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The Washington Nationals Are The Team Of Destiny, Until They're Not

When you did not fuck up this time.
Photo: Patrick Smith (Getty Images)

For the entirety of their brief existence in the nation’s capital, the Washington Nationals have been too insignificant or too lousy or too unlucky or too self-defeating to hate. This is not to say that I haven’t figured out various ways to do it over the years, but also I am not without some interest in all this as both a Mets fan and—and please forgive the redundancy, here—an emotionally troubled weirdo. And yet, after winning their first-ever Wild Card game and then winning the games they’ve traditionally lost*, outlasting the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, and absolutely running through the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship series, those very same Nationals—a team whose legacy is mostly a sprawl of Brad Wilkerson– and Jose Vidro–grade Guys, a few devastating postseason losses, and some powerfully creepy elite fans—look like a team of destiny.

So hell yes we talked about that:

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It seemed important to get the conversation in before the Nationals have to deal with either the Astros or the Yankees, both of which seem somehow too talented and too inexorable to qualify for Team Of Destiny status. But while we wait for the World Series to shape up and shake out, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate how the Nationals did all this. Which, as the person who holds himself out as a Baseball Knower on this podcast, honestly looks to me a lot like how they reliably failed to do it in the recent past. The history of the organization is brief enough that many—if notably not all—of the club’s first real player development success stories are still major contributors to this team’s success; in the case of Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg, they could also be playing their last games in the team’s uniform if management decides not to retain them as free agents. Beyond that, the Nats have spent money to augment that homegrown core in more or less the ways that other teams do, and have fared better with bigger free agent swings like Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin than many of their peers in the league’s striving upper middle class. This is all good.

And yet getting big things right and smaller things less right—tough ones like bullpen and bench depth and also easier ones like hiring and keeping decent managers—isn’t the sort of formula that ordinarily gets a team to the World Series. It is, instead, one that usually gets teams right about where the Nationals have usually ended up—a little bit shy of the ultimate goal, and faced with questions about what they’re truly committed to and how committed they are to it. For it to work as well as it has requires the sort of Team Of Destiny kismet that the Nationals have enjoyed—it means Howie Kendrick hitting like peak Robinson Canó at the right moment, for instance, and it also means Anibal Sanchez pitching like Max Scherzer—and some luck, but that doesn’t really make it a fluke. It’s October, and transformations like this happen in October. They don’t always last through to the champagne shower and hungover parade portion of the month, but they don’t always peter out before then, either. The trick is to do what the Nationals finally figured out how to do, which is to give themselves a chance in hopes that the bounces and blessings that define how things work during this month might start going some strange new way.

If that seems like a lot of words about a team I don’t like, you should know that the rest of the podcast is us talking about whether the Miami Dolphins can lose every game, the Patriots can win every game, and the etiquette of listening to video with the volume on while pooping in public. Victor joined us for the Funbag portion and once again made a valuable contribution, in this case one so harrowing and adult that we couldn’t really address it on mic. It wouldn’t be a Deadcast without all that, too, but the Nationals part is the fun part, as is often the case with the questions we don’t know the answers to yet.

Also before I forget, here is the unholy bathroom setup I referenced at the end of the podcast:

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It seemed important. It seemed like something that all of us deserved to look at, and think about.

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UPDATE: This post was corrected to reflect the fact that while the Nats had traditionally duffed it bad in the postseason, they had never played in a Wild Card game until this year.

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About the author

David Roth

David Roth is an editor at Deadspin.