Why Nationals Might Be Better off as Third Seed in MLB Playoffs

Kevin ShayContributor IIISeptember 26, 2012

Washington Nationals might be better off as third seed, not first or second.
Washington Nationals might be better off as third seed, not first or second.Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Only a few pundits picked the Washington Nationals to make the playoffs before this season, and that was as a wild-card team.

But this team has quietly remained in first place in the National League East since way back on May 22. They have clinched a playoff spot, the first for a D.C. MLB team since 1933. The Nats have also held the best record in baseball for weeks.

In short, this team has already exceeded expectations beyond anyone's dreams.

But success has a way of making people forget that. Many fans have dreams of a World Series this season. The National League doesn't have a dominant team this year, so why not?

Many, including yours truly, cannot understand why Davey Johnson and Mike Rizzo did not manage Stephen Strasburg's innings better to allow him a chance to pitch in October. Shutting down the team's ace pitcher less than a month from the playoffs was not a good move—not for Strasburg, the team or the fans—no matter how you look at it.

The bottom line is that the Nats are 6-7 against contending teams since they shut down Strasburg (through Sept. 27). They also were shut out 8-0 by the lowly Marlins the day after the decision was announced.

You can't say the way the Nats mismanaged the Strasburg situation has not had an impact on the team in the form of a mental letdown. There is nothing the Nats can do about it now, unless they suddenly reverse course and bring Strasburg back for the playoffs.

However, is it possible that the Nationals' recent struggles without Strasburg could be beneficial when it comes to playoff seeding?

The best move the Nats can take is slide into the playoffs just enough to fall behind the Giants and Reds as the third seed in the National League.

But they have to be careful not to fall so much as to have Atlanta overtake them for the division and force them to play an extra wild-card game.

That's because this year the baseball bigwigs and owners agreed to a 2-3 format for the first full round of the playoffs, citing schedule concerns, rather than the traditional 2-2-1 format. And instead of giving the higher seed the first two games at home as is tradition, the higher seed now has to go on the road and hope to win at least one to take the pressure off having to win three straight at home.

This makes about as much sense as giving home field advantage in the World Series to the team from the league that won the midseason exhibition event known as the All-Star Game.

So the teams that worked hard to get the top two seeds could easily find themselves in an 0-2 hole in the first round. The 2-3 format only gives the higher seed an advantage if the series goes five games.

If MLB officials and owners were concerned about saving one off day in giving us this 2-3 format, they could have arranged for one fewer day off between the first and second rounds of the playoffs. They could have made teams play on a travel day in the first round. Those options would have been better than making the higher seed go on the road for the first two games.

Another reason the Nats should fall to at least the second seed is to avoid playing the Braves in the first round, which they could do thanks to another change this year by MLB bigwigs. Atlanta swept the Nats in their last series, and Washington is only 10-8 against the Braves this season.

Meanwhile, the Nats are 5-2 against the Reds and 5-1 against the Giants.