ST. LOUIS -- Davey Johnson has been looking closer lately at the Nationals' potential postseason matchups, how his pitching staff would line up against each of them and how he can best put his pitchers in position to get to that point.
The problem for Johnson is that's practically impossible to predict given the way the new playoff system works. With the Nationals' first-round opponent and schedule yet to be determined, there are so many variables and unknowns that Johnson can't simply announce a playoff rotation.
"The way it's set up, it's just a lot more complicated," Johnson said.
If everything plays out as expected over the season's final days, Washington could face San Francisco, Atlanta or St. Louis in the National League Division Series, which will start either Saturday or Sunday, depending on whether the Nationals finish with the NL's best or second-best record. Johnson has said he won't change anything until the Nationals have clinched the NL East, which could happen as early as Saturday night.
Johnson said he would like to have lefty Gio Gonzalez, a top candidate for the NL Cy Young Award, start Washington's first game in the playoffs. But Gonzalez is scheduled to pitch Tuesday, and if the Nationals were to play the Giants on Saturday, the lefty would be coming back on three days' rest -- something Johnson would like to avoid.
Johnson has even been looking at how the other teams fare against opposing pitchers. He accurately rattled off that the Cardinals were 30-17 against lefty starters, the Giants were 39-17 against southpaws and the Braves have struggled against them (30-30).
Given the Giants' and Cardinals' struggles against right-handed pitching, Johnson would rather put his right-handers -- Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson -- toward the top of the rotation against those teams. That could mean starting Zimmermann in Game 1. If the Nationals draw the Braves, it would make more sense for Johnson to start Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler early on, especially Gonzalez in Game 1.
"But again, it's hard to set it up," Johnson said. "If we have to go all the way to [Wednesday not knowing who they will play], then I won't have that luxury."
One thing Johnson could say for certain Saturday afternoon was that Jackson did not hurt his chances of being in the playoff rotation with a poor showing Friday night against the Cardinals.
"Just one bad outing," Johnson said. "He doesn't get in my doghouse for that."