The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Could Game 5 be the most-watched Nationals game in franchise history?

The Nationals celebrate after Wednesday night’s win in Chicago. (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)

Five years to the day after setting a franchise record for local TV ratings, the Nationals could finally be ready to challenge that mark.

The Nats drew a massive 16.7 rating in the Washington market for their Game 5 matchup against the Cardinals in 2012, that unforgettable heartbreaker in which Washington took a huge lead that gradually disappeared and then ended in silence. And no game since has come close.

But think about the context around Game 5 of the Nats-Cubs National League Division Series, which will be broadcast on TBS on Thursday starting just after 8 p.m.

  • While the Cardinals are a glamour opponent with a national fan base, the Cubs are an even more glamorous opponent with an even more national fan base — and are also the defending World Series champions.

The dumbest streak in sports might actually end tonight

  • Washington’s fan base has grown since 2012 — grown more cynical, sure, and more scarred, and more weary, and more wounded, and more wary, and more familiar with the different ways life can press its cruel boot upon your face. But also grown in, like, numbers. Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand reported this week that the Nats posted their highest-ever TV ratings this season, averaging a 2.91 rating on MASN and MASN2, up 8 percent from 2016.
  • In that 2012 divisional series, the Nationals drew an 8.4 rating for Game 1, a 7.8 rating for Game 2 and a 9.1 rating for Game 4. (Game 3 was on MLB Network in the middle of a work day and did considerably worse.) This time around, the Nats drew a 7.2 rating for Game 1, a 6.8 rating for Game 2, a 9.0 rating for Game 3 and an 8.8 rating for Game 4. That’s at least in the same neighborhood, setting the stage for a Game 5 explosion.
  • And the Nats got that 8.8 rating Wednesday despite Game 4 having been rained out the previous day, and despite the game starting just after 4 p.m. Eastern, and despite there being almost no scoring for the first seven innings.
  • Last year’s Game 5 against the Dodgers got just a 10.3 rating in the D.C. market, for a broadcast on FS1. But there’s certainly more optimism in Washington this time around, absent the crushing late-season injuries to Wilson Ramos and Stephen Strasburg. And after Strasburg’s Wednesday night gem and Michael A. Taylor’s Wednesday night grand slam, the Nationals haven’t had this sort of postseason momentum — which could prompt the most casual of fans to flip to TBS — since, that’s right, Jayson Werth in 2012.

No guarantees on any of this. The 16.7 number is massive and might be unrealistic. But it would be truly surprising if the Nats don’t at least record their second-biggest local television audience in franchise history Thursday night.

(And since people might be curious, the Redskins this season have received TV ratings of 19.1, 20.5, 23.3 and 23.2, although we’re comparing broadcast vs. cable and a 16-games-a-year sport vs. something different, and no, I don’t know why anyone cares about TV ratings anyhow.)

Read more about the Nats:

This Nats fan saw Jayson Werth’s and Michael A. Taylor’s homers in person

Redemption is on Gio Gonzalez’s mind entering Game 5

Jayson Werth is starting in left field in what may be his last game with the Nationals