As a city with many high-quality sports teams, Washington, D.C., is synonymous with regular season success followed by an early postseason exit. Having not won a major sports championship since 1991, the city has experienced heartbreak for the last 25 years.
Winning the NL East for the third time in five years, the Washington Nationals enter the postseason determined to end that championship title drought. However, the journey to the World Series could be tougher than the Nationals expect. While the team sported the second-best record in the MLB, it faces an uphill battle heading into the postseason
In the divisional series, the Nationals play host to the Los Angeles Dodgers. For Friday’s game, both teams are sending out their pitching aces — Max Scherzer for Washington and Clayton Kershaw for Los Angeles. In the buildup to this series, expectations are mixed.
In recent high-pressure situations, the Nationals seem short on talent due to an injury-filled final month. Washington is reeling from the impact of its roster decimated by hurt players.
A quick look at the injury list shows the gravity of the situation. Daniel Murphy — who strained a muscle — and Bryce Harper — whose thumb has hampered d him — both indicate they will be ready for the playoffs. However, they could both be rusty after missing multiple games. The most heartbreaking of the injuries, however, is the ACL tear that catcher Wilson Ramos suffered two weeks ago, ending the best statistical season of his career.
The re-emergence of ace Stephen Strasburg halted after he strained his elbow. While he is now throwing on flat ground, manager Dusty Baker is skeptical of his availability this coming series. Veterans Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman are also downplaying minor injuries they had previously reported.
It is easy, therefore, to imagine this club limping into the postseason, hoping to have something left to push back against other playoff squads. To make matters worse, the Nationals lost 2-3 to the Dodgers in the regular season.
Kershaw has also handled the Nationals; in the seven games he has pitched against Washington — dating back to 2013 — Kershaw has won all seven games with a 0.68 ERA, allowing just four runs and throwing 67 strikeouts.
On the other hand, the playoffs have always proven that anything can happen in October: Kershaw’s famous playoff woes can attest to that. The way the Nationals and Dodgers played three months ago is therefore not the most helpful indicator of potential performance. I do not believe that the Nationals are necessarily a decimated team.
While the injuries hurt the team, the healthy players have proven to be part of one of the more consistent lineups and pitching staffs in baseball. Harper has been covered convincingly by Murphy and Trea Turner has proved a dynamic presence at the top of the lineup.
The losses of Ramos and Strasburg — the two most glaring absences — will be noticed. There is no skirting around the fact that both players have had extremely high-quality years and have been important cogs in the team.
Nevertheless, a good baseball team has depth for a reason. The pitching staff can look to streaky Gio Gonzalez and young gun Tanner Roark, along with the hopeful resurgence of Joe Ross and his newfound stamina. The pieces are there, enough so that Nationals’ chances do not rest solely on the argument that “anything can happen in October.”
I will look back fondly on this 95-67 season as a valuable and successful example of what a well-run club can accomplish. It is now time to leave the regular season and wistful looks at the fuller rosters of yore behind.
The prognosticators can say what they will and write the headlines they wish, but the fundamental truth is that the Nationals have tried-and-tested pieces at every position. This could be their year.