Down 3-1 in the eighth inning of the National League Wild Card Game to the Milwaukee Brewers, it looked likely that the Washington Nationals’ postseason fate would end in just one decisive game. After a meltdown by Milwaukee closer Josh Hader, loading the bases with consecutive walks, Juan Soto ripped an RBI single to right field that should’ve scored just two runs, but right fielder Trent Grisham misplayed the ball, allowing all three runners to score, giving Washington the lead for good, 4-3.
Since that game, this team has been rolling. They beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were World Series favorites all year long, in five games in the NL Division Series. Then in the NL Championship Series, the Nationals breezed past the St. Louis Cardinals, sweeping them in four games.
With a rotation consisting of two Cy Young caliber pitchers in Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, along with Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez, this team possesses a stellar rotation. But no one expected them to be here. Not a single person could’ve predicted that the Nationals would beat the NL-best Dodgers, nevermind do it on the road in LA in extra innings.
Between their pitching and players getting the job done at the plate, Washington’s run to their first-ever World Series appearance has been remarkable.
The Rotation Has Set the Tone
In 10 postseason games, the Nationals rotation has been stellar. They sport a 2.14 ERA, striking out 88 hitters in just 61.2 innings pitched, as opponents hit just .168 against their offerings. Strasburg has made three starts throughout October, going 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA and 33 strikeouts in just 22 frames. He has walked just one batter the entire postseason. Like always, the Nationals righty has thrown tons of first-pitch strikes, and between his explosive mid 90s heater and above-average changeup that dives away from lefties and gets in on the hands of righties, he has been absolutely dominant.
Scherzer has done Scherzer-like things for the Nats, going 2-0 in three starts with a 1.80 ERA through 20 innings this postseason. He has also struck out 27 batters while holding opponents to just a .134 batting average. Mad Max is the ultimate competitor and definitely the guy that any manager can rely on in a big game. Scherzer always comes ready to pitch, and his mound presence is second to none. He owns those 60.6 feet between the mound and the plate, not the hitter. The three-time Cy Young Award winner pitched seven innings in each of his last two starts — which were in the NLDS and NLCS.
Sanchez has been spectacular this postseason for Washington, posting a 0.71 ERA in 12.2 innings. He has been a consistent pitcher throughout his postseason career and gives the Nationals a solid third or fourth option in their rotation, depending on how they want to use Corbin. But considering how Corbin has been used both out of the bullpen and in a starting role this postseason, and struggled in both roles, Sanchez has been their third-most reliable starting pitcher.
Their bullpen hasn’t been as productive this October, as they own a 4.76 ERA. But Strasburg, Scherzer, and Sanchez have given manager Dave Martinez so much longevity every time they’ve taken the mound this postseason; the bullpen hasn’t had to do a whole lot anyway.
Clutch Hitting From Seasoned Veterans
Who needs Bryce Harper when you have Anthony Rendon? Nationals fans have been saying that all year, especially after his MVP-caliber 2019 season where he slugged 34 home runs and hit .319. Rendon has continued that trend in the postseason, hitting .375 with one home run and seven RBIs. The former first-rounder has registered three multi-hit games this October as well.
Rendon is the heartbeat of this offense, and whenever he gets on base, it always seems like the Nationals muster something with the bats. Rendon is the star that the Nationals want and need. He didn’t get as much recognition when Harper was in D.C., but he has proven all year that he’s arguably one of the best players in the game and a vital piece of this franchise.
Every single postseason someone emerges as a star, whether it’s a youngster or a veteran. This year, it has been 36-year old Howie Kendrick. A major-league journeyman who has played for four different teams over his 13-year career, Kendrick was the sole reason why the Nationals beat the Dodgers in the decisive Game 5 of the NLDS. He smashed a grand slam off Joe Kelly in the 10th inning to send his team to the NLCS. The Nationals slugger has hit .289 with nine RBIs this postseason, a single-season playoff record for the franchise.
Kendrick’s timely hits have been huge for this ballclub, including four RBIs in the NLCS. He laced three doubles in Game 3 against the Red Birds, driving in three runs in that contest alone. He was also named the NLCS MVP. Kendrick had a very good season in Washington, hitting .344 with 17 home runs in 121 games. But in his postseason career, he’s only a .231 hitter; no one could’ve guessed that Kendrick would be Washington’s postseason hero.
Ryan Zimmerman is the one player on the Nationals who has been through all the highs and lows. He made his big-league debut with Washington in 2005 and has been with this organization ever since. All the losing years, all the disappointment, and 14 years later Zimmerman is finally stepping up on the biggest stage. The 35-year old has definitely done his part this October, hitting .290 with a home run and five RBIs. He drove in two runs in Game 3 of the NLCS against the Cardinals and drove in three runs in a possible elimination game in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Dodgers.
Zimmerman is the heart and soul of this franchise and the first player the Nationals drafted after moving from Montreal. He has given his blood, sweat, and tears to this organization, and it’s great to see him finally rewarded for his hard work over the years. He’s the ultimate leader and a huge reason the Nationals are advancing to their first World Series since 1933 when they were the Washington Senators. It goes a lot deeper than Zimmerman’s abilities on the field; he contributes to this ballclub and represents the franchise in many ways.
Rendon, Kendrick, and Zimmerman have done the most damage offensively for the Nationals in the playoffs. But Soto, Victor Robles, Adam Eaton, Trea Turner, and others have come through with clutch hits.
It Has Been Quite the Story
The road for the Washington Nationals to their first-ever World Series appearance hasn’t been easy. They were on the brink of elimination numerous times, but they never lost faith. Knowing they’ve never advanced past the Division Series, this team was ready to rewrite the history books, and that’s exactly what they’ve done.
As they await their opponent from the American League, one thing is for sure: whether it’s the Houston Astros or New York Yankees, the Nationals aren’t intimidated. With a trio of electric arms and an offense that has been swinging the bats extremely well, anything is possible in the prestigious Fall Classic.