HOUSTON — The Washington Nationals had workouts throughout the past week.
They played a simulation game Sunday night before their flight to Houston.
And, man, did they have plenty of rest.
Lots and lots of rest.
The trouble with the Nationals winning the National League pennant over the St. Louis Cardinals that they did it much too fast, a four-game sweep in the NLCS.
They haven’t played a single game since last Oct. 15.
And now, at 8:09 p.m. ET Tuesday at Minute Maid Park, they’ll be playing Game 1 of the World Series against the Houston Astros.
“It’s a concern,’’ Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said, “how can it not be?’’
Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman holds the National League championship trophy. (Photo: Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports)
Indeed, history will tell you that teams with a layoff of six or more days are doomed in the World Series.
The landscape is full of teams that simply melted down in the World Series after a lengthy layoff.
Just ask former Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland, whose teams twice swept the ALCS, and disappeared each time in the World Series.
They swept the Oakland A’s in 2006, had six days off, came into the World Series as heavy favorites over the St. Louis Cardinals, and lost in five games.
They swept the New York Yankees in 2012, had five days off, came into the World Series as favorites over the San Francisco Giants, and were swept.
Now, here comes the Nats, who will be facing Astros co-ace Gerrit Cole on Tuesday, a pitcher who has not lost a game since May 22, going 19-0 with a 1.59 ERA in his last 25 starts.
Talk about a jarring wake-up call.
“I think the biggest thing is the hitting,’’ Leyland told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s just so hard to simulate the speed of the game. The layoff is much worse for the hitters than the pitchers. The pitchers can at least simulate, and can throw where ever they are, but the hitters really can’t do that.’’
Those Tigers’ teams are living proof.
In 2006, they batted .199 with a .246 on-base percentage and .335 slugging percentage. Why, if not for Sean Casey, who went 9-for-18 with two homers, the Tigers would have hit .160. The heart of their order Curtis Granderson, Craig Monroe, Magglio Ordonez, Pudge Rodriguez and Placido Polanco_hit .127.
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Justin Verlander, who’ll start Game 2 for the Astros, remembers it all too vividly.
“We just won too quickly, that time off killed us,’’ Verlander said. “I mean, we had the talent, but when it comes to the playoffs, it’s the hottest team at the time. And those layoffs cooled us off. It sucked.
“It’s the one sport where time off hurt you because you get completely thrown off your routine.’’
The Tigers, who worked out at Ford Field because of the cold temperatures in 2006, changed it up in 2012. They brought in players from their instructional league to play simulated games outdoors at Comerica Field, hoping to resemble the real thing.
The Tigers barely showed up against the Giants, hitting .159 with a .243 on-base percentage and .248 slugging percentage. They scored just six runs and had five extra-base hits the entire series. The slugging duo of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera hit .148 (4-27), with one homer and eight strikeouts.
The star-studded rotation led by Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, Verlander, and ERA leader Anibal Sanchez, couldn’t save them.
“You just lose your edge sitting around for a week,’’ Leyland says, “and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s not just the players, but the whole organization, the fan base, everyone is sitting around and loses their edge.
“It’s a mental layoff, as much as anything.
“Maybe it’s because we weren’t expecting to be there in the first place, I don’t know, but it cost us.’’
The Nationals weren’t’ supposed to be here, either, having a dramatic comeback victory in the wild-card game against the Milwaukee Brewers, upsetting the heavily favored Los Angeles Dodgers in five games in the division series, and then sweeping the Cardinals.
By the time they return to Washington, D.C., to play their first game in front of their hometown fans, they will have gone 10 full days without seeing them.
“Maybe it’ll be different for those guys," said Leyland, "and they’ll do a better job with it.’’
History tells us it will be no different.
The Cardinals just had one day off in 2006 before stunning the Tigers.
The Giants also had just a day off before the start of the 2012 World Series.
The Astros are coming in with two days off, allowing them to perfectly line up their rotation with Cole, Verlander and Zack Greinke.
“To have Cole on full rest going Game 1, and Verlander on full rest Game 2,’’ Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said, “that’s exactly what we were looking for.’’
The last team to win with at least six off-days were the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008, who were off four more days than the Tampa Bay Rays, before winning in five games. The Chicago White Sox had five off-days in 2005, and swept the Astros
The longest layoff belonged to the Colorado Rockies, who were off eight days in 2007, six longer than the Boston Red Sox, lost Game 1, 13-1, and were swept.
“Hey, we’ve got the oldest team in baseball,’’ Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki said last week. “We need the days off.’’
And for the Astros?
“All I know is that we’re on a roll right now,’’ Astros MVP candidate Alex Bregman says. “Believe me, we’re ready.’’
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