WASHINGTON — When should the Dodgers pop the champagne corks?
When they clinch a playoff berth or when they secure the National League West title?
Manager Joe Torre wouldn't touch the question in the aftermath of the Dodgers' 14-2 dismantling of the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on Tuesday night, saying he hadn't thought about the decision that he might have to make as early as tonight.
"Not yet," Torre said.
General Manager Ned Colletti was no more willing to test the baseball gods.
"I'll tell you when we have something to celebrate," he said.
The schedule might settle the issue.
Another victory in Washington, coupled with losses by both the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves tonight, would send the Dodgers to the postseason for the third time in four years.
The first pitch of the Dodgers game tonight is set for 4:05 PDT.
The first pitch of the Giants game in Phoenix against the Arizona Diamondbacks is scheduled for 7 p.m. PDT, meaning that by the end of that game, the Dodgers will probably be long gone from Nationals Park.
For his part, Andre Ethier said he would prefer to postpone the celebration.
"I think our goal is to win the division, it's not just to get a playoff spot," he said.
The Dodgers' magic number to win the NL West is down to seven.
And Torre, who last week said that home-field advantage wasn't a priority, reversed course and said the Dodgers would aim to finish the season with the best record in the league.
"It's a carrot to dangle for ourselves," Torre said.
The subject of celebrations was about the only topic that turned smiling faces into something more serious in the wake of the Dodgers' pounding of the worst team in baseball.
Nationals starter Livan Hernandez lasted only 3 2/3 innings on a night when the Dodgers collected 15 hits and batted around the order twice.
Rafael Furcal was four for five, drove in four runs and scored two.
Ethier was pleased with how the Dodgers appeared to be over their problem of playing down to the level of their opposition.
"We know we can close things out here," Ethier said. "We're getting close. We're getting to a point where it's a few games here or there."
Ethier was the only Dodgers starter who didn't get a hit but still managed to drive in a run on a groundout in a seven-run fourth inning and reached base on a first-inning walk.
"A good night," Ethier said.
Hiroki Kuroda (8-6) was charged with two unearned runs over six innings on his way to earning his third consecutive win and Clayton Kershaw pitched two scoreless innings to remain in line to pitch Sunday or Monday in Pittsburgh.
The clubhouse banter remained lighthearted, as Doug Mientkiewicz interrupted Casey Blake several times while Blake, who hit his 18th home run in a six-run seventh inning, was speaking to reporters.
While Blake fumbled to find the right words, Mientkiewicz shouted across the room to team interpreter Kenji Nimura, "Kenji, we need a translator over here!"
"Don't laugh at his stupid jokes," Blake said.
In the same corner of the locker room, Matt Kemp and Orlando Hudson performed a similar routine.
"We ain't worried about the playoffs right now," Kemp said. "We've got to finish up this regular season strong."
Hudson shook his head in approval.
"Well said, young buck," Hudson said. "Well said."
Kemp put on sunglasses, leaned back in his chair and smiled, prompting Hudson to lean back in his chair and laugh.
"I ain't say do all that," Hudson said.
This is the combination of Dodgers wins and Colorado losses that will clinch the NL West title.
H: Home games left.
R: Road games left.
*--* NL WEST W L Pct. GB H R Dodgers 91 60 603 -- 3 8 Colorado 85 65 567 5.0 8 3 *--*