WASHINGTON (AP) — Wasn't all that long ago — in 2008 and 2009, actually — that the Washington Nationals were losing 100 games a season and finishing with the worst record in the majors.
Look at them now.
Already the NL East champions, the Nationals closed the regular season by securing home-field advantage throughout the postseason, beating the Philadelphia Phillies 5-1 Wednesday for their majors-high 98th victory.
"It's quite an accomplishment," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "Obviously winning the division was a goal and now we've done that and we have a chance to go do some stuff in the playoffs. This is a great season, a great team, a good group of guys, and we accomplished a lot that we should be proud of."
He continued: "But we have a lot more to accomplish, hopefully."
Fitted for hats with postseason patches before the game, the Nationals will open the playoffs on the road Sunday at the winner of Friday's wild-card game between Atlanta and St. Louis. Game 2 will also be at the wild-card winner's stadium, before the best-of-five series shifts to Washington. A team from the nation's capital hasn't participated in Major League Baseball action beyond the regular season since the Senators lost the 1933 World Series.
The only downer Wednesday for the Nationals: Manager Davey Johnson missed the end of the game after feeling numbness in his left leg, leaving the dugout to get X-rays and treatment from a team doctor. Johnson — at 69, the oldest skipper in the majors — said he does not expect to have any trouble traveling or managing in the playoffs.
Asked his level of concern about Johnson, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo replied: "None."
Otherwise, it was a festive day for the announced crowd of 37,075 and the Nationals (98-64), a club that only once had finished as high as third place since moving from Montreal in 2005. This is the first time the Expos/Nationals franchise has won its division in a complete season.
Zimmerman hit his 25th homer of the season moments after the Teddy Roosevelt mascot won the fourth-inning Presidents Race at Nationals Park for the first time. Edwin Jackson (10-11) threw 6 2-3 innings to become the fifth member of the rotation with at least 10 wins. Rookie Tyler Moore's 10th homer made him the seven player with at least that many.
"I like where we're sitting headed into the postseason," left fielder Jayson Werth said.
He signed with Washington as a $126 million free agent before last season, leaving a Philadelphia club he helped win the 2008 World Series. This year's Phillies finished third in the NL East at 81-81, ending a streak of nine consecutive winning seasons and five playoff appearances in a row.
After the game, the Phillies announced they fired first base coach Sam Perlozzo, bench coach Pete Mackanin and hitting coach Greg Gross. Expect more switches to come.
"We're definitely going to have some changes on our roster," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "How many or what, I don't really know."
His shortstop, Jimmy Rollins, praised the Nationals as "a talented team," but added that if the Phillies had been healthy this season, Washington would have been no better than a second-place club.
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