BC-BBN—Nationals-New to Playoffs, 1st Ld-Writethru,716
Many key Nationals will be making playoff debuts
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By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — On the night the Washington Nationals clinched the NL East title, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman donned the one essential accessory for any jubilant baseball player these days: ski goggles.
His gray commemorative T-shirt soaked by champagne and beer, Zimmerman was asked whether he brought the eye-protecting equipment to the ballpark himself, knowing it would come in handy during all of the alcohol-spraying.
No, came the reply: Right fielder Jayson Werth provided the goggles because, as Zimmerman explained, “He’s been through a few.”
Werth is nearly alone in that regard on Zimmerman’s club. When your franchise hasn’t been to the playoffs in 31 years, and your city hasn’t participated in Major League Baseball’s postseason in 79, chances are there won’t be a whole lot of guys who know how to celebrate in a clubhouse.
That’s how things are for the Nationals, who were a majors-best 98-64 in 2012, but whose young core — Zimmerman, 19-year-old center fielder Bryce Harper, left fielder Michael Morse, middle infielders Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa, starters Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler, and relievers Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen — is new to all of this.
None of those players ever has appeared in a single playoff game, yet each will be counted on in a key role when the Nationals open their NL division series on Sunday at either the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals or the Atlanta Braves, frequent postseason participants.
“Baseball is baseball. Whatever you’re going to play, wherever you’re going to play, people are going to do good things, people are going to do bad things, just like they’ve done all season. Obviously, the coverage and the attention is magnified, but the game’s the game,” said Zimmerman, a member of 100-loss Nationals clubs in 2008 and 2009, “and I think once we get into it, all of us will be fine.”
It’s likely that no more than five of the players who will be on Washington’s 25-man NLDS roster have spent any time under the bright lights of the playoffs at all, led by Werth’s 44 games with the Philadelphia Phillies, the club he left as a free agent before last season to sign a $126 million contract with the Nationals.
According to STATS LLC, the only other member of the club with more than eight playoff games is utility reserve Mark DeRosa — a valuable member of the current clubhouse, to be sure, but someone who conceivably might not even get on the field for more than an inning here or there the rest of the way.
Werth (2008 Phillies) and starting pitcher Edwin Jackson (2011 Cardinals) are the only Nationals players who have won a World Series.
And of the 10 clubs that qualified for this postseason, only the AL West champion Oakland Athletics had a younger season-ending roster than the Nationals, STATS LLC said.
So how important is it to have postseason veterans?
“It definitely helps. You have a lot people, once they go back multiple times, they know how to handle different situations,” said right-hander Jackson (10-11), expected to start Game 3 or 4 of the NLDS, behind playoff rookies Gonzalez (21-8) in Game 1 and Zimmermann (12-8) in Game 2. “But at the end of the day, it can be your first time and you can still go out and perform. It just depends on how you treat it.”
The man in a Nationals uniform with by far the most accumulated playoff knowledge is manager Davey Johnson.
He won World Series championships as a second baseman with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966 and 1970, and another as the manager of the New York Mets in 1986.
Johnson insists his current group will be just fine this month.
“You gain your experience by playing 162 games and winning those games and winning most series. ... We treat every game as a big game,” he said. “The beauty of it is, you’ve played alongside each other all year long and you know what everybody’s capable of doing. You feed on the energy of knowing the guy behind you is pretty good. So you don’t need to have a whole lot of guys with postseason experience. I’ve got a ton of it.”
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