Here's why today should be a Nationals holiday

May 24th, 2020

The 2019 Nationals season will forever be remembered for its turning points: stunning the Mets with a seven-run ninth (Sept. 3), Juan Soto clearing the bases in the National League Wild Card Game (Oct. 1), Anthony Rendon and Soto going back-to-back in Game 5 of the NL Division Series to set up Howie Kendrick’s grand slam (Oct. 9) and Kendrick blasting his now immortal homer in Game 7 of the World Series (Oct. 30).

But no calendar date has been more often cited and remembered by the fan base than May 24. Besides a comeback win -- a very 2019 Nationals win -- there was nothing incredibly novel about the day itself. There was no particular buzz. No switch was explicitly flipped. Outside of recent returns from the injured list and later trading for reluctant closer Daniel Hudson, no major player was acquired.

Yet, by one force of nature or another (maybe a Baby Shark clap?), the Nationals turned around from a 19-31 start to win the World Series. Among all their accomplishments, no other team in history can say it won a World Series championship after being that many games under .500 (12) through 50 games.

But there’s one more date you should know, because without it, May 24 -- which this year will feature the organization’s virtual ring design unveiling -- may not be as ubiquitous a reference as it is now.

After a 2-1 win over the Tigers on June 30, the Nationals’ Twitter account, for the first time, innocuously declared that they were the “best team in baseball since May 24” because, well, they had the best record in baseball since May 24.

Then, the floodgates opened.

After the next game, a 3-2 win over the Marlins, the Nationals tweeted: “The Washington Nationals have been the best team in baseball since May 24.” After each of the six wins over the next seven games, they tweeted: “The Washington Nationals have been the best team in baseball since May 24.”

Even when a loss ended that steak on July 14, they tweeted: “The Washington Nationals have still been the best team in baseball since May 24,” because, hey, it wasn’t inaccurate.

At least 32 times throughout the remainder of the 2019 regular season and postseason, some variation of the phrase was uttered by @Nationals. (There was, in fact, a brief time in September where the Nats lost their "best record since May 24" crown to the Braves … but they reclaimed the epithet after Kendrick sent them to their first National League Championship Series in club history, while Atlanta fell to St. Louis in the other NL Division Series.)

The pre-May 24 era -- compounded by years of October heartbreak -- made the ensuing accomplishments all the sweeter, with the shared struggle now seen as a necessary hurdle to fully appreciate the ultimate goal.

Washington began the 2019 season full of expectations despite seeing Bryce Harper walk in free agency. There was also added pressure on the coaching staff -- whether perceived or real -- following a disappointing ‘18 campaign (82-80) in Dave Martinez’s first year as manager.

But the start was not ideal, and not just because two slim walk-offs wins were the difference between a 2-3 and an 0-5 start. Neither dramatic victory could catapult a team besieged by injuries, which were significant:

Trea Turner missed 39 games after breaking his right index finger on April 2. While he was sidelined, Rendon was hit by a pitch on his left elbow, leaving him sidelined for 14 games. On the final day of April, Soto landed on the injured list with back spasms. He sat for 10 games.

That totaled 63 games missed by three of the club’s top four position players.

But even with reinforcements returned by May 23, on that afternoon -- the culmination of a four-game sweep by the Mets thanks to a 6-4 loss that saw Martinez tossed from the game -- things seemed to hit the breaking point.

“Nats' frustrations boil over in Martinez's ejection,” read’s headline. “Nationals swept by Mets after wasting another late-inning lead; Dave Martinez ejected,” the Washington Post chimed in. “Nationals on the brink after embarrassing sweep,” declared

During the pre-May 24 era, the Nationals’ offense lagged in several key offensive categories. Their team OBP (.316) ranked 19th, while their average (.243), SLG (.405), OPS (.721), wOBA (.307) and wRC+ (85) all sat at 20th. And the bullpen -- the same one that owned the highest ERA in history for a postseason team -- ranked last in ERA (7.02), WHIP (1.64), average against (.279) and win probability added (-4.94).

The odds were overwhelmingly against them. Only one team had a poorer record through its first 50 games of the season and bounced back to make the postseason. That happens to be the 2005 Astros, who started out 18-32 before falling in the Fall Classic to the White Sox.

Washington needed to go 71-41 in its ensuing 112 games to reach the 90-wins mark, a plateau that usually offers a chance to sneak into October. With a post-May 24 batting average (.275) and OBP (.353) that led the league, as well as top-six ranks in SLG (.476), OPS (.829), wOBA (.348) and wRC+ (111), that pace was not just reached … it was surpassed, at 74-38.

“After May 24, we played playoff baseball throughout the rest of the year,” Martinez said last season.

And after May 24, the Nationals seldom let anyone forget it.

They surely never will.

“The Washington Nationals have been the best team in baseball since May 24,” the Nationals tweeted after an unforgettable Game 7. But that was quickly crossed out and amended: “The Washington Nationals are the best team in baseball. Period.”