Back in the spring and moving right along towards a 19-31 record, it was easy to find reasons to avoid investing oneself in following the Washington Nationals. The team was not playing particularly well, and that glaring vulnerability that we all knew about – the largely unimproved bullpen from last season – was putting itself out there for all to see.
The bullpen was blowing leads at an alarming rate if it was not the offense killing their own rallies by making incredible base running mistakes.
To add legitimacy to what already looked like a lost season, before the first week of May was over, Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, and Ryan Zimmerman had all been sent to the injured list for various reasons, including Zimmerman’s aggravated plantar fasciitis, which caused him to lose a considerable amount of time in 2018.
It was truly everything that could have gone wrong, going wrong, and with no end in sight. The crisis reached its peak on the night of May 23, after being swept in a four-game series against the Mets in New York. I dare to say that there was a consensus between the worlds of fans and sports media that manager Davey Martinez was in way too deep and that only a big shake-up could save the season from being a complete embarrassment.
With a four-game set at home against the lowly Marlins ahead, Martinez would have to win the series to keep his job, is what most people said.
The rest, as we all know, is history. And here we are, yet again in a National League Division Series game 5, with yet another opportunity to advance to the National League Championship Series for the first time in franchise history.
But why was I unable to disconnect from the team back in late spring and go on with my life, enjoying everything that DC has to offer in the summer? After all, tourists from all over the world and the rest of the country spend their hard-earned money to travel to the nation’s capital and enjoy what is figuratively in my backyard.
Maybe it was knowing that the baserunning blunders, the bad swings, and the errant throws were not the substance and make-up of this team. Maybe it was seeing that Martinez’s managerial philosophy, of trusting and empowering his players, had paid dividends in places like Chicago and could do the same thing here in the long run.
Maybe it was the sense that, if having good starts to a season never translated to playoff success in past years, perhaps playing significant games over the course of six months would change the team’s fate this time around.
I think that as we sit here today, our questions have been answered, and the overarching response is simply that these are not your dad’s Nats.
It was the pride in Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Anibal Sanchez, that would not allow them to take the mound and give less than their all. It was the pieces that came in at different points of the season, like Gerardo Parra and Asdrubal Cabrera, who donned the Nationals uniform and looked as if they had been here all along.
It was the struggling bullpen, who despite their shortcomings, battled to save as many games as they could. And of course, it was superstars like Soto and Rendon doing what they do best, driving in runs by delivering souvenirs to fans’ seats.
At the end of the day, what we have seen this past week was the reaffirmation of what we knew all along. That, while these Nats are a flawed team, they are a very good baseball team. A team that, despite its bullpen woes – of which I wrote plenty – was capable of beating any opponent on any given night on the strength of its starters and timely hitting from its dynamic lineup.
These aren’t your dad’s Nats, and that’s why you have to watch tonight.
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