WASHINGTON — Game 5 of the National League Division between the Nationals and Dodgers is upon us.
In this winner-take-all scenario, the victor advances to the National League Championship Series, one step removed from playing for a World Series title. The loser goes home, brokenhearted.
Nationals General Mike Rizzo, despite the circumstance of heightened suspense, is trying to establish some semblance of a routine.
“I’m going to a try and keep a routine, try and keep it as normal as possible,” Rizzo told The Sports Junkies Thursday morning. “It’s not easy, but try and keep it as normal as possible, normal baseball day, game day and just kind of take it in stride if we can.”
Asked if he gets nervous before such big games, Rizzo said, “I do not. You know, I really don’t. I know it sounds like a cliche, but I don’t. I mean, really, my job is done. My game-day impact is not that great.”
“It’s up to the players now,” he said. “We put things into place and we put a roster that we feel can compete and we’re just gonna watch ’em play. I tell our guys just try and sit back and enjoy it, because these things are what you work all those hours for in the office, in the winter, and the summer and the spring. Enjoy it as much as you can.
“The anxiousness and the nervousness and being on the edge of your seat, I think that’s a big part of it, because when it’s over, you look back at it and those are the great memories.”
“It’s not to say that we’re not going to be anxious and on pins and needles and that type of thing, but you summed it up perfectly I think,” he said when asked how he can remain so even keel.
“We’ve done what we can. We fought extremely hard, especially those last six games. That last home stand was important for us. We knew the importance of having Game 5 in our own backyard with the fanbase that we have. We elected not to go with Max on four days’ rest in Game 4 and rest him, give him complete rest and have him be ready to go in Game 5.”
“This day was planned out a couple years back when we tried to sign Max Scherzer to a long-term lucrative contract, being the No. 1 starter for games just like this,” he said. “Unfortunately, in the last month or so we had a couple of key injuries that have affected our roster construction, but we feel good about these guys.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ll go to battle with these guys any time. It’s a good bunch of guys. They’ve kept their nose clean, they’re good in the community, they’re good in the clubhouse, enjoy being around each other. They really do care for each other. Again, it’s cliche, but it’s something that I believe in wholeheartedly is care about the name on the front of your jersey more than the name on the back of your jersey and you will have good chemistry and good camaraderie in the clubhouse.”
As for matchups, the Nats will go with right-handed Max Scherzer on full rest against Dodgers lefty Rich Hill, who’s pitching on three days’ rest. The Dodgers have also not ruled out 20-year-old starter Julio Urias from pitching in relief in Game 5.
Would the Nationals be willing to combat such a decision by bringing Tanner Roark, their Game 2 starter, in to relieve on short rest? That was the Burke & Herbert Bank Fan Question of the Week.
“Well, Game 5. Elimination day. All hands on deck,” Rizzo said. “I wouldn’t be surprised with Tanner’s makeup, that if we needed something, that he’d volunteer to be available, and I think that everything is on the table tonight. We save nobody for tomorrow because there may not be a tomorrow.”
Rizzo was also asked about shortstop Danny Espinosa, who’s struggled offensively in this series. He’s 1-for-11 (.091) at the plate with eight strikeouts and two runs scored, but his .286 on-base percentage has been helped along by three hit-by-pitches.
Asked of the likelihood the switch-hitting Espinosa is benched for left-handed utility infielder Stephen Drew, Rizzo quipped, “Well, people have been wanting us to get rid of Danny Espinosa for five years.”
“But when you get a defensive guy that plays the spectacular defense at second and shortstop that he does, hits you 24, 25 home runs a year, can steal you 20 bases, can drive in 70 runs and play stellar, those guys are invaluable,” he said.
“Against a playoff series with four left-handed starters out of the five games, it’s difficult to get a left-handed bat like Stephen Drew in the lineup. We trust Danny. We’re a team built on pitching, defense and athleticism — he’s got all three of those factors in his favor — and when Game 7 of the World Series and the ball’s hit to shortstop, I feel really, really good about it.”