The Washington Nationals were finally able to lock down the second seed in the National League playoffs, an achievement that earned them home field advantage against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the National League West division champs who hold the third seed. The first game of the five-game series is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 7 at the D.C. Nationals Park.

In a week that brought plenty of bad weather to the Washington, D.C., there were concerns over whether the Nationals would be able to play out the final games of the season, which were huge since the Dodgers were on a five-game winning streak themselves. The Nationals lost four of five, but fortunately the Dodgers hit a dry spell at the same time. The Nats clinched home field with an Oct. 1 win at home over the Miami Marlins.

Washington Nationals' Stephen Drew (10) tags out Miami Marlins' Martin Prado (14), who was attempting to steal third during the first inning of a baseball game at Nationals Park, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016, in Washington. Umpire Jeff Kellogg, left, makes the call. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Washington Nationals’ Stephen Drew (10) tags out Miami Marlins’ Martin Prado (14), who was attempting to steal third during the first inning of a baseball game at Nationals Park, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016, in Washington. Umpire Jeff Kellogg, left, makes the call. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

However, the injury bug has hit the ballclub at the worst possible time. All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos was lost for the rest of the season with a torn ACL, after an errant throw from Ryan Zimmerman caused Ramos to jump for the baseball in rainy conditions and land awkwardly. Losing Ramos could be the death blow for a lineup already missing MVP-candidate Daniel Murphy, who hasn’t played in two weeks, and Bryce Harper, who is nursing a sprained thumb. Along with an injury to starter Stephen Strasburg, four of the team’s six All-Stars from this season are hobbled entering the playoffs.

Manager Dusty Baker has attempted to give key regulars some rest going into the playoffs while still keeping the team on a winning rhythm.  The postseason rotation hasn’t been set, but conventional wisdom indicates that Max Scherzer would start Game 1 against the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, offering a matchup of former Cy Young award winners. But Baker could also give the start to Tanner Roark, who concluded the regular season with a career-best 16-10 record and a 2.83 ERA in 210 innings one year after he was demoted to the bullpen. He allowed two or fewer runs across at least seven innings in 16 of his 33 starts. Another possible Game 1 starter is Gio Gonzales, as he is a lefty and the Dodgers don’t hit lefties well at all.

Most prognostications have the Dodgers defeating the Nationals in the series, due to Washington’s spate of injuries. But one thing that makes the MLB playoffs so great is that unsung heroes make their presence felt every year, powering their team to an extended run.

Who could be that guy for the Nats? Could it be someone such as Danny Espinosa, who, besides a six-week run, has been horrible at the plate nearly all season?  How about rookie Trae Turner, who in just 72 games has 13 homers and 32 stolen bases while raking at a .342 clip? Could it be one of the backup catchers, season-long backup Jose Loboton or rookie Pedro Severino, who now take center stage following Ramos’ injury?

October baseball has arrived, and every team has a chance to win it all. If sports went the way of common prognostications, there would be no reason to lace ‘em up.  As former NFL head coach-turned ESPN analyst Herm Edwards once bellowed in a heated press conference, “You play to win the game!,” With Washington’s leadership and the hunger of players who were apart of previous playoff frustrations, Nationals fans should expect the team to give nothing but their collective best efforts.

Dion Johnson

Special to the AFRO