Sometimes your favorite team doesn't make the playoffs, and if you're in that unenviable position this year, we at Beyond the Box Score want to help you decide who you're going to root for (or against) this postseason. We'll be publishing ten articles, one for each playoff team, with writers laying out the case in favor of and opposed to each team. In this one, the team from the nation's capital, the Washington Nationals.
Root for the Nationals
This postseason, the Cubs are looking to end an epic championship drought. The Giants are looking for some even-year magic and the Dodgers send one of the best pitchers in baseball to the mound for October redemption. Then there are the Washington Nationals, a team with all of that and even better hair:
Pitching: You want a 20-game winner? You want that ace looking for another chance in October? Enter Max Scherzer. He averaged 11.2 K/9 and held batters to .255 BABIP in 2016, good for 4th and 7th in MLB. Tanner Roark allowed only 0.73 home runs per 9 innings (7th in baseball) and Gio Gonzalez allowed 0.96/9 (10th in the NL). Those three pitchers have a combined fWAR of 11.6. If you watch the playoffs for multiple high-octane aces mowing down opposing lineups, the Nationals are your team.
Dark horse status: Before they won the NL East in 2012, the District hadn't seen postseason ball in seventy-nine years! This is the third even-year postseason for the Nats (2012, 2014, 2016, with none in between), and it's time for them to steal that magic from the Giants. The Cubs haven't been to the World Series since 1945, but Washington hasn't been since 1933. They won their only title in 1924. The Nats, just as much as the Cubs, are history's underdogs.
(Any Cardinals fans here? Huddle up. Unfortunately, this is not just a bad dream; our team missed the playoffs. Suck it up, put on your Kozma jersey, and cheer for the Nats because they have a good story and, most importantly, are not the Cubs.)
Trea Turner: Trea is the Rookie of the Second Half, since he was not called up permanently until July 8th. After that call-up, he batted .340, good for 6th in the NL among everyone with 200+ plate appearances over that span. He's also fast. Like, really fast. Since the break, Trea has thirteen triples. That's more than sixteen teams had altogether! Teams. In an entire season. Since the All Star break he also has the most stolen bases in baseball (33). Not only is he fun to watch because he's new, he's fun to watch because his brand of baseball is deeply exciting.
The Veteran: If you're looking for more emotional appeal, take a look at Ryan Zimmerman. He's been with the Nats as long as they've been the Nats. Zimm is the literal face of the franchise, as he was a September callup in their first season, 2005. In twelve years this is only his third trip to October baseball. He played at RFK. He went through two seasons of 100+ losses. He suffered through the Descalso/Kozma-induced Game 5 implosion and that awful 18-inning game of the 2014 NLDS. He deserves the chance to win the World Series as a Nat.
Great hair: Behold, Anthony Rendon:
and Jayson Werth:
What more could you possibly be looking for in a playoff team? The District's NLCS drought is twelve years longer than the Cubs'; it is time for the Nationals to finally see the World Series. And take pity on residents of the District of Columbia. If the Nats win, maybe they'll put little World Series trophies on everything instead of the "Curly W" (read: Walgreens) logo. Root for the team at the corner of happy and healthy!
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Root against the Nationals
Do you enjoy bland, faceless corporations? Is history just, like, the most boring thing ever and not important to you? Do you struggle to come up with ideas of your own and would rather copy off of others? Then the Washington Nationals are for you!
Ok, sure, there are a few things to like here. Max Scherzer pitches like his hair is on fire in the postseason, as this Tigers fan can attest. Trea Turner is lightning personified in a baseball player (when he actually plays, that is). A healthy Bryce Harper is a baseball
demigod capable of nearly carrying a flawed roster to the postseason all on his own.
But have you been to Nationals Park? If not, don't worry. Just wait for any commercial break, and you'll get the same experience. The crowd volume rivals that of a Thursday afternoon on the PGA Tour, and that's if they show up. Most of the young professionals at a given game can't be trifled with the event itself; it's just the cheapest place to buy beer in this town. The food is as bland as any ballpark I've ever seen, unless you want to wait 45 minutes for soggy Shake Shack (pro tip for DMV residents: Good Stuff is better). The press box is practically stationed at the top of the Washington Monument itself, all just so the team can fit more luxury boxes for the soul-less, overpaid corporate shills that have absolved D.C. of any character.
Sure, glance up towards those boxes and you'll see the names of all-time greats that played in the District way back when. Walter Johnson. Goose Goslin. Even former Montreal Expo Gary Carter. You better memorize those names, though, because you won't hear them otherwise. Asking the Nationals to recognize their past – namely, the 36 years they spent in Montreal – is likely met with the same contempt D.C. residents hold towards those who stand in one place on the Metro escalators. This is a franchise that honored Jordan Zimmermann as its all-time wins leader when he returned as a member of the Detroit Tigers last May. Never mind the four pitchers who surpassed that total (including Steve Rogers' 158) in their years north of the border.
Of course, nothing from anywhere else is worth the District's time – unless it hails from New York. D.C.'s inferiority complex with the Big Apple runs deep, but luckily, the Nats haven't caught on just yet. In fact, they're perfectly comfortable copying the New York Jets, and think that "N-A-T-S NATS NATS NATS!" is an acceptable post-run-scoring chant. There's also the President's Race, which was plagarized from Milwaukee. As Audrey pointed out, even their logo looks familiar.
Oh, I almost forgot something: my finishing move.