Nationals ready regardless of opponent

Nationals ready regardless of opponent

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals won their first National League East title on Monday, but they still don't know who they are going play in the NL Division Series.

If the Nats end up with the best record in baseball, they could start on Sunday against the Wild Card team -- either the Braves, Cardinals or Dodgers. If they have the second-best record, behind the Reds, they'll start on Saturday, against the Giants.

It doesn't matter to manager Davey Johnson who his team plays in the NLDS. All he wants is for his best pitcher, Gio Gonzalez, to be on the hill for Game 1. Gonzalez is a Cy Young Award candidate, and he leads the NL in wins, with 21.

"I would like to play Sunday. That would be Gio's game. Whoever [we play], I don't care. I would like to start with my 21-gamer," Johnson said. "It's complicated to set up your pitching [staff for] the postseason."

Espinosa added that the Nationals have not been consistent at the plate recently, which explains why they are 7-10 in their last 17 games.

"We haven't been hitting as well as we have been the whole second half, but we also ran into some hot teams, teams that have been pitching well," Espinosa said. "I think as long as just we play our game, go out there and do what we do, not look too far ahead, look day to day to win a ballgame, we'll win."

Infielder Mark DeRosa has been on teams that have reached the postseason. Like Johnson, he doesn't care who the Nationals play, although he does not want to go to San Francisco. And it has nothing to do with facing his former team's great pitching staff, which includes Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum.

"I don't think it matters who we face," DeRosa said. "Being a short series, I would like to avoid flying cross-country -- just for travel purposes, quick turnarounds, three-hour time changes. If that's what you have to do, you have to do it. I don't think you have to use it as an excuse. But if given my choice, I want to stay as close to [Washington] as possible in a short series.

"It's going to be a dogfight regardless who the Wild Card is. It really is. ... When St. Louis came in here, we beat up on them pretty good. We go there, they put their best foot forward in a pennant race, and they beat up on us pretty good. Atlanta is a team we respect. ... They played great baseball. San Francisco is a tough place to play. They have played well all year. I don't know if there is a situation where we necessarily match up the best against a certain team. It's going to be up to us to play well, like we have been doing all year."

The Nationals have had the best pitching staff in baseball this season, and from May 1 until this recent stretch, the offense had been consistent.

Though he doesn't like to make predictions, former manager Frank Robinson believes the Nationals are going to tough to beat in the postseason.

"I like what I see about this team all around," Robinson said. "I really don't see a weakness on this team. I love their pitching, love their defense, and I love their clutch hitting."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.