Photo Credits: RABIDA / AGGIE
Celebration in the Nation’s Capital
In front of a sold-out crowd of 43,326 at Minute Maid Park in Houston on Oct. 30, the Washington Nationals captured their first World Series title in franchise history. It was the first World Series won by a team in Washington D.C. since 1924. The road to this championship was not easy, however, as few experts and analysts thought they would achieve this level of success.
As a result of both losing superstar outfielder Bryce Harper in free agency and starting the season 19-31 through the first 50 games, there was talk about the possibility of a rebuild early on. The tough start had many in the nation’s capital wondering how to move forward in the new Harper-less era. But the Nationals went 74-39 from that point forward and clinched a wild card spot during the last week of the season, which bought them a date with the Milwaukee Brewers.
After going down 3-1 in the Wild Card game, many believed that the Nationals had blown it once again. With five outs to go and National League Reliever of the Year Josh Hader on the mound for Milwaukee, it seemed like there was little to no chance Washington could pull off a come-from-behind win. But after Hader hit a batter, gave up a single to Ryan Zimmerman and walked Anthony Rendon to load the bases, a hit to right field by Juan Soto got past outfielder Trent Grisham, cleared the bases and became the spark that led the Nationals deep into the postseason.
Following the excitement of the huge win, the next task was even tougher for the Nationals, as they faced the best team in the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers. After losing back-to-back World Series, the Dodgers were huge favorites to get back once again and finally get over the hump. After going down in the series 2-1, Washington proceeded to win game four. And down 3-1 in the eighth inning of game five, the Nationals hit two back-to-back solo home runs that would force extras in the deciding game. Finally, in the 10th inning, Washington’s Howie Kendrick hit a grand slam, blowing the game open and shocking the defending NL champs on their home field.
Riding high on the momentum, the Nationals traveled to St. Louis to play the Cardinals in the NL Championship Series. The Cardinals had also won in five games in the NLDS but in a much less dramatic fashion after they scored 10 runs in the first inning. This NLCS was unlike the previous for Washington, as the Nationals dominated all throughout. Behind dominant starting pitching and great at-bats, they proved to be too much for the Cardinals, sweeping them to win the NL Pennant.
The Nationals opened at +195 underdogs in the World Series against a loaded Houston Astros team, according to ESPN. The Astros had won their first World Series in 2017 and were back looking for another with an arguably better team. Behind an elite starting rotation of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke, Houston was -235 favorites, making them the largest favorites since 2007.
The series began in Houston, but, again, the Nationals shocked many by winning the first two games of the series in dominant fashion. Going back to Washington up 2-0, the Nationals looked to finish off the series, but the veteran Astros were not going out without a fight. Houston managed to contain Washington’s explosive offense and win all three in D.C., flipping the momentum with two chances to finish the Nationals off back in Texas.
After a rocky start in game six by Washington ace Stephen Strasburg, who gave up two runs in the first inning, the Nationals continued to fight. Strasburg bounced back by pitching into the ninth inning of the game and got more than enough run support to lift Washington to a 7-2 win.
Strasburg’s dominant showing set the stage for a pitching matchup for the ages in the deciding game seven. It was Max Scherzer on the bump for Washington and Zack Greinke on for Houston as both former Cy Young winners looked to win their team a championship.
Houston seemed to get the best of Scherzer in game seven, as he only pitched five innings and gave up two earned runs. Clinging onto a 2-0 lead with Greinke pitching into the seventh inning, the Astros looked destined to claim their second title in three years. But as many had witnessed throughout the regular season and the postseason, the Nationals fought back.
A solo home run by Anthony Rendon and a walk was enough to convince Astros manager A.J. Hinch to pull Greinke from the game. It was then Howie Kendrick who delivered once again for Washington, hitting a homerun to right field on the second pitch from Astros reliever Will Harris and giving the Nationals a lead that they would build from and never give up.
The miraculous run by the Nationals included the first-ever World Series in which the road team won every game. They faced elimination five times in the postseason and all five times fell behind and clawed back for the win. As Washington celebrates its first World Series win ever, it faces several questions heading into the offseason that the club will eventually have to answer, like the contract situations for major contributors like Strasburg (who was named the World Series MVP) and Rendon. Strasburg is expected to opt-out of the remaining four years, with $100 million left on his deal and, after his postseason performance, will most likely get more. As for Rendon, he will likely be one of the best hitters on the market. After his clutch postseason hitting, he will certainly be looking for more than the seven years and $210 million he turned down earlier in the year.
On the other side, this was another major disappointment for the Astros, who will enter 2020 with major contractual questions. Cole dazzled all season and will surely require a big contract, whether that’s in Houston or elsewhere. For a team with Verlander and Greinke on its rotation (two older players getting up in age), it will be interesting to see whether they will be willing to pay for the younger Cole. After the 2020 season, George Springer, Michael Brantley, Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick will all be free agents, so Houston will have big decisions on its hands in the upcoming offseasons.
As we approach another winter of signings, teams that fell short again like the Dodgers and Yankees will look to replenish their rosters and try to make another push. While this offseason won’t have big names like last year’s offseason had, players like Madison Bumgarner, Aroldis Chapman, J.D. Martinez and many more will be available and could be the major pieces needed for another team to finally get over the hump and raise the Commissioner’s Trophy next October.
Written by: Omar Navarro — firstname.lastname@example.org