During the 8th inning at bat of Trea Turner on FOX in Game 7, Hall of Famer John Smoltz said “it’s unbelievable what these guys have come back from.” But, is it anything other than anticipated? The Nationals have proven just how resilient they can be.
In 1994, The Montreal Expos had a big August, and it looked like they were going to not only win the NL East against the potent Braves dynasty, but also challenge the Cincinnati Reds for their first NL pennant, and then the strike happened. While I don’t personally believe it was the death of the Expos who were already obviously on borrowed time as is, it was their last real hurrah as Jeffrey Loria notoriously expunged any hope of contention any time soon, before the team ultimately moved in 2005.
With the baseball purists at vitriol, the Expos moved to Washington in 2005. The Washington Nationals brought baseball back to the Nation’s Capital for the first time since the Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins in 1960. Their first draft pick was star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who ran roughshod through the minor leagues and made it to the Major Leagues just a few months later. Their team, however, was mediocre at best finishing a pedestrian 81-81 on the season.
The lineup’s most noteworthy hitter was 37 year old Vinny Castilla and their best starting pitcher was John Patterson who pitched to a fine 3.13 ERA. Their breakout sensation was closer Chad Cordero, who made his only All-Star appearance. In 2006, current owner Ted Lerner bought the team and hired Stan Kasten, who at the time, was the president of the rival Atlanta Braves. They entered a rebuild and tore the team down.
In 2009 they drafted Stephen Strasburg. In 2010 they drafted phenom Bryce Harper first overall. In 2012, it all came together….until it fell apart.
A year after Tommy John Surgery, Strasburg broke out as a bonafide ace, going 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts when GM Mike Rizzo shut him down to protect his arm. They lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games; the first of what became an ongoing internet joke of first round exits. That year, a rookie Bryce Harper hit .270 with an .817 OPS and 22 homeruns to run away with rookie of the year. He hit .130 that October, a trend that would continue until he’d leave the Nationals after the 2018 season. Harper is a .211 lifetime postseason hitter.
In 2014, ironman Ryan Zimmerman was regulated to a mere 61 games, and never played third base again. Being forced to shift to first base due to injuries, they called up a young kid named Anthony Rendon who quickly became a fan favorite. For the Nats, they again won the East, but faced the eventual World Series winning Giants. They were almost swept, but Wilson Ramos bunt led to a Madison Bumgarner error and 2 runs, as they somehow got to the seemingly postseason perfect Madbum. Doug Fister won the game and the Nats had life…until the bullpen blew Game 4 and it was another early exit for the Nationals. That offseason, they signed Max Scherzer, a Hall of Fame bound pitcher who had just won the AL Cy Young as a Detroit Tiger in 2013. In 5 years as a National, the ace has won 2 more Cy Young’s, struck out an MLB record 20 in a single game, thrown multiple no hitters’, appeared in 5 All-Star games and has posted a stellar 2.74 ERA in 1050.2 regular season innings.
In 2015, Bryce Harper hit .330 with 42 homeruns, numbers he’d never reach again, but he did get the NL MVP. The Nats, however, witnessed the divisional foe New York Mets play the Kansas City Royals in the World Series on the strength of the Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey 3-headed pitching monster.
In 2016, they won the East with ease. They lost to the Dodgers in the NLDS. In 2017, they again won the East with relative ease. They faced the Cubs in the NLDS and in the 8th inning of Game 4, facing elimination, unlikely hero Michael A. Taylor hit a dagger of a grandslam into the Wrigley Field basket in right. They had ace Max Scherzer for Game 5, and it became a slugfest. They lost a gut-wrenching 9-8. They did not make the postseason in 2018, as the Atlanta Braves startled the baseball world to clinch against the Nationals. But, they did get a huge breakout from 20-year-old stud Juan Soto. Bryce Harper, however, left the Nationals for the division rival Philadelphia Phillies that offseason.
Last offseason, here at Pro Sports Extra, I penned that the Nationals are better without Harper. They then started 19-31. By May 23rd, they were 9 games behind the first place Phillies and 5.5 behind the eventual East Champion Atlanta Braves. But the Phillies and Nationals had opposite seasons the rest of the way. The Nationals, since May 24th, have the best record in baseball. Gerardo Parra’s Baby Shark fascination has been infectious, Trea Turner has been a perfect stick of dynamite at the top of the order, and the starting pitching has been untouchable. Anthony Rendon’s 2019 season? 1.010 OPS, 34 homeruns and a .319 Batting Average.
Davey Martinez, their manager had heart surgery late in the season, recovered and made it back in time for the playoffs. Without ever advancing in a playoff round, the Nationals faced the Brewers dominant closer Josh Hader late in the wild card game, who just won reliever of the year, and down 2 runs, Juan Soto put them on top with a 2 out bases loaded hit that got by outfielder Trent Grisham.
