Not long ago, the dominant force in the National League was not the Dodgers or the Cubs, but the East Division. The Mets, Braves, Phillies, and yes even the damn Marlins have all made the world series multiple times in the last twenty odd years. And yet in spite of winning the NL East four of the past six years, the Washington Nationals have failed to make it past the divisional series any season so far in the franchise's young history. Even with a team that touts such renowned names such as Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, and of course, Bryce Harper, the Nats come short every single season. So, what is wrong with this team, excluding their Walgreens logo? Why is it that it appears, year after year, season after season, the team formerly known as the Montreal Expos continues to fall short?
Well, that's a complicated question to answer, and as one can expect it can be attributed it to a multitude of reasons. One such commonly attrbuted cause is the fact that key players such as Strasburg, Harper, Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, and this past year Adam Eaton, have led to the team suffering from injury plagued seasons in the past. Some may say that fault lies in the lack of a consistent manager, with Davey Johnson, Matt Williams, and Dusty Baker, and now Dave Martinez all sharing time at the helm. For a playoff staple it comes as a surprise that the team has had so many managers under Mike Rizzo’s general managership. Coul it really be simply the lack of a killer instinct, the absence of a winning mentality? And yet others will point to Nationals having lost three game 5s by a combined difference of four runs. The one series they lost in four by the way, to the eventual championship winning Giants in 2014, (I can’t be the only one to miss the San Fran Even Years) when each loss was decided by one run. It seems then that one can only conclude that every year, regardless reason you may choose to blame the most, the team does not receive the right combination of health, clubhouse leadership, and clutchness to make a deep playoff push.
These, however, are not the attributes that true dynasty’s worry about mastering. Teams ultimately either get lucky or unlucky with their health, and while tons of injuries undoubtedly can affect a team’s season, they cannot excuse more than half a decade of disappointment. Similarly, while mangers such as Dave Roberts, Joe Maddon, and Bruce Bochy often receive bountiful praise for guiding their teams to success, there is very little statistical evidence that managers have a substantial effect on the overall outcome of a team's season. While it is undoubtable that a truly poor manager is detrimental, the different between mediocre and great, is probably slimmer than most of us care to admit. Finally, no matter what sport you play, many claim true winners win no matter the cost, the odds or the circumstances. And, while it may not seem that the Nationals have this “secret” mastered, who’s to say they really don’t? They have won 95+ games four times in the past six years, which should serve as proof enough that they know how to win. Ultimately sports are fickle and these Nationals could very well simply go down as one of the best teams to never accomplish anything of note.
2018 is quite possibly this current core’s last chance to finally prove they have what it takes to win it all. The roster this year is once again a sure fire playoff contender, in a division empty of threats. The rise of young starlet and MVP contender Trea Turner, the return of Adam Eaton, the best D.C. bullpen assembled in this era, and the potential emersions of Joe Ross, A.J. Cole, and Victor Robles as another crop youthful core players are all tantalizing additions to an already supremely talented squad. This may very well then be the Nationals year to go all the way, despite fierce competition from the Astros, Dodgers, and Cubs in the National League alone. If they fail however, this is likely the end of the team's first major era of "success". Gio Gonzalez, Daniel Murphy, Matt Wieters, Ryan Madson, Shawn Kelley, Mat Adams, and of course Bryce Harper are all free agents after this season. All will be difficult to retain and or replace, and losing Harper would be a truly catastrophic loss. And so, I challenge thee, Washington Nationals, third Major League team of our nation’s capital, and formerly of Montreal, to win it, to win it damn all.