MLB PLAYOFFS

MLB Playoffs 2012: Nationals play Cardinals Sunday

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The Washington Nationals, who led the league with 97 wins, are playing the St. Louis Cardinals today. in this historic opener to the division series.

Nationals' Kurt Suzuki hits an RBI single during the second in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Nats clinch National League East title

Nats clinch National League East title 10 Photos
Nats clinch National League East title

2012 MLB Playoffs: Nationals vs. Cardinals in historic playoff series (Photos)

2012 MLB Playoffs: Nationals vs. Cardinals in historic playoff series (Photos) 10 Photos
2012 MLB Playoffs: Nationals vs. Cardinals in historic playoff series (Photos)

The Nats will go with 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez after sitting down Stephen Strasburg in early September with 159 1-3 innings pitched.

"There's so many things that factor into this that you take it with a smile," Gonzalez said. "It's the first time ever experiencing this, to represent such a great organization, such a great rotation, great lineup. It's unbelievable."

The Nationals have one of the youngest rosters in the majors and won 98 games as they overcame injuries to Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and Ian Desmond. Davey Johnson is a seasoned hand, though, joining Billy Martin as the lone managers to win division titles with four franchises.

Strasburg, who had elbow surgery in September 2010, was unsuccessful in persuading the Nationals to allow him to finish out the season.

Very little time has passed since the Nationals and Cardinals met in St. Louis on the final weekend of the regular season, with Washington on the verge of clinching the league's best record and St. Louis closing in on the final playoff spot.

St. Louis reached the division series by winning the wild-card playoff 6-3 in Atlanta on Friday, a game marred by an infield fly rule call that'll live on forever in the minds of disgruntled Braves fans, but with botched umpiring that affected both sides.

"I've never seen anything like it," Carlos Beltran said. "It's part of baseball. We're happy."

Last year, the Cardinals won every round as an underdog while embracing a rally squirrel as mascot - not to mention marketing opportunity - after a critter raced across home plate and perhaps threw Phillies pitcher Roy Oswalt off his game.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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