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The Nationals are a great team even if they’re not great villains

It seems like there should be more of a rivalry between these two teams.

Washington Nationals  v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

I don’t know if there’s a better team that I think less about than the Nationals. The past few seasons I’ve penciled them in as my projected NL East winners and forgot about them until the Giants have to play them. This might just be my west coast bias on display, but I don’t allocate a lot of my mental space to Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, and the rest of their extremely talented roster.

The Nationals might as well play in the American League because the way I feel the same way about an upcoming series against the Nationals as I do an Interleague series against the Mariners or the Twins. It’s less “These guys again,” and more, “Oh right, these guys exist.”

The fact that they’ve never made it past the NLDS could also explain why they don’t seem to stick in my memory. They also haven’t done anything annoying outside of being another baseball trying to win a baseball game to annoy the Giants.

How could you be mad at the Nationals? The worst they’ve ever done as a team is lose to the Dodgers in the playoffs. Some of their players pretend to be fans of Washington’s NFL team. If you’re looking for reasons to hate the Nationals, that’s about it.

It’s hard to get worked up about beating a team whose fans have only experienced disappointment and heartbreak. Consider Buster Posey’s reaction to Hunter Strickland beaning Harper last year. It spoke to what everyone watching was thinking. “How are you still mad?”

Maybe this speaks to the part of human nature where we think more about the things that irritate us than the things we enjoy. I don’t look forward to beating the Nationals the same way I look forward to beating the Cardinals or Phillies or Braves regardless of them being good or not. With each of those teams, there’s an obvious reason to spite them. The Cardinals still get a stupid competitive balance pick in the draft. There’s the ’93 season with the Braves (and the next 20 years of them being really good). Every Phillies fan loves Chase Utley.

But the Nationals and the Expos before them have never won a postseason series. I kind of feel bad for them. Not even the Capitals winning the Stanley Cup makes them into any more of a villain or even a rival. They’re just a good baseball team.

With how well the Giants have played in the past week, I’d figure this to be a competitive and fun series to watch. Barring Strickland being a redass, I’m not anticipating anything memorable. This will be the Solo: A Star Wars Movie of baseball series. Fun and enjoyable when you’re watching it, but you probably won’t be thinking about it in a week.

The Giants played the Nationals back in April, and I have no recollection of that series. I was delighted to see that the Giants took two out of three, though they were outscored 20-10.

Now that I’ve got you excited for this series, here are the good baseball boys you should watch.

Hitter to Watch

Prior to this year, Juan Soto had not played a game above Class-A. He’s still never played a game in AAA. Soto made the jump from AA to the big leagues and in 61 plate appearances he’s hit .346/.443/.538 with a 167 wRC+. He’s buoyed by a .390 BABIP, but he’s also walking as much as he’s striking out.

Also, he’s 19. When I was 19, I was top DPS in my World of Warcraft guild.

It’s a small sample-size, and he’s sure to regress toward the mean a bit, but he was still supposed to be a couple years away from the majors. He’s hitting like he doesn’t want to go anywhere.

Pitcher to Watch

In the last couple of years, other baseball writers have speculated that Max Scherzer, not Clayton Kershaw, was the best pitcher in baseball. The thought seemed ridiculous, and only people who don’t have to watch Kershaw decimate their team six times a year would believe it.

Not only is that not a ridiculous notion now, but it should be an agreed upon fact. Kershaw hasn’t been able to stay on the field, and when he has pitched, he hasn’t looked the same. Scherzer, on the other hand, is laying waste to all who stand before him. He has a 39% strikeout rate to back up his 1.95 ERA.

When the Giants faced him in April, they scored two runs off him in six innings, which is actually pretty good. In thirteen starts, he’s only given up more than two runs twice.

Prediction

Assuming the Giants will lose the Max Scherzer v Derek Lastname matchup on Sunday, the Giants will need to win the first two games to win the series. Let’s see what kind of odds Fangraphs gives the Giants.

Aw beans.

It’s not any better tomorrow, but hey, the Nationals only have 29% to sweep this weekend, so I’m saying the Giants win at least one game.