Editor's note: As the NLCS and ALCS get underway, SN will present a case for why each of the remaining four teams will win the 2019 World Series.
The Nationals have discovered a closing kick at the most opportune time, rallying past the Brewers late in the winner-take-all NL wild card game and then winning two elimination games in a row against the 106-win Dodgers to win their NLDS.
So here they are, in the NLCS for the first time since the franchise moved from Montreal (RIP Expos) to Washington, D.C. For some franchises, a spot in the LCS feels like a birthright. For the Nationals, just getting to this point seemed damn near impossible.
So what now? They’re farther than they’ve been, but now that they’re here, this is a team with more than enough talent to keep the parade moving forward. Without further ado, here are three reasons why the Nationals will win the World Series.
1. Stellar rotation
Max Scherzer has three Cy Young awards in his back pocket, and he was outstanding in the NLDS against the Dodgers. Stephen Strasburg was brilliant against L.A., too, outside of a rough first inning in Game 5, but his ability to reset and put up zeroes through his outing kept his team in the game. His postseason ERA is now a nifty 1.32, with 45 strikeouts in 34 innings. Patrick Corbin was great in his NLDS start — nine Ks and one earned run in six innings — had a disastrous relief appearance in Game 3 and a great relief appearance in Game 5.
That’s a formidable trio. Oh, and Anibal Sanchez, the fourth starter who will play a huge role in a seven-game series, struck out nine in five innings against the Dodgers in his lone start. And if the starters are up to the extra work — expect a lot of their between-start throwing sessions to happen during actual games, to supplement mediocre bullpen depth — it’s absolutely the kind of group that can carry a team to a title.
2. Anthony Rendon
He’s just ridiculously good. Rendon’s second half just might have pushed him to the NL MVP award; he finished with a 1.010 OPS, .319 average, 34 homers, 126 RBIs, 44 doubles and a 6.3 bWAR. He was hitless in his first two playoff games — the wild card contest, then Game 1 of the NLDS — but finished that series on a tear.
In the final four games against the Dodgers, Rendon was 7 for 14 with four extra-base hits (three doubles and a home run), five RBIs and five runs scored. In Game 5, he hit the home run off Clayton Kershaw that started the comeback in the eighth inning, and he hit the double off Joe Kelly in the 10th that set the stage for Howie Kendrick’s grand slam.
You want someone with ice in their veins capable of carrying an offense? This guy.
Spring training or 10th inning of Game 5 of the NLDS?
You’d never know, watching Rendon. pic.twitter.com/3KfmPlgMAC
— Ryan Fagan (@ryanfagan) October 10, 2019
Oh, and speaking of ridiculous, Juan Soto is ridiculous for a 20-year-old superstar. That right/left combo in the Nationals order is so very good.
3. A touch of destiny
We all know the struggles this franchise has had in October. Snake-bit, cursed, whatever you want to call it. Bad things happened to that team, and their Octobers ended early. But all of a sudden, things have changed.
Remember the celebration after the Nationals came back to win the wild card game? That was no ordinary celebration, folks. That was a cathartic session. You could almost see the demons of playoffs past being cast out. And now that they’ve vanquished the 106-win Dodgers in stunning fashion in the NLDS — not just winning two in a row, but the way in which they won Game 5 — this is a team that absolutely, 100 percent believes not just that they can win, but that they will find a way to win.
Look, October baseball is stressful. The mental aspect of the game is never more on display than it is in the postseason. There’s a difference between lip-service confidence and an iron-clad belief in yourself and your teammates. The Nationals have had the talent every time they’ve made the postseason. Now, for the first time, they have the belief, too.
That’s one heck of a combination.