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If the Washington Nationals win tonight, they make the World Series, which in and of itself is a historical feat. But they will also become the winningest team in the history of the franchise as well.
The best regular-season record belongs to the 2012 team that put up 98 wins during the first 162 games. This year’s 93 wins is only the seventh best in team history in that regard, trailing the Nationals teams of 2012 (98), 2017 (97), 2014 (96) and 2016 (95) in addition to the 1979 Montreal Expos (95) and 1993 Montreal team (94).
But when you add in post-season wins, 100 is the magic number. The 2012 team lost to the Cardinals 3 games to 2, but those two victories game them 100 wins, which until this week was the best in the history of the franchise. This year’s Nats have won 7 games in the playoffs, also giving them 100 wins. So a win tonight not only closes out the series for the Nats, it gives them 101 wins.
Since we’re all in the moment, the scale of just how improbable this is has not really dawned on me or a lot of others. After waiting all my life, I went down to spring training this year and came home thinking this team is not very good. It had been somewhat disappointing in 2018 under new manager Davey Martinez, and it did not appear to have gotten any better. The same issues with fundamental mistakes and a bad bullpen had not gone away in the offseason.
While I loved my time in West Palm, I came home with some very low expectations for the season.
The Nats then lived down to those expectations, at one point being 12 games under .500 at 19-31. Martinez looked over his head, the bullpen was awful, and the notion this would end up being the winningest team in franchise history seemed kind of silly.
In retrospect, I’d have to say this year’s team is one that has ended up as a lesson in team chemistry. I’m a big believer in it, and while you have to have some talent, I have always thought B level talent with great chemistry can many times beat a team with A level talent and no chemistry. I think if you look back at the 2012 team, they were good, but they also had a clubhouse of characters who kept everyone loose, plus guys who could come off the bench, get a key hit and then go back to the bench.
They hadn’t had as much of that in the past few years as they seemed to increase in individual talent, but not the characters like Mike Morse who could both make you laugh and hit home runs. Gerrardo Parra may end up being the real MVP in that regard, as his presence after being acquired during the season blended with Max Scherzer’s almost Rambo-like focus and young impressionable players like Juan Soto and Victor Robles to create a locker room atmosphere similar to 2012.
They’re having fun, they like each other, they’re dancing together…heck, they’re even giving Stephen Strasburg group hugs. I’m not sure what’s more amazing: that they’re doing that, or Strasburg is allowing it to happen.
Add in that this team is really well-constructed for a 5 or 7-game playoff series (but not necessarily a regular season) and you do seem to have a winning formula. The starting pitching – when healthy – is extremely strong, and the Nats do have one or two capable relievers. That’s enough in a playoff series, but not enough in a regular season, thus the late-inning heartburn that tended to happen so often.
But the chemistry got them to the finish line and into a wildcard game. The starting pitching may get them over the top. And I’m now sitting around like a 13-year-old, with a “I can’t wait” attitude for tonight’s game.
I’ve seen better talent. I’ve seen better managers. But I’ve never seen a team and a manager put it all together at the right time in the season like this one has. Years from now, many of us will look back and some may even say “I knew they were going to win it from the beginning.”
Just know, they are all lying. This team fooled us all. And I couldn’t be happier to admit it.