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How the Nationals went 19-31 through 50 games to go all the way to win the World Series.
19-31, that was the Nats’ record through roughly a third of the season. They are now
the newly crowned World Champions. How does that happen?
One of the reasons may well be the fact that Washington’s roster is the oldest in
baseball. If experience teaches us anything, it’s that in life (and in sports) things can
turn around in a hurry. So if an outlook is bleak, you don’t panic. You just take a step
back, analyse the situation and work harder to resolve it.
And did the Nationals ever resolve it!
5-0 during the post-season in elimination games, the Nats displayed a level of resolve
and togetherness only a veteran group of players can achieve. Two of those elimination
games were Games 6 and 7 of the World Series.
Game 6 was all about Stephen Strasburg’s stuff and MVP candidate Anthony Rendon’s
unreal tools and poise under pressure. Strasburg was masterful for 8 1/3 innings and
probably should have been allowed to complete the game, a rare feat in modern day
baseball. Rendon was 3-for-4 with a homer, 5 RBI and a few stellar defensive plays, but
mostly he was clutch in the late innings.
In Game 7, unexpectedly, we finally got the pitchers’ duel we had been waiting for all
Series. Max Scherzer was the Scherzer of old and Zack Greinke looked like Greg Maddux
in his prime, carving away at the Nats’ lineup with his crafty efficiency. But in the end,
just as it did in the Game 2 blowout (12-3 loss), it was the Astros’ bullpen that let them
Strasburg was named World Series MVP, but Rendon was the everyday player who
carried the champs on his cool, steady back. His 2 HR and 8 RBI tell only part of the
story. Rendon showed why he is a perennial gold glove candidate at third base and put
constant pressure on the Astros’ pitchers with his relentless patience and battle level in
the batter’s box. And the more crucial the moment, the more locked in he looked, like a
cold hearted assassin!
Many fringe baseball followers also discovered what sophomore phenom Juan Soto was
all about. Not your typical 20 year old, Soto showed maturity beyond his years with his
disciplined approach at the plate, playing to his strengths, repeatedly spitting on balls
out of the strike zone and pouncing on elevated mistake offerings.
The Series did go the distance however and we must acknowledge an Astros’ player who
could be dubbed the new “Mister October”. Going into Game 7, George Springer held
the best ever post-season OPS (1,380) among players with at least 50 AB. Despite going
0-for-4 in Game 7, Springer’s World Series OPS was 1,108, with 2 HR, 4 RBI and 6 runs.
His contribution would have paid off if the Houston offense hadn’t left so many runners
on the base baths.
This Fall Classic will forever be remembered as the first best of 7 series in all major
sports history lasting at least 6 games to ever have the visiting team win every game. As
if that weren’t enough, the Nationals became only the second team in MLB history to
sweep their LCS and go on to win the World Series (previous such teams were 1-7).
But as it does every year, baseball’s Grand Finale has left us with a few eye-opening
observations on the game’s current and possible future tendencies:
- Starters still rule: In this analytics age of openers, excessive pitching changes and
pitch count obsessiveness, the two teams with the best trios of starters made it
to end. Both the Nats and Astros came in with good bullpens but were still
betrayed by them on a few occasions.
- Grinders matter: In the year of the homerun (and strikeout), both finalists were
among the most disciplined squads (strikeout avoidance) at the plate during the
regular season. Both lineups proved that even elite pitching can be beat by
grinding out at bats and forcing hurlers to throw strikes. Understated stars like
Adam Eaton and Michael Brantley proved their worth.
- Youth movement? Not so fast: As mentioned, the champs are the oldest team in
the majors. The Astros are the 4 th oldest. Yes, young players are having more of
an impact on the game than ever before, but winners still need the wisdom and
leadership that only veterans like Ryan Zimmerman and Kyle Kendrick can