Quick quiz: Who has the longest World Series appearance drought in Major League Baseball today? If you said the Washington Nationals, then congratulations! Actually, I should probably sympathize with you, because you’re probably also a tortured Nationals fan like me. Since their inception in 1969, the Washington organization has NEVER been to a World Series – a 48-year drought.
In the past couple of years, Nationals fans have seen our beloved team show signs of promise, dominating the NL East, and making it to October three times in the past five years. However, the Nationals have failed to get out of the National League Division Series each time, leaving Washington baseball fans to hope that next year will be the year that the Nats live up to their tremendous potential. With the Nationals headed to the playoffs again in 2017, every fan hopes desperately that this year the Nationals can finally make a deep playoff run. Here are five ways the Nationals can avoid an early playoff exit in 2017.
1 Stephen Strasburg's continued dominance
Remember when Stephen Strasburg was just a prospect in minors and he struck everyone out, including the umpires? And then he came to the majors and, though he pitched well, he could never really get into the swing of things because he was always hurt? Remember when 2017 looked like it was going to be that way again?
Because Stephen Strasburg doesn't care about any of that. He's here to throw ridiculous 97 MPH fastballs and curveballs that start at your head and end up in the dirt. 2017 has been the year of Strasburg for the Nationals and it seems like he's here to stay. Strasburg has been nothing short of amazing this year for Washington, and it's his dominance on the hill that has played a massive part in Nationals lead over the NL East.
So far this year, Strasburg is 14-4, with a 1.027 WHIP, 10.5 K/9, and a 2.60 ERA. The only 2 National League pitchers to match or best him are Max Scherzer (2.59) and Clayton Kershaw (2.12). Strasburg has also only gotten better as the playoffs approach: over his past 5 starts, Strasburg has allowed only four walks, while striking out 41, and posting a .175/.202/.233 line. He's also only allowed one run in the past 40 innings. If Strasburg can keep it up, the Nats should have no problem running deep into October
2 Keep Closing Games
The first half of the season was a scary time to root for Washington. Unless the Nats brought a 5 or 6 run lead into the late innings with them, a win was uncertain. Then the trade deadline rolled around, in came assurance in Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, and things really calmed down in the clubhouse. Nowadays, the Nationals bullpen is as good as any in the Major Leagues, and Doolittle and Madson deserve most of the credit.
The two have been absolute saviors (no pun intended) to the Nationals season, with the two posting 2.08 and 1.13 ERA respectively. Madson has only let up 2 runs in 16 innings and has gone 3-0 since joining the Nationals, and Doolittle hasn't blown a save in 18 attempts since coming to the Capitol. Add into the mix that Matt Albers is having a career year, and the Nationals are a tough team to beat, especially after the 6th inning which, as we all know, is where games are really won or lost come October.
3 The Ryan-aissance
Since being drafted by the Nationals in 2005, Ryan"Zimm" Zimmerman has been a huge asset to the roster, providing a key fill-in role from first base to the outfield. But in 2017? Forget about it. In this, his 13th year in the League, Ryan Zimmerman has been nothing short of a franchise player for the Nationals.
Coming off a tough 2016 in which he hit only .218 with 15 home runs and 45 RBIs, Zimm has exploded in 2017, hitting .301 with 33 home runs and 99 RBIs. That sort of 1-year turnaround is right out of a made-for-TV movie, but this is the reality for Washington. Zimmerman also has 29 doubles (up from 18 last year) and a .917 OPS. This production led him to be selected to start in the 2017 All-Star Game. It was just the second time that Zimm had ever been selected to the team at all, the first time coming in 2009. The Nationals will be hoping that Ryan Zimmerman can keep his Ryan-aissance alive and that his big bat will lead them into late October.
4 Bench Depth
Injuries have ravaged the Nationals in 2017, with players like Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner, and Adam Eaton all going down for large chunks (or the entirety) of the season. Usually, with that many starters on the DL, a franchise can kiss its season goodbye. However, the Nationals have been able to stay on top thanks to the extreme depth that their organization contains.
Players like Michael A. Taylor, Wilmer Difo, and Brian Goodwin have stepped up and played fantastically for the Nats, proving that Washington is not a team that relies on only its top stars to produce top-quality baseball night in and night out.
Though at times they're not perfect (Taylor certainly has some brain fade moments out in center field), the Nationals bench has proven that they are very capable Major League players, and can more than adequately fill in when others need a breather. Taylor and Goodwin are slugging .478 and .498 respectively, and Difo is batting .278. Add in crafty veterans Howie Kendrick and Adam Lind to the mix, and you have a roster with the type of depth that can only be rivaled by the Dodgers. It's this type of depth that could allow the Nationals to head deep into October
5 A Good October from Bryce Harper
It was the fall that produced 1000 memes, and had every Nationals fan on the edge of their seats, watching their entire season flash before their eyes. When Bryce Harper went down on August 12th, Washington expected the worst. Though the news could have been better, it's looking like Bryce will be back for the playoff run, taking batting practice and running the bases in the past few days. And the timing couldn't be better! If Bryce can get in a few games while the regular season is still going, he can heat up just in time to make a big impact come October.
Another player experiencing a bounce-back year, Harper was looking strong before his injury, hitting .326 with an OPS of 1.034 and 87 RBIs. Harper had a lackluster 2016 season, but it finally looked like he was back on track this year. Though it's impossible to say whether Bryce will return with the same vigor and fire that he had prior to August 12th, every Nationals fan will certainly be hoping that number 34 can make the impact in October that we've been praying for since drafting him back in 2010. Though Bryce hasn't been stellar in past playoff performances, the Nationals have built a team that can consistently produce and will be looking for its star to take his rightful place at the helm come October.
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