Some will disagree and cite a need for parades. That’s fine. I’m too pleased to argue. I suspect this World Series, regardless of result, will be our touchstone emotional moment: “Washington, meet baseball.”
Major league baseball was gone from Washington for so long — 33 years — and D.C. had gone without a World Series for so many years before that — 38, that I honestly wondered how many people in the District had any sense of what they were missing. And how excited they would be if they ever got it.
This is the season — and the month — when we will find out the level of bonding, the level of pent-up or never-tapped passion for the sport in the Washington area. For decades, I have been curious to find out what that level is. How can you know until it happens?
If this World Series is as competitive as I think it is going to be — a six- or seven-game affair between two excellent teams, with Houston a deserved favorite — I doubt D.C. will know what hit it. Oh, so that is what you have been babbling about all these years.
A major league season is a seven-month journey. You need the whole experience once — including all of October — for the memory to color your anticipation for every future season. So much is condensed in so short a time, fortunes swing so fast, that fans feel they are part of “the wave” that every Nationals player now says they are riding.
Consider: In 15 days the Nats had three elimination games, won them all and had four champagne-popping celebrations. That’s a quirk of making the playoffs as a wild card, but it’s as many celebrations as the 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017 teams, who all won the National League East, had combined.
Because the Astros won 107 games and won the World Series just two years ago, this World Series may be a short, unpleasant experience for the 93-win Nats. Plenty will predict that. The Nats have had so many days off (six) that their bats may have gone cold. Meanwhile, the Astros’ rest — two days — and their rotation, with Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke lined up for the first three games, is ideal. With home-field advantage, the Astros won’t even have to hop on a jet for Game 1.
History also frowns. The Nats can practice those long group hugs because, in a few days, they may need them. Only twice has the World Series been won by a team with a deficit of 14 or more wins in the regular season — the 1954 New York Giants and the 1906 Chicago White Sox.
Perhaps Washington will have to be satisfied with the memories from a team that will be loved for decades for what it already has done, bringing the World Series to D.C. for the first time in 86 years after rallying from 12 games under .500 in late May. Pulling off a stunt like that will get you remembered.
However, be wise and be warned: Prepare for perspiration, palpitations and some joyous pirouettes, too. Fill that medicine cabinet.
Since league championship series began in 1969, the team with the better regular season mark is 23-24 in the World Series. The “better” team has lost more. Since 1969, 15 World Series looked lopsided because one team had an edge of 10 or more regular season wins — as is the case now. The “better” team has a 7-8 record in those World Series.
One key factor may be pressure. The Astros have more experience handling it. But the Nats carry little weight of external expectation. High demands are the enemy of “fun” and free-flowing play. Can the Nats truly find that freewheeling place? While every Nats player passionately wants to win and probably expects to win because they have played so well for so long, no one outside the team demands much of them.
Washington is going to love them and talk about them for decades, whether they win four games against Houston or none. If a lesser team emerged from the AL, that’s a different tone. But the Nats, who already have beaten the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers, must face the Astros, too. Tall task.
Inside the Nats’ clubhouse, where only one player (reliever Hunter Strickland) has played on a World Series winner, the attitude will be totally different. Scherzer has been on a ring quest for 12 seasons and signed with the Nats to improve his chances.
Who is in the Hall of Fame that never won a World Series ring? Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Ken Griffey Jr., Rod Carew, Ernie Banks, Willie McCovey, Harmon Killebrew, Carl Yastrzemski, Juan Marichal, Tony Gwynn, Ryne Sandberg and many more. Trust me, players know this.
You get a chance, you don’t say, “Oh, we’re underdogs.” You say: “Let’s take the fight to these guys till the last pitch. This is our shot.”
In analyzing this World Series, are we looking at the full-season Astros and Nats or those two teams as constituted now? Players say, “Now.”
My view (it’s more fun this way): Since May 23, the Astros, including the postseason, are 81-41 and have scored 691 runs with a plus-182 run differential. The Nats are 82-40 and have scored 700 runs with a plus-203 run differential. I don’t see one exceptional, versatile, mash-or-manufacture offense; I see two multifaceted mirror images.
Add an X-Factor: NL teams seldom have a natural designated hitter for games in AL cities without denuding their bench. The Nats do with switch hitter Asdrúbal Cabrera (91 RBI), especially against Verlander (21 hits and 11 RBI, both in the top five of active players off the future Hall of Famer) and Greinke, whom he hits even better with a 1.079 on-base-plus-slugging-percentage in 37 at-bats. Also, how much will subtracting a DH limit the Astros in D.C.?
The Nats’ bullpen has improved recently but maybe not enough. Reluctant closer Daniel Hudson has a 1.47 ERA in his past 51 games. Since his return from the injured list, Sean Doolittle has a 2.35 ERA in 15 games. Rookie Tanner Rainey has allowed two runs in his past 13 games. Is this group, plus matchups for Rodney, an average bullpen?
Maybe. But how could the Nats get another “star-starter” arm in their bullpen as in previous series? I doubt they will do it because they aren’t paying Patrick Corbin $140 million to be a middle-inning reliever. But if you ride Aníbal Sánchez’s hot hand in Game 3 and (if necessary) 7 and bump Corbin to Game 4, then interesting options appear.
You could use Corbin for one (or two) innings of relief in Game 1 or 2 (but not in both), and he would still be rested enough for Game 4. He would have three days of rest to follow Sánchez in Game 7. By then, Scherzer, on two days’ rest, might go an inning in a Game 7, too.
Oh, and Strasburg’s “throw day” is Game 4. What bullpen problems?
See, the World Series makes you crazy — but in wonderful ways.
It’s reasonable to say the Astros are simply better than the Nationals. It’s also reasonable, at least in my chair, to say that — with the luck of perfect health, with peak team play in the proper month and with star starters who will work overtime to get their first rings — the Nats have risen to the magisterial level of the Astros.
And after so long a wait, this World Series will be played atop that very high hill.
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.