The Washington Nationals are 20 games over .500 for the first time…well ever. The Nationals are the direct descendants of the Montreal Expos. The Expos, for our younger crowd – you know, the five year olds in the group – were an expansion team in 1969, but eventually lost their team after the 2004 season when they moved to Washington D.C. In ’69, they gave Canada their first Major League franchise. The Blue Jays were born eight years later. So it’s interesting to see Sports Illustrated stating the Nationals are 20 games over .500 for the first time since 1933. To be fair, the actual game recap does say, “The last time a Washington-based team was 20 games over .500 was 1933, when the American League Senators finished 99-53 and lost the World Series in five games to the New York Giants.”
But I digress.
The point is, the Nationals are good. As good as just about any baseball team in D.C.’s history. The 1924, ’25, and ’33 Washington Senators all went to the World Series. Only the ’24 team won the whole thing. Since then, no Washington team has even made the postseason. The most wins any team in D.C. has had was the 99 wins referenced above for the ’33 team. This year’s incarnation of Washington baseball is on pace to win 97.524 games – we’ll call it an even 98. Not quite the record for the nation’s capital but still a pretty good year.
So what’s the end game? At this point in the season are those in the District alright with just a play-off berth? How about a Division Series exit? Do the Nationals have to make the World Series? Do they have to win it?
Such questions are the basis of our fandom. We hope and wish and pray for success for our teams, and as that success comes, we ask for more. The truth is, a postseason appearance is quite the accomplishment. Mike Rizzo, GM for the Nats, has build himself a team with the foundation, framework, and core to compete for years to come (if you look closely, all three of those descriptors mean the same thing, but I made them sound different).
As it stands now, the Nationals have only seven more series’ against teams with a record over .500. That means they have 12 more series against theoretically inferior teams. Their march to the postseason should be all but sealed. However, their run through the Division Series, the National League Championship Series, and the World Series are far from certain.
Assuming the Nats do win the division, they could take on anyone from the Giants to the Dodgers to the Pirates to the Reds to the Diamondbacks to the Cardinals and more. In a five game series, the Nationals, who should by that time be without Stephen Strasburg due to his innings limit, will be able to throw Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler, Edwin Jackson, and Jordan Zimmerman. They make up four-fifths of a staff that ranks number one in team ERA with 3.20.
So what about that who Strasburg issue? That comes back to expectations and their ever-increasing demand as a team finds success. At the beginning of the year, and even now, most people agreed with the decision to shut Stasburg down once he hits his limits issue, no matter what. However, those opinions could quickly change as the Nationals are potentially facing the likes of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Tim Lincecum in a five-game series. Or they could drastically change if they make it to the World Series. But again, the fact of the matter is, a postseason berth is success enough for one year. This team isn’t going anywhere.
The 2012 Nationals are an early version of Mike Rizzo’s dream. The realization of that dream was expected to be a couple years off, but with this season’s success, the Nationals could be World Series contenders this year, next year, and multiple times into the future. For that very reason, fans in D.C. should relish in the success this team is having. if they do indeed make the postseason, Washington’s fan base should party like they’ve never partied in their lifetime. They should soak it all in, even if the Nats lose in the Division Series. Because next year, the stakes are higher.
If the Washington Nationals, the door mat of the National League East for most of their time as either the Expos or the Nats, make the play-offs this year ahead of schedule, the expectations for next year will be enormous. Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez will be on the cover of every magazine (people still read those right?), talked about in every online article, and featured on billboards and television ads across the nation.
So, soak it all in D.C. Your stress level is about to rise. But it’s all in good fun.