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09/29/12 7:46 PM ET

Loss in St. Louis allowed rare rest for Nationals

ST. LOUIS -- The Nationals were planning to rest their everyday players once they clinched the National League East, but Friday night's blowout loss provided another unexpected opportunity.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson removed all of his starters, save Danny Espinosa, at various points throughout the game, nearly emptying his bench in Washington's 12-2 loss to the Cardinals. Johnson admitted afterward that his players didn't really need the time off their feet quite yet, "but we'll call that a rest day."

"You hope you don't get 'em. If you do, you hope it's a blowout in the other direction," first baseman Adam LaRoche said Friday night. "You don't ever want to be down that much, where he's pulling everybody out. This time of year, I think giving guys a blow, if nothing less, a little mental break for a few innings to kind of hang out, so I don't have a problem with it."

While Johnson planned to rest his everyday players only after clinching the division title, the tight race with the Braves has left the Nationals with only a few games remaining to do that. With that in mind, Johnson said he would have taken out Espinosa as well, but someone had to play shortstop -- and the infielder is usually averse to leaving a game.

"He doesn't like to come out," Johnson said. "A lot of the guys I took out didn't want to come out."

Nats' postseason rotation 'hard to set up'

ST. LOUIS -- Davey Johnson has been looking closer lately at the Nationals' potential postseason matchups, how his pitching staff would line up against each of them and how he can best put his pitchers in position to get to that point.

The problem for Johnson is that's practically impossible to predict given the way the new playoff system works. With the Nationals' first-round opponent and schedule yet to be determined, there are so many variables and unknowns that Johnson can't simply announce a playoff rotation.

"The way it's set up, it's just a lot more complicated," Johnson said.

If everything plays out as expected over the season's final days, Washington could face San Francisco, Atlanta or St. Louis in the National League Division Series, which will start either Saturday or Sunday, depending on whether the Nationals finish with the NL's best or second-best record. Johnson has said he won't change anything until the Nationals have clinched the NL East, which could happen as early as Saturday night.

Johnson said he would like to have lefty Gio Gonzalez, a top candidate for the NL Cy Young Award, start Washington's first game in the playoffs. But Gonzalez is scheduled to pitch Tuesday, and if the Nationals were to play the Giants on Saturday, the lefty would be coming back on three days' rest -- something Johnson would like to avoid.

Johnson has even been looking at how the other teams fare against opposing pitchers. He accurately rattled off that the Cardinals were 30-17 against lefty starters, the Giants were 39-17 against southpaws and the Braves have struggled against them (30-30).

Given the Giants' and Cardinals' struggles against right-handed pitching, Johnson would rather put his right-handers -- Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson -- toward the top of the rotation against those teams. That could mean starting Zimmermann in Game 1. If the Nationals draw the Braves, it would make more sense for Johnson to start Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler early on, especially Gonzalez in Game 1.

"But again, it's hard to set it up," Johnson said. "If we have to go all the way to [Wednesday not knowing who they will play], then I won't have that luxury."

One thing Johnson could say for certain Saturday afternoon was that Jackson did not hurt his chances of being in the playoff rotation with a poor showing Friday night against the Cardinals.

"Just one bad outing," Johnson said. "He doesn't get in my doghouse for that."

Worth noting

• Johnson said there wasn't a different feeling in the visitors' clubhouse Saturday, even though the Nationals were hours away from potentially clinching the National League East. But he admitted everyone in the club's dugout might be focusing elsewhere at times -- namely the score in Atlanta, where the Mets can erase the Braves' slim chance of winning the division title.

"Probably do a little more scoreboard-watching than usual, but it's real easy to scoreboard-watch now," Johnson said. "All you've got to do is glance up there. ... This one here, it's plastered all over. Look out there, you can hardly miss it."

• On Sept. 29, 1924, the Washington Senators won, 4-2, at Fenway Park to clinch the American League pennant.

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.