They then had to face the World Series favorite LA Dodgers. Down 3-1 against Kershaw, Soto and Rendon tied it up. Howie Kendrick hit an extra inning grand slam to break the NLDS curse.
The Cardinals exploded against Braves ace Mike Foltynewicz in the NLDS game 5, and advanced winning 13-1. Their starting hitters were held hitless by Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer in Game 1 and 2. The Nationals went to the World Series.
What did they have to deal with?
Justin Verlander, future Hall of Famer who struck out 300 hitters with a sub-2.5 ERA this year.
Gerrit Cole, the inevitable Cy Young winner who was somehow better than Verlander. Cole had only allowed one run the entire postseason, which was a homerun to Tampa Bay Rays 2nd Baseman Eric Sogard after he ambushed a fastball.
Zack Greinke, a third Cy Young award winner (2009 with Kansas City) and future Hall of Famer.
They went into Houston and won the first two against Verlander and Cole, which was the first time in 2 years a team beat both superstars in a single series.
Ryan Zimmerman, who has played in every Nationals’ postseason game, and is their franchise leader in every offensive category, hit their first World Series homerun. Going back to Washington, they lost 3 straight. Max Scherzer, who was supposed to start game 5, could not lift his arm and received a cortisone shot. Houston went home with a 3-2 Series lead, with Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke on deck. Greinke beat the Nats in Game 3.
In Game 6, they were in a tight game when Trea Turner was called out on one of the most controversial postseason calls of all-time by homeplate umpire Sam Holbrook. Davey Martinez almost assaulted Holbrook, and was the first manager ejected in the Fall Classic since Bobby Cox in 1996. But Anthony Rendon made it moot, as he drove himself and catcher Yan Gomes in with a 2 run homerun. Gomes was only playing because All-Star catcher Kurt Suzuki went down halfway through the series.
Strasburg got rocked in the first, tipping his pitches. But unlike Yu Darvish in 2017 and Tyler Glasnow in the ALDS, he addressed it and fixed it. He became the first pitcher of his lifetime to go at least 8 in an elimination game on the road in the World Series. He became the first pitcher to ever go 5-0 in the playoffs, and his postseason career ERA is 1.46; lower than postseason premiere pitchers such as Madison Bumgarner, Curt Schilling and Hall of Famers’ Tom Glavine and Bob Gibson. The Nationals lived one more day. “Stay in the fight” and “one game at a time” were the mottoes of manager Davey Martinez.
In Game 7, Greinke was dominant. He had a 1 hitter going late, when Anthony Rendon hit a 1-out changeup for a homerun to chase him. Will Harris, a dominant Astros righty, came out of the pen and got shellacked. The highlight? Howie Kendrick hitting a go-ahead homerun in dramatic fashion off the right field foul pole. The Nationals never relinquished the lead.
The starting pitcher? Max Scherzer, pitching through injury as only Max Scherzer can. All 5 times this postseason they faced elimination, they won. This is the first World Series where the road team won every game. The team that looked like they had zero chance to win it all, won it all, and they did it despite the stigma around them and the fact they did not have Bryce Harper. A mix of young talent such as Soto, Turner, and Victor Robles mixed with great veterans such as Kendrick, Patrick Corbin, Ryan Zimmerman, and Asdrubal Cabrera was the perfect combination. The Nationals have finally gotten their first Commissioner’s Trophy, and the fan base has more than earned it.
Ryan Zimmerman finally led the team to a World Series ring, after 15 long years of loyalty and heart. This may be his final season, and if it is, he went out with a bang. He truly is “Mr. National.”
For Rendon and Strasburg, they could’ve also played their final game as Nats. Rendon is a free agent to be, and Strasburg can opt out. This truly is the end of an era and the Nationals took advantage of their last year window.
In 2012, the shutting down of Stephen Strasburg arguably cost what many viewed to be their best chance to win. It’s apropos that the 2019 World Series MVP is…Stephen Strasburg.
They were 19-31 at one point, their manager had heart issues, Scherzer broke his nose, Turner broke his hand. They were down most of the postseason, but never out. Playing loose and just having fun, the Washington Nationals have defied all of the odds to win the 2019 World Series against one of the greatest regular season teams of all-time. This was the best David vs Goliath story in a long time, sorry Daniel Bryan vs Authority. Nobody could’ve scripted this better.
This franchise, dating back to the Expos days, has seen many players go and win. Tim Raines, Gary Carter and Pedro Martinez are all Hall of Famers’ who won elsewhere, with Vladimir Guerrero (Rangers, 2010) and Larry Walker (2004 Cardinals) as other superstars to appear in a Fall Classic wearing another uniform. However, the entire history of the organization has made this moment that much sweeter.
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