Washington DC has a World Series team for the first time in 86 years. Having not won a playoff series since their move from Montreal in 2004, the Nationals have managed to win two after sweeping the Cardinals. They will play either the Yankees or the Astros to win their first title.
The Nationals have routinely been picked as World Series winner in preseason predictions since 2012, mainly due to a line-up that featured 2009 and 2010 first overall picks Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg.
They could never get over the first hurdle, usually finding painful ways to lose. They made four Division Series in six years, losing all of them with three going to game 5.
That the Nationals even made the Postseason was an incredible achievement. After a bullpen-induced four game sweep at Citi Field on the May 23 they were twelve games under .500. They didn’t get back to .500 until June 27. A 46-27 second half won them home-field advantage in the Wildcard game against the Brewers.
One of the trends in Postseason baseball in recent years has been relying on your bullpen. The Nationals had just two relievers with an ERA under 4 over the season, Tanner Rainey (3.91) and Daniel Hudson (1.44). Clearly this would be a poor strategy for a team with such a bad bullpen, so Davey Martinez has relied on his starters to pitch more innings.
A top three of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin rivals any in the majors and of the 90 innings pitched by Nationals pitchers this October, that trio have pitched 55.1 of them. Anibal Sanchez has also provided two good starts, including taking a no hitter into the seventh in game 1 against the Cardinals.
Starters have also been used in relief. In the Wildcard game Strasburg pitched 3 scoreless in relief of Scherzer, and Scherzer struck out the side in the eighth inning of game 2 of the NLDS. Corbin has also been used with less success.
Daniel Hudson’s emergence as closer has also stabilised the bullpen enough, though in the World Series expect Davey Martinez to rely on starters pitching deep into games or in relief to get 27 outs.
As a staff, the pitchers dominated the Cardinals, with only Sean Doolittle and Patrick Corbin giving up earned runs. They had 48 strikeouts in 36 innings and gave up 6 runs between them. They have drawn comparisons to the 2015 Mets, a team with elite pitching that have hit form at the correct time.
On offence they have two real superstars in Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto who have been hitting well. Rendon had an OPS over 1.000 in both the CS and DS, and Soto hit the crucial double off Josh Hader in the wildcard game.
It is often about one player coming through in a big moment in Postseason baseball. Utility man Howie Kendrick’s Grand Slam in game 5 in LA is the standout moment from the run so far.
They will be heavy underdogs in the World Series against either the Yankees or Astros and now have six days to fill before game one. Do not write them off though – they will still be on a high after their stunning sweep of the NL Central champions and will have two of the top ten pitchers in baseball to deploy in the seven games. Like the Capitals 18 months ago, DC has another overdue team ready to finally win it all.