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Nationals' title win worthy of celebrating again

@MikeLupica
February 20, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Everything looks the same from the outside on Haverhill Road, with the big Astros logo at one end of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and the “W” for the Nationals at the other. Nothing has changed out here. But we all know how much

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Everything looks the same from the outside on Haverhill Road, with the big Astros logo at one end of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and the “W” for the Nationals at the other. Nothing has changed out here. But we all know how much has changed since the two teams who call this place their Florida home -- and open their Spring Training schedule against each other on Saturday night -- played Game 7 of the World Series.

There are already the sights and sweet sounds of the spring on the back fields at the ballpark as you make your way out of the parking lots. So even with all the other noise coming out of baseball now, there is that kind of noise, the best kind, here and on the other side of Florida and in Arizona, as so many teams tell themselves that if things break right for them, they can do what the Nationals did last season, as they wrote one of the greatest baseball stories of all time.

They came from being 12 games under .500 to finally winning 12 games in October to become champs, beating the 106-win Dodgers and the 107-win Astros along the way. Now they come into this season as the champs, and the Astros do not, and boy does that matter. Because imagine what Spring Training 2020 would sound like in baseball if it had been the other way around.

Now the Nationals try to do it again, even with Mookie Betts in their league now and Gerrit Cole pitching for a Yankees team that won 103 games without him last season without a true ace. But the Nationals still have two: The law firm of Scherzer and Strasburg. They lost Anthony Rendon, one of the stars of October, to the Angels, but still have Juan Soto, who this season will fully join the conversation about the most gifted young talent in the sport. You know when Soto turns 22? The last week of October, when the Nationals really might be trying to do it again.

Here is what Dave Martinez was telling reporters the other day about his team:

“I think that they understand what we’re trying to do again, and for me, like I said, these guys, when you get guys like a Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, a Howie Kendrick, Juan Soto, [Victor] Robles, who, they love to play the game, they understand the game, I think you just go back. My biggest fear, which it’s not really a fear at all, but I don’t see it and I haven’t seen it yet, is complacency. I understand, and I keep telling them, ‘We’re really good, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t show up to play, but stay in the here and now, don’t jump to conclusions, don’t get ahead of ourselves, let’s focus on today.’”

It was just four months ago that those players, along with Rendon, won Game 7. And you know something? As they do get ready to start playing games, it is all right to again celebrate what the Nationals did last season one more time, winning a World Series that seems even more important now than it did at the time.

Again: A lot has changed in those four months. Not that. Nobody can ever take anything away from them.

They came from behind after being 19-31 to earn a Wild Card spot out of the National League East. They came from behind in their NL Wild Card Game against the Brewers. They came from two games to one down against the Dodgers in the NL Division Series, and then came from 3-1 down in Game 5 before finally winning in extra innings. At Dodger Stadium. They came from 3-2 down against the Astros in the World Series and came from behind in Game 7 and won it all.

Along the way it was a lot of Rendon and Soto. But truly they built this title on the skill and baseball character and right arms of Strasburg and Scherzer (expected to get the ball Saturday night against the Astros). And they had Corbin as a tremendous wing man, not just starting in the postseason, but relieving. There were a lot of reasons why the Yankees spent to the sky and back to get Cole, as big an arm as they’ve had at the top of their rotation in a very long time. Perhaps the biggest is this:

They watched how the Nationals did it.

The Yankees had some bullpen last season. Still do. But they didn’t have starters like the Nationals did. Buck Showalter was reminding me again recently of something he told his friend, Nats general manager Mike Rizzo, right before the Nationals turned things around in the regular season:

“Just with [Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin] alone, you shouldn’t lose three games in a row the rest of the season.”

It happened just twice after Rizzo’s team was 19-31, all the way to the parade on Pennsylvania Ave. Now the Nationals try to do it again. Lot of stories in baseball right now, you’ve probably heard. Still a pretty sweet one at the Washington end of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.