Postseason baseball will be coming back to the nation’s capital, as your Washington Nationals clinched a playoff berth for the first time in franchise history, second if you count the time as the Montreal Expos. This doesn’t mean the Nats have clinched the division, but assuming they play at a reasonably high level for the remainder of the season, the National League East should be theirs.
Everything is looking pretty good in the land of “Natitude.”
The Nats accomplished the postseason berth by having arguably the top pitching staff in the game, ranking in the top two in the majors in ERA, WHIP and opponents’ batting average.
Traditionally, having good pitching is a recipe for success for a team to make a deep playoff run. Good news for the Nats.
Unfortunately, most of the pitchers for the Nationals have little or no playoff experience, so the bright lights of October could be somewhat disorienting.
The key player for the Nats offense will likely be Ryan Zimmerman, who is the second-most tenured athlete in the D.C. area (just behind Capitals forward Brooks Laich). Zimmerman has long been considered the face of the franchise during the dark times before Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
With a postseason berth all but assured, it is time for Zimmerman to live up to his status and be a key offensive contributor for the team.
But if history is any indicator, the biggest heroes in October are often the players least expected to make big contributions.
In Game 6 of last year’s World Series, St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese secured his place in baseball lore. With the Cardinals trailing by two runs and down to their final strike, Freese hit a triple to tie the game and then hit a walk off home run two innings later to win it.
While the success of the Nationals in the regular season is excellent, it is important to remember not to get carried away.
October is unlike any other month. October is where great teams become elite.
In October, what happens in the regular season means almost nothing.
All of those over-the-top commercials that talk about how October is where heroes are made are all correct.
So the big question is: Are the Nats a great regular-season team or a championship-quality team?
If anything is certain, it’s that anything can happen in October. Unless you’re the Cubs, in which case you know going into the postseason you won’t be winning a championship.
The best advice for all Nats fans about the playoffs is to not settle for anything less than a championship. Runner up is just the first loser.
As a Yankees fan, I can tell you with no hesitation that nothing is worse than going to the playoffs and being eliminated. It doesn’t matter how big or small your payroll is, losing in the postseason is absolutely miserable.
Nothing is guaranteed in sports, and missing out on an opportunity to win a championship will haunt for months, maybe even years. Just ask the Red Sox.
What is interesting about the situation is that despite going to the playoffs for the first time since the move to D.C., the Nats are arguably the favorite to win the series.
More than anything else, embrace October. It is the greatest month of the year for baseball. Enjoy the month, but remember when the final pitch is thrown, make sure that it’s your team holding up the trophy as the best in the world.