Raise your hand if it makes you smile when you hear, “The Nationals have never won a playoff series.” That many of you? Good. Me too.
There’s something special about seeing the Nationals fail on the biggest, brightest stage, or at least the stage that stands in for the biggest and the brightest in the months from November to March. The Hot Stove, the pipeline, or whatever the pundits are calling it these days. That’s where the Nationals failed.
There, and in every playoff series they’ve ever played. Never gets old, does it? Especially if you catch the allusion in the title, which does nothing if not prove that losing ways in Washington have been around for a while, and very well could be for a while longer.
I got slightly nervous a few days ago, as did most of Mets fandom, when it came out that the Nationals were out to make some moves. They were going for Chris Sale and Andrew McCutchen, the story went, and what was more, they thought they had the prospects to pull off both trades.
Remember that time we heard that we had the prospects to get a deal done, and we all believed it? I don’t either. Whatever credibility our front office once had when it comes to being near to completing deals, it dissipated in the aftermath of July 29th, 2015, and then completely vanished when, during the 2015 offseason, it was reported that our guys thought themselves the favorites to land Ben Zobrist, when he had already done everything short of installing the furnishings in his Chicago apartment.
However, the news was A) not about us, and B) good news for a major division rival, so we assumed it had to be true. Honestly, even when news is false, good for us, or not related to a division rival, I assume it will end badly for us. That’s what I call Met Luck right there; when you know, immediately upon the non-tendering of Justin Turner, that he’ll come back sometime, and come darn near close to grabbing a playoff series from our fingers.
Thank goodness we had Thor to extinguish Turner’s otherwise Gubraithian bat (it’s a reference, google it; you’ll understand). Let’s hope we’ve got a pitcher of similar capabilities (not to mention hair) the next time Mike Baxter digs in against us.
But this was good news for the Nationals, and bad news for us, so it had to be true. Off the top of my head, besides Daniel Murphy and all that he’s done, I can’t think of many news items that have actually fit this description over the last few years. Maybe the Nationals have actually been having a slow go of things. But come on. They’re the Washington Nationals. They don’t have any kind of ridiculous, laughably awful luck innate to the character of their team (besides the fact — and I mention this for the benefit of Nationals fans who are reading this, as well as Mets fans who like hearing it — that they’ve never won a playoff series).
They’re the Nationals. They’ve never had Norihiro Nakamura. They’ve never traded Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano, literally or figuratively. They didn’t have to go through Jason Bay or Ollie P. So, contracts and other formalities notwithstanding, Chris Sale and Andrew McCutchen were basically Nationals.
Even then, honestly, I wasn’t too worried about it (if you said that in a Mr. Krueger voice, raise your hand — good, good). They’re the Nationals; we know what they’ll do. They’ll be okay, maybe pretty good, maybe really good, maybe mediocre. They’ll finish first, maybe, or second. Chris Sale and Andrew McCutchen don’t change the inherent uncertainty that surrounds the Nationals, the ineffable fact that no matter what they do, they’ll always be pretty good, but not great.
And regardless — you can trade for Chris Sale and Andrew McCutchen, but you can’t trade for victories in playoff series.
However, it can’t be denied that Chris Sale on the Nationals is a foreboding thought, just as each and every one of our four or five or possibly seven starters can be a foreboding thought in their own right. As a matter of principle, as well as a finely-calibrated appreciation for winning and an even more narrowly tailored desire to win divisional matchups, I don’t like to see the Nationals improve, unless they’re doing so by adding players who will ultimately tear their team apart and lead meltdowns that are entertaining, as an opposing fan, to watch. Basically, I mean to say that I don’t mind the Nationals improving, so long as they’re doing so by signing Jonathan Papelbon. Ah, someday.
As for Chris Sale, Terry Collins agreed with me. “I really thought for sure Sale was going to end up in Washington,” said Terry Collins, who really thought Matt Harvey was good to start the ninth, and was really sure that there was no need to pinch-run for Wilmer. Terry, who thought Jim Henderson’s arm would be fine, no trouble, pins and needles needles and pins, thought this was going to happen. So maybe I shouldn’t have been so certain.
Of course, we all now know what happened, or if we don’t, we at least have inklings, based on the amount of tweets I’ve seen today mentioning, in no uncertain terms, that the Nationals have never won a playoff series. They didn’t get Chris Sale. That doesn’t help.
Everyone healthy, everyone pitching and hitting and running — I tell ya, I can’t wait to play the Nationals this year. Thor, deGrom, and a resurgent Harvey, facing off against whatever scrubs they throw against Reyes, Cabrera, Walker, Cespedes, Conforto, Granderson, Wright, Duda, d’Arnaud…etc, etc, etc. Hey, maybe Chris Sale isn’t enough to beat us, although the Nationals will never know. You know, maybe we’ve got some better hitters than Andrew McCutchen on our roster — although the Nationals may never have the chance to find out either. We’re pretty good, is the point — Sale and McCutchen or just McCutchen or not, we’ve got a team that you’ve got to work to beat, and without Sale, you’ve got to work all the harder.
Sandy Alderson, apparently, isn’t ready to admit that maybe, just maybe, we’re doing ok. “If he ended up in our division we would have had to deal with it, but it didn’t happen,” he said, again regarding Sale. “But guess what, somebody else will end up in our division, so we’ll have to deal with that.”
Sure, somebody else will land in our division. And we’ll have to deal with them. Meanwhile, they’ll have to deal with our fearsome pitching staff, our solid solid bullpen, and our slugging, powerful lineup. We can deal with people. We’ve been doing it for the last few years now, and I don’t see it stopping any time soon. Maybe we’re the ones who are actually tough to deal with.
“We dodged a bullet,” Terry said, regarding Sale’s trade to Boston. He neglected to mention the fact that within our 25 man roster, we’ve got, ready to fire, some pretty formidable bullets of our own.