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The Washington Nationals and the postseason. Those two things don’t seem to happen often. In fact, the Nationals franchise has only reached the postseason one time in its 44 seasons of existence.
This year the Nationals look like a sure lock for the playoffs and are in contention for winning home-field advantage for the entire postseason. However, the Nationals will be heading into the playoffs without one of their best players, Stephen Strasburg. But it that the best decision for this team? Nationals manager Davey Johnson certainly cares about Strasburg future. But how about trying to win a World Series for a team with an unlucky past? Let’s take a quick look at the Nationals unfortunate past.
In 1969 the Montreal Expos, now the Nationals, became the MLB’s newest team in that years expansion. It took the Expos 11 seasons to produce its first winning team in 1979. That team, even though its record was 95-65, did not make the postseason because of the four-team playoff. Two years later in 1981, the Expos would reach the postseason for the first and only time in franchise history.
In the 1981 NLDS the Expos ended up defeating the Philadelphia Phillies in a 5-game series 3-2, but the NLCS did not go in their favor. The Expos lost the fifth and final game of the NLCS to the eventual World Series champion, the Los Angeles Dodgers, on a go-ahead home run in the top of the ninth inning. This day to Expos fans became known as Blue Monday.
Fast forward to 1994.
1994 was the last year that the Nationals franchise had a chance at making the playoffs. The 1994 season ended early on August 11 due to the players strike. At the time of the strike, the Expos had the best record in baseball at 74-40 and were legitimate World Series contenders. The strike erased any possibility of the Expos winning anything that year.
The Nationals franchise has only had four winning seasons since 1994. And since moving to Washington in 2005, the Nationals have ended in last place in the NL East 5 times and finished no better than third. You see the pattern here, winning in Washington hasn’t come easy. So why sit one of your best players when your team has good chance of winning that elusive first World Series?
Depending on who you ask, Stephen Strasburg is arguably the most valuable player on the Nationals roster right now. They will need him in the playoffs when they are facing other teams’ aces. Strasburg also has one of the hottest arms in baseball right now.
He finished the month of August with a 4-1 record. Aside from his recent struggle against the Marlins on Tuesday, he has been nearly unhittable. Take Tuesday’s performance out of the equation and Strasburg had only allowed 12 hits in his previous four starts. That is definitely the things you want to see from your ace pitcher late in the season. Strasburg is currently second in the NL in strikeouts with 195, while pitching fewer innings than the three that are in front of him. Strasburg is also tied for fourth in wins with 15.
Three and a half weeks remain in this year’s season. The Nationals are currently 86-53, and the lead the NL East over the Atlanta Braves by six and a half games. They boast the best record in baseball. If they can finish the season with the best record in the National League, they will earn home field advantage for as long as they remain in the playoffs thanks to the NL’s dominant performance in this years All-Star game.
Things are looking promising for the Nationals right now. The Nationals will be trying to reverse their organization’s troubled past this postseason. But if they want to have their greatest chance possible at hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy this fall, they will need Strasburg in their starting rotation.