Cut4 Postseason Primer: Washington Nationals
From 30 World Series hopefuls, only a few remain. In case you haven't been following every contender, here's a catch-up on what you missed and what to expect next. In this edition: The Washington Nationals.
The Nationals have played like a team posessed over the last three months, posting a winning percentage well over .600 since the start of July. That surge pushed Washington past the Braves and into October for the second time since the franchise's move to D.C.
While we look forward to Bryce Harper and Friends' fight for World Series glory, here are five major elements of their 2014 success:
5. The Racing Presidents took a lot of punishment
As the Nationals won ever more games on the field, the team's Racing President's were subjected to a variety of assaults -- perhaps acting as some sort of karmic balance or anti-Voodoo doll. Each attack was stranger than the last.
Pierogies and lobstermen took on the Presidents. Probably to atone for some centuries-old grudge:
The Easter Bunny enacted his revenge:
And he even knows how to block his thoughts from outer space aliens! Or something!
4. The Nationals' beard power
While the Nationals may not have capitalized on their beards quite the way the Red Sox did last season, they still had some very impressive facial hair in their lineup.
Like Adam LaRoche, who rode his amber waves to a ninth 20-homer season:
And Jayson Werth, who danced and shimmied into our hearts:
It all led to one intrepid fan, Eric Brooks, creating this masterpiece that should hang in the Louvre.
3. The unstoppable starting pitching
This season has seen Nationals starting pitchers post the highest fWAR in the National League and the second-lowest ERA. It's not surprising when you look at the stacked-like-a-pancake rotation:
When Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg have the two highest ERAs on your team, you're going to win a lot of ballgames.
2. Bryce Harper cannot be contained
This was a trying season for the young right fielder. Battling injuries, Harper missed the entire month of May and nearly all of June. When he did get back, he wasn't quite himself, hitting just .214/.319/.306 in his first 30 games. He couldn't even break his bat right.
There were even rumors that Harper was going to be sent back to Triple-A to iron out his swing, but manager Matt Williams quickly said that was never going to happen.
Seems like Williams made the right call. After bottoming out with a .249 average and .695 OPS on August 5th, Bryce Harper has been on fire. Starting with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 13th, Harper has gone on to hit nearly .300 and seen much of his trademark power return over the season's final two months.
This absolute monster shot may have torn a hole in the atmosphere:
Should Harper stay hot through October, there are going to be a lot of pitchers wondering if perhaps they should get their realtor's license.
1. No matter how late it is, no matter how many runs you lead by, the Nationals can still beat you
From Aug. 12-21, the Nationals won 10 games in a row. While only two other teams accomplished that feat this season (the Royals and Angels), it was how the Nationals did it that was so surprising. Of those 10 games, seven were one-run affairs. Five ended in walk-offs. And those walk-offs were all centered around a six-game period. It was utter insanity! For one glorious week in Washington, the rules of the universe no longer applied -- anything was possible.
It was a full team affair, too. From Wilson Ramos' double against the Pirates to a Scott Hairston sacrifice fly to an Adam LaRoche home run to an Anthony Rendon single to a Denard Span-alter-ego stolen base and error.
So, what can we expect from the Nationals this October? A few predictions:
Matt Williams will finally give us the Babe Ruth trot he pomised following the team's 10-game winning streak. Thanks to a loophole in MLB rules though, it comes during a game after Williams is forced to pinch-hit.
The Nationals will score all of their postseason runs in the bottom of the ninth. If a player even tries to score before the final frame, they'll be forcibly stopped by some bizarre transdimensional laser. Or something.
After hitting one of those 9th-inning home runs, Adam LaRoche braids his beard into a Nationals 'W' at home plate. Eric Brooks sues for copyright infringement and everyone winds up on a televised court series.
Needing only three or four starters for some short postseason series, Washington maximizes its depth by Frankensteining a Voltron-like combination of arms into a single pitcher. While this strategy is terrifying, it's also extremely effective.
You will have nightmares about this.
Every. single. night.