Professional sports teams in our Nation’s Capital have had, shall we say, a difficult time making deep runs in their respective playoff formats. Of the 4 major sports teams in D.C., the last to win a championship was the Washington Redskins in 1991. That’s not to say the city has been running perennial losers out on the field though. In recent years the city has seen all 4 teams make multiple playoff appearances, with the Nationals and Capitals looking like the most likely candidates to break the fabled “D.C. sports curse”.
Considering we’re in the thick of pennant races here in the MLB, I figured we’d take a look at the Nationals and how they might fare down the road in October as they look to bring home the first professional baseball title D.C. has seen since the 1924 Senators won the Fall Classic behind the arm of Walter Johnson.
It’s no secret that the Nationals, much like their D.C. counterparts, seem to falter under the pressure of the postseason when the leaves change colors each year. Since 2012 they’ve made 3 postseason appearances (’12, ’14, ’16), with each appearance seeing them bounced in the first round. In both ’12 and ’16 the Nationals pushed their opponents to 5 games, only to lose on their home turf in the decisive game.
This year however, if it weren’t for the Dodgers winning ball games at a historic rate, we’d be talking about the Nationals as arguably the best team in baseball. Sitting at 66-45, they lead the NL East comfortably by 13 games over the 2nd place Miami Marlins. With a rotation spearheaded by annual Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer, along with Stephen Strasburg, and a resurgent Gio Gonzalez, these Nats can make a case as boasting the best 1-2-3 starting pitching punch once the playoffs roll around. Behind their starters the offense is once again on a tear. If it weren’t for the early season loss of Adam Eaton, along with Trea Turner‘s extended absence, we’d be talking about the most dynamic offense in all of baseball. Even without these 2 they’ve continued to soldier on, with more than adequate fill-ins Brian Goodwin and Wilmer Difo getting the job done day after day. This starting 9 can impressively lay claim to 4 of the top 15 batting averages AND OPS’s in the National League. This year they’re giving pitchers nightmares behind the once again 2015 playoff version of Daniel Murphy, the 2015 MVP version of Bryce Harper, the 2009(?!?!) version of Ryan Zimmerman, and the “wow, this guy is insanely good/insanely underrated” version of Anthony Rendon.
Following the trade deadline the Nats seemed to shore up their only glaring, and I mean GLARING, weakness in adding Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and Brandon Kintzler to their bullpen. By doing so they effectively made Matt Albers their 4th best late inning option. A statement that is both hilarious, but also shows how desperate this team was for help at the back end.
Now with a fully reloaded bullpen, a starting rotation that is just waiting for Strasburg to rejoin it, and a lineup waiting on some Trea Turner stolen bases, everything seems to be coming together for these Nationals as we head down the stretch. Of the legitimate contenders we have in the league this year, there is no doubt in my mind that the Nationals are the team the Dodgers should be fearing most. They can run out a deeper starting staff, an offense which rivals their own, and now, after the trade deadline, a bullpen that can be trusted with a lead late in games. I’m honestly not sure L.A. isn’t sweating yet, because they should be.
The most impressive aspect of this team in my opinion has been the ability of role players to fill in while mainstays of the lineup have missed extended time. Just look at contributions such as Michael Taylor’s following Eaton’s injury, Brian Goodwin’s following both Taylor and Werth’s injuries, Difo after Turner went down, and the likes of A.J. Cole and Edwin Jackson making starts in place of Strasburg. Dusty Baker has instilled a “next man up” mentality in this team and it has shown time and time again.
This team should be fully healthy by October and boy if they are, you can kiss the D.C. curse goodbye, along with that historic Dodgers team.