These Nationals are better than your team is on paper


The Washington Nationals are going to the World Series.

Let that sink in.

It's a thought you would have kicked yourself for having on May 23, the low-water mark of this crazy season, when the Nationals were off to a 19-31 start and fans were calling for manager Dave Martinez's job like clockwork.
(Editor's Note: Just for kicks, look what else happened on May 23.)

The bullpen blows it late. 'Fire Davey!' The bullpen blows another one. 'Fire Davey!' They'll never win with this manager. 'FIRE DAVEY!'

Lo and behold, it was Martinez's cool demeanor that pulled them out of it, signaling to a clubhouse full of grizzled veterans – the oldest team in baseball, a novel thought – that there was no reason to panic.

And like clockwork, the Nationals front office tinkered, with Mike Rizzo and company quietly in search of answers behind the scenes. 

Who would fill the seventh inning, a role abandoned since Jump Street? Jonny Venters? No. George Kontos? No. Dan Jennings? A nice story, but sadly, no.

Move after move after move left the front office with Trevor Rosenthal egg stuck on their faces.

On May 18, Toronto designated Javy Guerra for assignment, a middling veteran reliever on a languishing Blue Jays club in search of its own youthful answers. The Nats scooped him up, and two days later, the 33-year-old right-hander made his first appearance in a Nationals uniform. That was the first of 40 appearances for Guerra, who'd eat 53.2 innings for the Nats to the tune of a 4.86 ERA.

Guerra is but one small acquisition in a season full of them, but is emblematic of an organization that never quit. It sounds trite, but baseball players are human beings, too. They have eyes and ears and can see the players coming in and out of their clubhouse. They have real, live interactions and the Nationals were able to put all the right people in a room together.

Gerardo Parra is another. Nothing about the 32-year-old's .198/.278/.267 slash line screamed season-changer when he became available after 30 games with the Giants. But Rizzo knew Parra's makeup from his time with Arizona. He knew he was getting more than just a bat off the bench or a warm body to give Adam Eaton a day off in right field or Matt Adams at first.

Parra signed on May 9 and gave the Nats a light-hearted injection of energy they so badly needed. His 'Baby Shark' walk-up song, aside from being an earworm, was the perfect sing-along for Nationals Park and gave the fanbase – one accustomed to signing along – a well-needed shot in the arm. Freddie Freeman still can't believe it.

All the pieces were in place when they needed to be. From May 24 on, the Nationals were the best team in baseball.

In the coming week you'll hear a lot of how the Nationals are good, but can they punch above their weight class against the 103-win Yankees or the 107-win Astros? Two juggernauts, to be sure. But how'd that work out for the Dodgers?

"I think we think we can compete with any team, any time," Howie Kendrick said after Tuesday's Game 4 win over the Cardinals. "People always get caught up in the things that are on paper, but the reality of it is you have to go out and play. Once we get out on the field, anything can happen.

"Always look at it as who's the best on that day, because on any given day, anybody can beat you. You can take the worst team in baseball and put them against the best team in baseball, and they could lose that day."

"So we play for that day, that moment, that time, and I think that's what really matters, is we've got to fight for just that one game," Kendrick continued. "Because, at the end of the day, there's no guarantee of tomorrow. All you're guaranteed is this day. So we've got to go out and just live it like that and play like that."

And there you have it. The wisdom of a 14-year veteran. Would you have pegged him as the NLCS MVP two weeks ago, when this lightning-paced surge toward the World Series began? Would you – or anyone – have pegged the Nats as the National League champions when the postseason began two short weeks ago?

It makes you wonder what they have left to prove.

Since Oct. 1, the Nats have defied elimination three times, coming back late against the Brewers in the Wild Card Game, and then battling back against the 106-win buzzsaw Dodgers in Games 4 and 5 of the NLDS. And now they've swept the Cardinals in the NLCS. It's all happened so fast it's hard to process, so to put it simply: they've beaten everyone the league has put in front of them.

It's all come together for Washington. They're in the right place, at the right time, with all the right people.

Can they finish the job? Put whoever you want in front of them and see what happens.