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Five keys for Nationals in postseason

Five keys for Nationals in postseason

Five keys for Nationals in postseason
The Nationals ended up with the best record in baseball, going 98-64. For doing so, they were rewarded with home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

The Nats will start the National League Division Series against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on TBS after taking four out of seven games from them this season.

Here are five keys the Nationals will need to beat the Cardinals and advance to the NL Championship Series.

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Pitching, pitching, pitching
The Nats had the best ERA in the Majors this season, but in their last five games against the Cards, they allowed 36 runs. Manager Davey Johnson plans to start right-handers in two of the first three games. Left-hander Gio Gonzalez has Game 1. Righty Jordan Zimmermann will start Game 2, and Edwin Jackson will toe the rubber in Game 3 instead of left-hander Ross Detwiler, since St. Louis hit better against left-handed pitching.

Wild Card vs. Nationals

Keep in mind that the Cardinals were able to handle Zimmermann, Jackson and Detwiler during the regular season. Gonzalez tossed a shutout in his lone start vs. the Cards this season.

Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper at the top
Werth and Harper were the table-setters during the second half of the regular season, and they were almost unstoppable. Werth hit over .300 and had an on-base percentage over .390. Harper scored 87 runs hitting from the second spot and is known to be a terror on the bases. He will take the extra bag if the Cards allow him to.

Staying healthy
Two of Washington's power hitters, Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman, have been plagued by nagging ailments. Morse has been bothered by injuries to his left wrist, right thumb and right hamstring, but it hasn't stopped him from hitting. In his last 28 games, he went 34-for-108 with six home runs and 17 RBIs.

Zimmerman has been playing with a sore right shoulder and will need minor surgery after the season. He took four cortisone shots this year yet still managed to drive in 95 runs.

Is Tyler Clippard OK?
Clippard lost the closer's job to Drew Storen after allowing 12 runs in his last 14 1/3 innings, and he will now serve as the setup man. For Clippard, it's a matter of keeping the ball down. If he keeps his pitches up in the strike zone, the Cardinals could hit a lot of them for extra bases.

Johnson insists that Clippard will be OK, but because this is a short series, Clippard must get it together now.

Holding runners
The Nationals may have baseball's best ERA, but their pitchers have problems holding runners. In fact, Nats catchers were only able to throw out 19 baserunners in 127 attempts.

But the Cards are not known to steal bases. In fact, they stole only two in three attempts against the Nationals in seven games this year. The only threat is Jon Jay, who stole 19 this season.

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.

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