Can The Washington Nationals Win The World Series

Daniel Brown
• Friday, 25 December, 2020
• 9 min read

Firstly, any shot at the playoffs, much less the WorldSeries, will require Washington to play excellent baseball this season if for no other reason than how good and intriguing the National League East should be. As disheartening as it might be, Draft Kings’ odds put the Nationals as the fourth likeliest NL East team to take the crown, ahead of only the Marlins.

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In many cases, players might be to cost prohibitive for the Nationals, while the trade market won’t yield any fruit because of the depleted state of the organization. All that to say, the Nationals won’t be bad this year, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the team finishes fourth in the division.

The Nationals are a long shot, certainly, but if you decide to put down $10 on them, you’ll be rewarded with a few hundred dollars if the club is somehow able to make that leap to the Fall Classic. For one, this MLB off season has been partly defined by most teams sitting patiently on the sidelines as a select group have made aggressive deals to improve.

The coronavirus has hampered league finances and, though there is reason to believe teams still made money, some have acted like they don't have much of it to spend. Secondly, the Nat's entered this winter with a lot of needs and seemingly not a ton of resources in the way of payroll to spare or prospects to trade.

And thirdly, the Nat's won the WorldSeries not that long ago, in 2019, and we are still feeling out how they operate in a post- WorldSeriesworld. None of those moves broke the bank, involved long-term commitments or required a bevy of top prospects to execute.

While the short-term deals for Schweitzer and Lester do give them some flexibility, you don't sign those guys unless you want to chase another ring. Now with Lester joining a rotation that already boasts Max Scherzo, Stephen Strasbourg and Patrick Corbin, they have raised the ceiling with a clear goal of winning now.

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First, let’s state the obvious: The Nationals current position isn’t ideal. They’re down 3-2 in the WorldSeries, a scenario in which teams have historically lost a little more than two-thirds of the time.

(No, Hudson’s ninth-inning home run to George Springer on Sunday does not change that.) But this doesn’t mean that they should be the only guys to come out in relief: Starters Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sánchez should be available, too.

After he was a last-minute scratch with back and neck spasms for Game 5, it’s unclear. When he appeared before the media on Sunday, he was in visible pain, unable to turn his neck and forced to rotate his entire body to face reporters.

But, of course, even if everything goes well on the mound, without some sort of performance at the plate, there won’t be a Game 7. The Nationals bats have gone frighteningly quiet since the series moved to D. C: They’re 17-for-97 with just three runs in the last three games.

“We’ve just got to continue to fight and grind, and hopefully good things happen.” As for whether there’s reason to have faith here, it may be reassuring to remember that it’s not as if the team has just been whiffing on everything.

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They’ve been making contact, and some of it has been fine, even if that’s not reflected in the results. Their expected batting average for the last three games was better than their actual batting average (.216 certainly isn’t great, but it’s better than their real figure of .175), and the same is true of their expected slugging percentage (.359 versus .258).

“They were grinding out at-bats, getting the opposing pitchers’ pitch count up, taking walks when they were there. The Nationals don’t have to deal with another game against Gerrit Cole (though they do have Justin Overland…) and they’ve seen quite a lot of the best relievers here.

If Strasbourg can keep them in it against Overland for Game 6, then maybe they can work against a ‘pen that they’ve had decent exposure to in recent days. A 6-2 victory over the Houston Astros in Game 7 on Wednesday night sealed it, delivering the first baseball title for the nation’s capital since Walter Johnson’s Senators won their only one in 1924.

Seventh-inning home runs by Anthony Tendon and Howie Kendrick, the former an MVP-caliber third baseman possibly playing his last game in a Nationals uniform, the latter a 36-year-old veteran in the deepest autumn of his career, turned a slim deficit into a slim lead for the Nationals. The final out, delivered by reliever Daniel Hudson, settled into catcher An Gomes’s glove at 10:50 p.m. Central time, touching off the mad dash to the center of the diamond.

These Nationals season was a wild, screaming, impossibly long ride, one that carried them all the way to the doorstep of November. Take a step back and consider what these Nationals accomplished: They notched all four of their wins in this series on the road, in the building where the Actors had the majors’ best home record in 2019, and became the first team since the 2016 Chicago Cubs to take the WorldSeries by winning Games 6 and 7 on the road.

