They have 17 to play. They lead the Braves, their closest pursuers, by 61
2 games in the standings — and the Braves needed to win Friday night and Saturday afternoon to get that close. The division championship, and the corresponding spot in the playoffs, is edging tantalizingly close — close enough that, at some point during a seven-game homestand that begins Tuesday, a crowd at Nationals Park might be looking down on a hugging group of players, celebrating along with them, champagne to come. And that means fall could be fundamentally altered in Washington, where “autumn” and “Redskins season” have been synonymous since 1937.
In other cities, Boston or Philadelphia or New York — especially New York — such a baseball story line could be something of an expectation. But here in poor, poor Washington, this is all so new.
Consider: The District’s major league team, when it was officially dubbed the Senators, last won its league (American) in a year (1933) when Franklin D. Roosevelt was was serving the first of his four presidential terms. Over the next 27 seasons, that same franchise posted all of four winning seasons. (By way of comparison, those Senators lost 95 or more games five times.) The cumulative winning percentage over that time: .447.
That team, mercifully to some, left town and became the Minnesota Twins. It was immediately replaced by an expansion outfit that was no better. In the next 11 seasons, there were 10 losers and one winner. The franchise bolted to Texas. Thus, 38 seasons in which the Senators lost 797 more games than they won and never reached the postseason were followed by 33 summers without any baseball at all.
Which was worse? Hard to say. In 2005, when the Expos relocated from Montreal and became the Nationals, they finished an even 81-81. But given how it happened — an enthralling first half of the season in which they went 50-31, followed by a collapse in the second half in which they went, symmetrically and painfully, 31-50 — it was difficult.
Some fan bases will tell you they have endured more misery. But think about it: There are 30 major league franchises representing 28 cities. The city with the next-longest postseason drought is Kansas City, where the Royals won the World Series in 1985 and haven’t made the playoffs since. Washington has a 53-year (dis)advantage on that.