ST. LOUIS -- Manager Davey Johnson has said several times that he won't make any adjustments to his starting rotation until the Nationals have clinched the National League East title.
Once that happens -- and it very well could this weekend at Busch Stadium, with Washington's magic number down to three entering Friday's game -- Johnson will put plans into action to align his rotation for the NL Division Series, give extra rest to his position players, and so on. But with the Braves as hot as any team in baseball and only six games left on the schedule, he pointed out Friday afternoon, "They may all have to pitch right to the end."
While the extra rest and time to think ahead would certainly help, there might be a silver lining in the Braves refusing to let the Nationals officially lock up the division.
"It'd help us a lot more if they played worse. But I like these games all meaning something," Johnson said. "I think it's a good education. It makes it more fun knowing the [Wild Card-pursuing] Cardinals have got a lot riding on it, and we've got a lot riding on it."
Johnson's point about education is particularly interesting, as Washington will likely be generalized as "inexperienced" come October due to its youth. But marching through a winning season and having to stay sharp until the very end is an experience in and of itself, one not entirely different from actually playing in the postseason.
"This is what it's all about. It's a whole new different feeling if you're playing for a pennant or in the postseason, where every game, every pitch, everything means something," Johnson said. "Experience does help, but going through it helps, too. It helps a great deal. Just keep doing the same things you did to get here and you'll be fine."