Good news, Nationals fans! We had another lousy October, but the team is not cursed.
After the agony of 2012’s ending, there were indications that the Nats might be subject to whatever grudge the cosmos holds against D.C. sports. But 2014 was different. Our playoff misery this time was downright ordinary.
Drew Storen giving up hits to the two batters he faced in Game 2, blowing the save? Bad, but not a travesty when those players are a former MVP and a former World Series MVP. How about Matt Williams making the fateful decisions to remove Jordan Zimmermann in Game 2 on the verge of his second straight shutout or entrust the season to a rookie reliever
in Game 4? Questionable moves are inevitable when you have a first-year manager working under such high stakes. A series-long slump from Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, and Wilson Ramos? Small sample size, and hey, that’s how baseball goes sometimes.
And as it turned out, the Nats had run into an unstoppable San Francisco Giants force en route to a championship. Sure, the locals were superior during the regular season, leading the National League in wins while the Giants barely squeaked into the playoffs. But part of the reason the Nats dominated the regular season was their five high-quality starting pitchers; in the playoffs, with a four-pitcher rotation, having a stellar fifth guy isn’t an advantage. You might not even need your fourth-best guy if you’ve got one unbeatable starter, as the Giants showed.
Curses don’t usually result in garden-variety sports pain. A curse would probably have the Nats fall to a more loathsome team, but the Giants offered little to hate. D.C. fans could even feel a bit of joy seeing former fan favorite Michael Morse get his first championship.
Compare that to 2012. The Nats didn’t just squander a huge lead in Game 5 against St. Louis: The decisive blows came courtesy of two nobodies, Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma. The game-tying hit bounced off of Ian Desmond’s glove before trickling into the outfield; diabolical forces seemed to torment us as much as possible. The defeat came against baseball’s most self-righteous team, and boosted the annoying theory that its “Cardinal Way” provides an edge against the weak-willed. They taunted the Nats for being mentally delicate, and the Nats couldn’t deny it after their collapse. (And then, needing just one more win to reach the World Series, the Cardinals lost three games in a row by a combined score of 20-1. A team that had mocked the Nats for lacking fortitude wasn’t that tough itself.)
The playoff defeat in 2012 should’ve been seen as normal for a young team in its first postseason, but the twisted way it went down rattled us. It got to our heads. Not just D.C.’s fans, but the team and front office.
Psyched out, the Nats overreacted. They paid free agent Rafael Soriano big money to displace Storen from the closer’s role for two years, which turned out to be pointless at best. Manager Davey Johnson blurted out, “World Series or bust!” before the 2013 season even started, upping the pressure on a team that needed to learn to chill out. Bryce Harper decided he’d run as fast as possible at all times, apparently including when walls were in his immediate path.
Curses don’t make rational sense. So it’s understandable that everyone got a little erratic when it appeared the Nats might be doomed to suffer. After this season, it’s a good sign that the organization isn’t bailing on Storen after one tough inning. And so far, there haven’t been any wacky proclamations.
Hopefully, the Nats have realized that there was nothing paranormal behind their disappointment this year. 2014 was just like most years for a sports franchise: Even if you’re really good, you’ll probably wind up a loser.