ST. LOUIS — Though his team isn’t playing for anything but pride at this point, Nationals manager Davey Johnson said he plans to continue using his regulars through the season’s final week, certainly over the next two days against a Cardinals club still trying to clinch the NL Central title.
“These games are important for the division race,” Johnson said prior to Tuesday night’s game at Busch Stadium. “If they’re going to win the division, they need to earn it. And I think we’ve got enough pride here that we don’t want them to have an easy road. And I know my guys feel the same way, too.”
The Nationals were officially eliminated from playoff contention Monday night, but the Cardinals enter play Tuesday two games ahead of both the Pirates and Cardinals in the NL Central, with five games remaining on the regular-season schedule.
With nothing at stake from their perspective, the Nationals could use these final few games to get a look at several young players who mostly have sat on the bench all month, a group that includes Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi, Zach Walters and Corey Brown.
Johnson, though, feels it’s appropriate to play his regular lineup against another team still trying to clinch a division title. He also doesn’t feel like those regulars need a break during the season’s final series at Arizona this weekend, even though the Diamondbacks were previously eliminated from contention.
On top of that, Johnson doesn’t believe a couple games in the last week of September is going to change the Nationals’ perspective on young players’ abilities.
“I know the talent, and the organization knows the talent,” said Johnson, who won’t be returning as manager next year. “We’ve given them a little experience up here. Most of them here have been in ballgames. All of them have been in ballgames.
“If [one of the starters] can’t go, we’ve got some guys that I’m sure are champing to get in there. But surely we don’t need any rest. We’re gonna have an off-day [Thursday] and then we’re gonna have five months, six months. So it’s not like we’re gonna be worn out.”
After trying to scratch and claw their way back into the race over the last six weeks, the Nationals found themselves in an unfamiliar position Tuesday: Preparing to play a game that meant nothing for them.
“You want to be looking ahead and setting up your thing for the playoffs,” Johnson said. “That’s what you do. All of a sudden, it hits you like a ton of bricks and say: ‘Oh, dang, now what am I gonna do?’ I go home, that’s what I do.”