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The Nationals’ Long Road to a NLCS appearance

Washington

In Christopher Nolan’s 2005 film “Batman Begins”, the title character got beat up by someone he once trusted, and saw his family home destroyed. Devastated, Alfred the butler repeats to Batman what Batman’s father used to always say. “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up”.

And on Wednesday night in Game 5 of the NLDS, that is exactly what the Washington Nationals did. They were once down 3-0, but overcame adversity to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers advance to the NLCS for the first time since the franchise moved from Montreal.  Now Washington heads to St. Louis to take on the Cardinals with a trip to the World Series on the line. Washington has finally vanquished their postseason demons, but it wasn’t easy. Here’s how they got here.

The Demons

Washington
Image courtesy of Daily Progress

In 2012, the 98-win Washington Nationals walked off the field in disappointment as the St. Louis Cardinals celebrated their comeback. Washington blew a 6-0 lead and had a 7-5 lead entering the ninth inning. Instead, the Cardinals scored four runs in the ninth, all with two outs, shocking the Washington home crowd as St. Louis won 9-7. Since then, the Nationals have gone on to encounter more postseason heartbreak as they still haven’t made it out of the first round. In 2014, Washington once again lost to a Wild Card team, this time it was the San Fransisco Giants, who went on to win the World Series. The 2016 and 2017 seasons saw the Nationals lose two more game fives to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs respectively.

In 2016 the Nationals watched their 2-1 series lead evaporate as Clayton Kershaw closed out Game 5. In 2017 the Nationals lost Game 5 after their ace Max Scherzer came out in relief. Scherzer blew a 4-3 lead in the fifth inning that saw the Cubs score four runs. Washington’s annual playoff meltdown continued as they allowed a run to score after a dropped third strike. The ball was then thrown into the outfield. In the same inning, the Cubs score another run on a hit batter with the bases loaded.

After losing to Chicago in 2017, management decided to fire Dusty Baker and hired Dave Martinez who had no prior managing experience. In his first year with the team, they went 82-80, missed the playoffs, and were stuck in mediocrity. Bryce Harper decided to leave for Philadelphia, but Mike Rizzo wasn’t fazed. He went out and signed Patrick Corbin, Brian Dozier and Kurt Suzuki, as well as trading for Yan Gomes. Despite losing the face of the franchise to a  divisional rival, the team was focused on making it back to October and slaying their postseason demons.

From 19-31 to a Wild Card spot

Washington
WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 01: Juan Soto #22 of the Washington Nationals celebrates after hitting a single to right field to score 3 runs off of an error by Trent Grisham #2 of the Milwaukee Brewers during the eighth inning in the National League Wild Card game at Nationals Park on October 01, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
Image courtesy of The Athletic

Unfortunately, the team started out of the gate flat. Multiple injuries to Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, Ryan Zimmerman, and Matt Adams early on in the season severely hampered the offense while the bullpen regularly imploded. The team limped to a 19-31 start and analysts everywhere were telling the Nationals to blow it up. Instead President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo decided to stand firm. The offense started to get healthy, and the team slowly started to chip away at their deficit. Since May 24, Washington finished the season tied with the Dodgers for the best record in baseball.

Sadly the Nationals bullpen finished the season with a 5.66 ERA, which was the in baseball, behind even the Baltimore Orioles. Despite this, the team was able to overcome this roadblock like all the others before them and reached the postseason. This was accomplished by the offense which was led by MVP Candidate Anthony Rendon, and the 20 year old Phenom Juan Soto. Mike Rizzo made shrewd moves all season that helped reinforce the teams bench. Rizzo signed Asdrubal Cabrera and Gerardo Parra off of waivers. Both immediately produced for the Nat’s.

Washington’s pitching staff led by the three-headed monster of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin also helped carry the load. Washington’s pitching staff finished second in the majors in ERA with a 3.53. They were behind only the Dodgers.

Washington’s manager Dave Martinez who was on the hot seat for the majority of the first half, kept telling his team to just go “1-0”. This catchphrase carried the Nationals back to the playoffs but for the first time, Washington entered as a Wild Card team.

Getting over the hump

Entering the Wild Card game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Washington had never won an elimination game. This changed as the team clawed and scratched their way back from a 3-0 hole. They went on to win 4-3 thanks to a bases clearing single by Juan Soto. After being on the brink of elimination, like they have done all season, they didn’t back down. Washington headed to LA to take on the heavily favored 106-win jugganaut. Washington once again had their backs against the wall, but they didn’t blink. Instead the team kept their heads up and Washington was able to get back in the series and advance by keeping to the basics that had worked all year for them. The team was able to win despite their bullpen, being on the road, and being the underdog. Fox Sports MLB team all chose the Dodgers to win.

Instead, the underdog Nationals finally got past the NLDS and set up a rematch with the team that shattered their hearts in 2012. This time around Stephen Strasburg will be pitching after he famously sat out after returning from Tommy John surgery. Ryan Zimmerman, Kurt Suzuki and Strasburg are all that remain from the 2012 team and are all looking to rewrite history.

 

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