs. Marco Estrada (4-6, 3.56)
Season Series: This will complete the home-and-home series between the two teams. The Nationals took 3-of-4 games from the Brewers in late-July in Milwaukee.
The Nationals clinched their first playoff spot since moving to D.C., and when you add in decades of bad Senators teams, it means that a Washington club will make an appearance in the playoffs for the first time since 1933. And they're not sneaking in. Entering this series, the Nats have the best record in baseball (91-58) and hold a five and a half game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the NL East heading into the final two weeks. The Nats were rampaging through September before dropping three straight close games in Atlanta last weekend, but rebounded to take 2-of-3 at home against the Dodgers. The Nats' pitching staff leads the majors with a 3.27 ERA.
The Brewers were having a disappointing season but saved their best baseball for last. Milwaukee is 14-4 in September, carrying a five-game winning streak to Nationals Park, and has roared to within two and a half games of the final wildcard spot. The Brewers' pitching and hitting have both looked much better during this stretch. Ryan Braun is having another MVP-caliber season (.311 average/40 HRs/105 RBIs), while Yovani Gallardo is looking more and more like an ace at the front of the rotation.
The Nationals still have plenty to play for, and the young team has shown no signs of slowing down. With the offense finding its rhythm and pairing with the team's impressive pitching staff, the Nats have reason to keep their sights aimed high. The Brewers will provide a tough test in the form of a team playing great baseball and scrambling to win every game to make the playoffs.
The pitching matchups promise to provide plenty of intrigue. Friday's game between Jackson and Marcum features a pair of solid starters who have had recent trouble lasting deep into games. On Saturday, Gio Gonzalez goes for his 20th win against a youngster coming off of back-to-back strong starts. Wang gets the opportunity of a fill-in start on Sunday but has to face Gallardo, who hasn't lost a game since July -- when the Nats knocked him around. A Monday matinee features Zimmermann's sub-3.00 ERA against a former Nat in Estrada.
KW Rosenfeld is a lifelong baseball fan who visited every major league ballpark in the summer of 1991. A longtime resident of Northern Virginia, he's still thankful that baseball has returned to D.C.
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