Alex Kielar | November 14th, 2019
The Nationals did it. They did the unpredictable (although our very own Johnnie Black predicted it prior to the season, so ask him for the lottery numbers) and won their first World Series. They overcame every obstacle imaginable to do it, from starting the season 19-31 to winning the Wild Card game in come-from-behind fashion against Reliever of the Year Josh Hader to beating the extremely tough competition in the Dodgers and Astros in seven games, and more. So how did the Nationals overcome all the odds (0.1% chance to win the World Series in May) to win it all? Let’s get further into their season.
Make sure to check out all of our other MLB team recaps here.
What Went Right
Everything? I mean to win the World Series, everything has to come together perfectly. The season obviously didn’t start out that way, but everything turned their way. One of the main reasons was their starting rotation, especially their “Big Three” of Max Scherzer (11-7, 2.92 ERA, 2.88 xFIP, 12.69 K/9, 6.5 WAR, 172.1 IP), Stephen Strasburg (18-6, 3.32 ERA, 3.17 xFIP, 10.81 K/9, 5.7 WAR, 209.0 IP), and Patrick Corbin (14-7, 3.25 ERA, 3.59 xFIP, 10.60 K/9, 4.8 WAR, 202.0 IP).
Scherzer struggled in the Wild Card game against the Brewers, surrendering three runs over five innings, but bounced back the rest of the Postseason. In five games, four of them starts, he gave up five earned runs, 17 hits, and 12 walks over 25 innings, while striking out 31 batters.
Strasburg was outstanding throughout the postseason, especially the World Series in which he won the Series MVP. In the World Series, he started games two and six and won both of them. In game two, he went six innings while surrendering two runs, seven hits, and one walk, while striking out seven. In game six, he pitched one out into the ninth inning while surrendering two runs, five hits, and two walks, while striking out seven, to carry the Nationals into the decisive game seven.
Corbin was the worst of the “Big Three” in the postseason, starting one game in each round and coming out of the bullpen in five games. In his starts (NLDS G1, NLCS G4, WS G4), he went six, five, and six innings, respectably, while surrendering nine earned runs, 14 hits, and ten walks, while striking out 26 batters. In the decisive game seven of the World Series against the Astros, he pitched three innings in relief while only surrendering two hits and striking out three, as he picked up the win and the Nationals celebrated.
The Nationals had a top-three MVP candidate in third baseman Anthony Rendon, as he had an unreal year in the regular season and postseason. In the regular season, he slashed .319/.412/.598 with a .413 wOBA, 154 wRC+, 34 HR, and 126 RBI. In the postseason, Rendon went 20-for-61 (.328) with 11 walks, three HR, and 15 RBI.
Young stud Juan Soto broke out this season to be one of the best young players in the game. He slashed .282/.401/.548 with a .394 wOBA, 142 wRC+, 34 HR, and 110 RBI. Soto had an incredible postseason as well, to breakout even more. In the Wild Card game against the Brewers, Soto hit the massive bases-clearing single in the eighth inning off Josh Hader in the Nationals come-from-behind 4-3 victory that completely flipped the script on the Nationals season. In the postseason overall, Soto went 18-for-65 (.277) with five home runs and 14 RBI, which included picking up two hits in five games (2-for-4 in WS G7) and three hits in one game. He reached base in all seven World Series games and was only kept off base in one of 17 games he played.
Howie Kendrick, at 36, also had an unreal and magical season and was one of the postseason heroes for the Nationals, slashing .344/.395/.572 with 23 doubles, 17 HR, 62 RBI, .400 wOBA, 146 wRC+, and 61 runs scored in 370 plate appearances in the regular season. In the postseason overall, Kendrick went 18-for-63 (.386) with two home runs and 12 RBI. He hit the go-ahead Grand Slam in the tenth inning of game five of the NLDS against the Dodgers off of Joe Kelly and won the NLCS MVP award in the Nationals sweep of the Cardinals, going 5-for-15 with four doubles and four RBI. Trea Turner had a solid season for the lineup, slashing .298/.353/.497 with 19 HR, 57 RBI, 96 runs scored, and 35 stolen bases too.
What Went Wrong
Well, if I have to say that anything went wrong, it would be the Nationals bullpen. Their bullpen was atrocious all season long, and you can really say that they won the World Series in spite of this. In high leverage situations, the Nationals bullpen was the worst in the majors (.328 BAA- worst, .387 wOBA against- worst, 10.91 ERA- worst, 1.79 WHIP- third-worst) and in non-high leverage or normal situations they were not much better (5.68 ERA- second worst to BAL, .266 BAA- third worst, .337 wOBA- tied for fourth-worst). Dave Martinez did a great job of burying the awful bullpen in the postseason, using just six pitchers (Scherzer, Corbin, Aníbal Sánchez, Sean Doolittle, Daniel Hudson) to account for 83% of the team’s postseason innings and 74% of the team’s World Series innings. Those pitchers that did pitch did their jobs, and you can’t be hurt by your team’s worst, and maybe even only weakness if you don’t even touch it.
Impending Free Agents
Sheesh, 2019 was really meant to be for the Nationals to win the World Series as they now look at Rendon, Kendrick, Hudson, and the opted-out Strasburg as their biggest free agents. All four played huge parts in the Nationals 2019 run and will be tough to replace. However, they still have a strong core led by Soto and will still have a good chance to return to the World Series again over the next several seasons.
2020 Players to Watch
Soto will be the biggest player to watch in 2020, as he looks to build off his very impressive season. Safe to say I think he very well could be an MVP candidate next season and I think he may have an even better season than this year. Scherzer and Corbin will be huge pitchers to watch for in the rotation if they are losing Strasburg, and it will be very important for them to build off their 2019 seasons. Other players to watch will be whoever they bring in from free agency to replace Rendon and to shore up their bullpen and rotation. Victor Robles who didn’t have that great a season in 2019, will look to be a big part of the team as part of their young core.
What else is there to say? The Nationals had a magical season after all the odds were stacked against them to win their first World Series. Enough said.
Questions and comments?
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images