Aug 16, 2014, 11:25 AM EST
With the 64-58 Pittsburgh Pirates – current owners of the final NL Wild Card spot – in town, this weekend’s series for the Nationals perhaps feels different than their previous three games up in New York against the Mets.
It’s mid-August and it’s two winning teams who could possibly meet later this year in October. Both are still very much alive in the playoff race with different immediate goals in mind.
Nationals manager Matt Williams senses that, and he’ll admit it. No matter how many times he has said ‘we’re worried about today’ this season, the rookie skipper can start to feel a difference as September nears.
“You want to have Game 1 mean the same as Game 125 or Game 150, but the reality is that it’s not that way,” he said. “This time of year it becomes a little more intense. Teams are fighting for something and you can see it out in the distance.”
Williams, however, issued a caveat on that notion.
“That’s the trap, though. The trap is out there, so our objective is to play tonight and play well enough to beat them tonight. We’re in a position at this point where we can control. That’s what we need to do, we need to focus on that.”
Williams has experienced a pennant race before. He had an accomplished 17-year playing career and participated in the postseason five times.
Williams was on a 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks club that won the World Series. He was also part of a 1993 San Francisco Giants team that won 103 games, but missed the playoffs.
Intensity is required for both players and managers, of course, but there is a difference. Williams tried to explain that on Friday, based on what he has learned in his first season as an MLB manager.
“It was there from Day 1. That doesn’t change,” he said. “Especially when you don’t have much control, you can’t let it go. There’s no physicality about managing or really about coaching. You have to maintain your mental tenacity throughout the whole season, because there’s no physicality to it. You can’t go out and hit and throw, make a difference. That intensity is there from Day 1 and it will continue to be.”
The Nationals currently hold a six-game lead over the Atlanta Braves in first place in the NL East. It’s a great spot to be in this time of year and that is not lost on Williams. He has seen the homestretch of a season go very different ways. Right now, he’s just enjoying the ride.
“Who wouldn’t want to have the opportunity, that’s the way I look at it. We have an opportunity and we’re excited about that. We just need to keep playing well to see where we can go to.”
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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