I’ll be honest: this bit doesn’t really work. Sure, it came through the first time I did it, but the next year it fell short, and then the year after that it got wiped off the floor without the Dodgers breaking a sweat.
But I’m still chasing that high of the 2015 Division Series against the Mets, which the Mets won. So, in honor of the Division Series between the Nationals and Dodgers starting tonight, here are some reasons that you might consider rooting for Washington, and not just against Los Angeles.
Juan Soto, Victor Robles, and Anthony Rendon
Juan Soto got the game winning hit on Monday night, and he’s literally 8 years old. Maybe younger. Look, when he finally goes through puberty he’ll be 14 feet tall and hit homers with an indifferent flick of his wrist, but for now, he’s just an incredibly good baseball player who’s becoming a star on a huge stage, and that’s always massively exciting.
Robles, an early favorite for Rookie of the Year who will lose out to Pete Alonso, is a defensive wizard who still has unrealized offensive potential. But think about how fun defensive wizards are! Even when Steven Duggar isn’t hitting, watching him in the outfield is an absolute dang treat, and Robles is certainly a better hitter than Duggar, and he’s a better center fielder too. That’s not a slight against Duggar; it’s just pointing out that Robles is really damn good out there.
Anthony Rendon will not win the MVP this year, which is a shame, because he’s had a great year in a stretch of great years. By fWAR, he’s been worth 19.9 wins over the last three years. He just mashes the dang ball. You know what’s cool in baseball? Watching someone just mash the dang ball.
They, uh, don’t rely on their bullpen
Using a lot of relievers gives a team a marginal advantage that allows it to win more games than its talent level would suggest. That’s the theory, anyway. And it sucks. You watched the Giants use 8 relievers every game in September. It was awful.
The Nationals don’t do that. They can’t. Their bullpen is notoriously weak. Their team is built around starting pitching, and they had the best rotation in baseball. Aesthetically, that is delightful. Watching one guy take the mound trying to shut down the other team is what baseball’s been about for a long, long time, and yes, times are changing, but it’s great to see a team trying to win the old way. The old way keeps the game moving. It’s familiar. But most importantly, it’s dramatic. It’s fun.
Think about Max Scherzer going deep in a playoff game, or Stephen Strasburg, or Patrick Corbin. Any of those guys can shut down a lineup the third time through. They’re total throwbacks to a different era, and seeing them up against the ultra-modern Dodgers will be a treat. A treat that the Nationals will hopefully win no I don’t know how to win treats leave me and my metaphor alone.
They played an incredible Wild Card Game
There was no way they were going to win that game. None. They were down 3-1, and being the Washington Nationals, avatars of postseason failure, there was no chance they’d come back. This is how the world works. The sun rises in the east, the movies you loved as a child get remade without artistic purpose because the remakes will make money, and the Nationals lose in the playoffs. It’s almost comforting, in its way.
And then they got a break in the eighth inning — Michael Taylor being awarded first base on what could well have been a foul ball. And then they got another — a nice 69 MPH dying quail from Ryan Zimmerman that dropped in. And then, after a walk, what should have been a two-run (at most) Juan Soto single got misplayed into a three-run Juan Soto double, and suddenly the Washington Nationals were on track to advance in the playoffs.
You can read more about it in Sami’s piece, and you should, but that inning was a revelation for Nationals fans: proof that success was possible for them too. It was a distillation of every bit of optimism that a baseball fan has when their team is in the playoffs; it was dramatic, and unexpected, and joyful, and in a way entirely expected. You watch baseball for moments like that, but it’s always a minor miracle when you see one.
They’re the only team in the NL left who’s not abhorrent
Who else are you going to root for in the National League? The Braves? The Braves, with their racist-ass Tomahawk Chop and history of being total dipwad failures in the playoffs? Those Braves? The Cardinals? The Cardinals who were happy to let Matt Holliday try to break Marco Scutaro’s leg, and who style their fans the Best Fans In Baseball for some idiot reason, and who act like some plucky underdog even though their payroll is basically the exact same as the decidedly large market Giants’, and who are, I remind you, the goddamn Cardinals? The Dodgers? Are you going to root for the Dodgers and BE SENT TO THE HAGUE?
No, you’re not. The Washington Nationals are the clear best choice in the National League.