MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Earning a split in St. Louis critical to Nationals

Ringolsby: Earning split critical to Nationals

ST. LOUIS -- Washington pulled out a late-innings victory in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against St. Louis on Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals answered back with a 12-4 rout in Game 2 on Monday.

It wasn't a perfect beginning to the postseason. The Nationals, however, are very comfortable with what has transpired.

They headed back to the nation's capital on Monday night, having split the first two games of the franchise's second postseason appearance, eager to enjoy the excitement that will be generated by Wednesday afternoon's (1 p.m. ET on MLB Network) first playoff game in Washington since 1933. The Nats have the feeling that their initial postseason mission was accomplished.

Would they have liked to have taken both games of the best-of-five series in St. Louis?

Of course.

But the Nationals got the split, and that, as Jayson Werth can attest, is critical.

Wild Card vs. Nationals

"You work all season to get the home-field advantage, and we've got it right now," said Werth. "I did say [to the other players] after the game that we did our job here, we split two games and now we go home for the rest of the series."

Werth is one of four players on Washington's 25-man roster to have played in the postseason before. His five trips -- with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004 and Philadelphia from 2007-10 -- is as many as the three other Nats postseason veterans have made combined. Adam LaRoche was with Atlanta in 2004-05, Edwin Jackson pitched for Tampa Bay in '00 and St. Louis last year and Michael Gonzalez was in the Texas bullpen a year ago.

What history has told Werth is the odds are against any team that loses the first two games on the road in a best-of-five series.

And that message resonates with his Washington teammates.

"I'm totally fine with a split [of the two games]," said LaRoche. "We'll take this home and see what happens. We have our work [cut out for us], we understand that, but we also understand that we'll be working in our home."

Washington has enjoyed life at Nationals Park. The Nationals' 50-31 record matches fellow postseason entrants Cincinnati and St. Louis for the best home record in the NL. The often overlooked nugget is that the Cardinals are going to be the visitor in the nation's capital, and the Cards and American League Central-champion Detroit Tigers were both 38-43 on the road, the only losing road records among the 10 teams that qualified for this year's postseason.

The Nats got better as the season went on, with more fans getting caught up in the excitement and more wins piling up at home. They won 20 of their final 29 home games, including taking three of four from St. Louis from Aug. 30-Sept. 2.

Washington lost only four home series in the final four months of the season, getting swept once by the New York Yankees (June 15-17), and losing two out of three to Colorado (July 6-8), Philadelphia (July 31-Aug. 2) and Miami (Sept. 7-9).

In return, the Nats enjoyed the biggest attendance in the five years they have called Nationals Park home, averaging 30,010, and having 10 sellouts, twice as many as they had in any of their previous four seasons in the facility.

"It's going to be fun," Ian Desmond said. "We know the people will be alive with attitude. What we've seen is there are not only a lot of fans, but like St. Louis, they are quality fans who understand the game.

"They are not about [being] nasty. They are about supporting their team."

The Nationals set the stage with that dramatic Game 1 win at Busch Stadium, in which pinch-hitter Tyler Moore delivered the go-ahead two-run single with two outs in the top of the eighth of a 3-2 win.

Not even the fact that starter Jordan Zimmermann was gone after three innings on Monday -- when the Cardinals equaled their third-largest postseason run total -- can temper the anticipation.

"No big deal," said Werth. "A loss is a loss."

LaRoche added: "We came here trying to break serve and we did."

Now it's an effort for game, set and match. The Nats need two wins to advance to the NL Championship Series against the winner of the Reds-Giants matchup.

"I'm interested to see how they react to the postseason," said Desmond. "Hopefully, they are ready for us. Hopefully, we can return the favor to them. It's nice to be going home. It's fun to play in front of fans who are rooting for you, cheering everything you do well."

And the Nationals have put themselves in position for the fans to have something to cheer about.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.