Club focused on playing its game, letting results follow vs. Cards
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LOUIS -- One of the most obvious, in-your-face storylines surrounding the Nationals as they prepare for their first playoff series is their glaring lack of postseason experience. Just about every Washington player who had a microphone or camera in front of his face Saturday at Busch Stadium was asked about it, especially as it relates to the defending World Series champion St. Louis club on the other side of the field.
It's an interesting juxtaposition, sure. The Nationals are young and inexperienced, crashing into Washington's first postseason since 1933 with a great deal of raw energy and enthusiasm. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are the playoff veterans, practically immune to the emotions of an elimination game given how well they handled them in 2011 and again in their Wild Card game victory Friday in Atlanta.
But for all the supposed importance of experience, the last three World Series champs -- including the 2011 Cardinals -- missed the playoffs the year before winning it all. And for all the questions and attention, all the expectations that Washington would come into the postseason with wide eyes and frazzled nerves, it's not happening.
"I think you guys are more nervous than we are. It's just another game, just another series," said 19-year-old center fielder Bryce Harper. "I don't know. I'm excited, but I'm just going to look at it like it's another game and another place that we play and another team we play. I guess when you step in the box, it's going to be a lot different with the crowd and everything, but you can't look at it that way."
Only four players on the Nationals' playoff roster have been to the postseason before: right fielder Jayson Werth, first baseman Adam LaRoche, Game 3 starter Edwin Jackson and reliever Mike Gonzalez. LaRoche even joked that he felt like a playoff rookie all over again this year because he hasn't played a meaningful October game since 2005.
But LaRoche remembered the advice he got from the veterans on that '05 Braves club. They told their teammates, simply, to relax and stick with what got them there.
"That's what I heard early on," LaRoche said. "And I believe it."
So LaRoche and the Nationals' other veterans have passed on that advice to their youngsters, telling newcomers like Harper and their young rotation to treat it like any other game, as the cliche goes. If playing their brand of baseball earned Washington the National League's best record and the top spot in the playoffs, why stop doing that now?
"We're in this position for a reason," LaRoche said. "We've been one of the best teams in baseball all year, so it's obviously worked. Let's continue to do it."
Based on everything they're saying, that won't be a problem for the Nationals. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, a first-timer himself after years of struggling through meaningless Septembers in Washington, said he hasn't felt the team's attitude or mood change whatsoever, aside from maybe a little bit of previously unknown excitement.
"This team is always relaxed when it's together," added manager Davey Johnson. "It's got makeup off the chart. ... They enjoy being around each other. They have fun. They have fun playing the game of baseball."
But, of course, there's an argument from the other side of the aisle. Cardinals Game 1 starter Adam Wainwright noted that experience in a certain situation often gives players an advantage, a level of comfort they wouldn't feel had they not been there before. St. Louis got plenty of that last season, Wainwright said, as it played about a month's worth of games as if they were do-or-die affairs.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny wouldn't describe it as an advantage for his club over the Nationals, but more on a developmental level for each individual player. Put together enough guys who have been through that fire, he said, and it will eventually affect the team as a whole.
"I don't think you can say enough about what those guys went through in 2011, what they overcame, how much they were the underdog and how they were ruled out and all those things that brought them together, which defines the character of a team, and ultimately defines character of people," Matheny said. "All of those are benefits that they have earned and they worked their way through, and this team is doing the same thing this year."
Then again, maybe postseason experience is just invaluable to those who have it -- and overrated to those who don't.
"We weren't experienced coming into the year at winning our division, and we did OK with that," Zimmerman said. "I think you go out there and play, and if you play the game the right way like we have been all year, we're going to have a good chance to win. If we make mistakes against a good team like them or anyone that's in the playoffs, you're not going to have a good chance to win.
"I think we know what we need to do to win, just like everyone else does. Now, we just have to go out there and execute."