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“To win four games on the road in the WorldSeries, ” said first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the longest-tenured National, “it’s almost fitting for us.” On a makeshift stage moments after the final out, pitcher Stephen Strasbourg, the overpowering victor of Games 2 and 6, was presented with the WorldSeries MVP trophy.

Three nights earlier, the Nationals ace could barely get himself out of bed and couldn’t raise his pitching arm, because of a severe bout of neck spasms that would force the team to scratch him from his Game 5 start at Nationals Park on Sunday. Getting him ready to pitch Wednesday night required a cortisone shot, ample rest and perhaps divine intervention.

Scherzo lived in near-constant danger throughout his five innings, allowing only a pair of runs but pitching with traffic on the base paths throughout. One of the great strikeout pitchers of his era, he didn’t record his first in Game 7 until his 17th batter of the night.

It was Scherzo’s great fortune that the vast majority of the Actors’ line drives and deep smashes landed in the gloves of his teammates. That Martinez had failed to get a reliever warmed up as a clearly diminished Scherzo was allowing the Actors’ second run to score in the fifth seemed to be either an egregious mistake or a staggering show of faith in his ace.

By Wednesday night, the Nationals were running on a cocktail of fumes, painkillers, Red Bulls and dwindling supplies of adrenaline. After all the speculation about how the Nationals might piece together the necessary 27 outs for victory, it was as tidy of an affair as they could have dreamed.

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Scherzo went five, giving way to left-hander Patrick Corbin, their Game 4 starter, now pitching on short rest, who handled the next three innings without incident. Throughout this month, the Nationals left their fans a trove of memory-book moments: Soto’s eighth-inning, three-run single off Milwaukee Brewers relief ace Josh Harder to lift the Nationals to victory in the NL wild-card game, the back-to-back homers from Tendon and Soto off Dodgers' icon Clayton Hershey in the eighth inning to tie Game 5 of the division series and Howie Kendrick’s grand slam two innings later off Joe Kelly to push the Nationals ahead.

Watch as fans celebrated the National’s first WorldSeries title in franchise history on Oct. 30. • Just when it seemed as though the Nationals' offense might be done, that it might lean on the pitching once again to deliver the first title in franchise history, Adam Eaton came through again.

The right fielder smacked a ball into center that, when Jake Mari snick bobbled it, allowed Victor Robles to sprint home as well. Adam Eaton walked and stole second base against Roberto Sun, and he scampered home on Juan Soto’s huge single to right.

• Anthony Tendon finally broke the dam against Actors starter Zack Grange, who was doing his best Jose Liquid impression to that point. Howie Kendrick waited all series to break out, and he welcomed Actors reliever Will Smith by crushing a two-run home run to right.

• Patrick Corbin appeared for his second inning of relief four days after throwing 96 pitches in Game 4. The Nationals left-hander, the starter paid $140 million this off season, cruised through the inning against the heart of the Actors order.

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(Scherzo’s final line: Five innings pitched, seven hits, four walks, three strikeouts, two runs allowed.) He allowed a lea doff single to pinch-hitter Jake Mari snick but erased him two batters later when he got José Active to ground into an inning-ending double play.

An Gomes and Victor Robles stung balls into the outfield, but neither was a serious threat to land. The aggressive Nationals bat meant Zack Grange finished the third averaging less than 10 pitches per inning (28 total).

• Yuri Gabriel delivered the first run of Game 7 with a rocket into the left-field seats off Max Scherzo. Jordan Alvarez and Carlos Cornea smacked singles to right through the shift off Scherzo’s fastball.

George Springer lined out to left on a play that was not routine for Juan Soto. Adam Eaton and Anthony Tendon made weak contact on their ways out.

But, in returning from the muscle spasms in his neck and back, he looked under control as opposed to limited. Scherzo struggled with command, falling behind George Springer 2-0 and Michael Brantley 3-0, but he battled back to escape the inning unscathed.

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• The Actors, without a win at home in this series, decided to shake things up and play Game 7 in their orange tops. The navy blues lost a bit of luster during the three games in Washington, but the duds still hold clout this postseason (10-3 record).

The only player from the 50 total active tabbed as unavailable was Actors pitcher Justin Overland, who started on Tuesday. Martinez did not rule out his Game 6 starter, Stephen Strasbourg, who indicated last night he felt gassed.

“If you have a Nat's uniform on today, and you’re part of 25, I’m going to ask you if you can go,” said Martinez, who added, “I’m going to talk to later on. Martinez added catcher Kurt Suzuki, scratched from the starting lineup, could still appear.

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