I’ve been firmly on team playoff chaos since Monday. But even I didn’t expect what we witnessed Wednesday.
Both the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers, the best and winningest teams in the National League, were unceremoniously ousted in the first round of the MLB playoffs, and in the most painful ways possible (depending on your perspective).
It’s hard to choose which was worse.
There were fans in Atlanta who hadn’t even made it to their seats before their team gave up 10 runs in the first inning. Who knows how they managed to sit down and took in eight more innings.
Then there were the Los Angeles fans who were hopeful almost the entire game, with a decent lead and their ace entering the game as a reliever in the seventh inning. Clayton Kershaw is one of the best pitchers in the game over the last decade.
But Kershaw also has an unfortunate reputation (whether fair or not) of being, well, less than stellar in the playoffs, and he gave up two home runs in three pitches to start the eighth. Those same fans then had to watch as their closer was inexplicably not used with the game tied in the 10th inning, and still not used even as the bases loaded on an intentional walk with no outs to get to Howie Kendrick, who hit the game-winning grand slam.
I’m not here to kick those fans while they are down. Their plight just reinforces the absolute unpredictability of baseball. And, on the flip side, chaos like that on Wednesday makes for the best stories for the teams that win, particularly the Washington Nationals.
In their entire history as a major league franchise, even as the Montreal Expos, the Nationals have never appeared in the World Series. They advanced to the 1981 NLCS, as the Expos, but have never advanced since, despite four NLDS appearances in six years and having Bryce Harper, one of the best young players in the game.
This year, after losing Harper and despite a rocky start to the season, they got hot and kept pace with the Dodgers after May, but only enough to get them in the wild card game. They appeared poised to lose that game, but the heroics of Juan Soto (and a missed play by the Brewers) stamped their ticket to Los Angeles for this series.
It was again thanks to Soto, and Anthony Rendon, that the Nationals were able to win yet another elimination game. Soto and Rendon have been a tag-team duo, and on Wednesday they hit the back-to-back home runs off Kershaw to tie the game. And it was Rendon’s double and Soto’s intentional walk that loaded the bases for the grand slam in the 10th.
I can’t think of a more deserving team to win a series like this. Especially considering three of the Nationals’ other four NLDS appearances in the Washington era ended in Game 5 eliminations.
The other ended in a six-hour, 18-inning Game 4 on a Brandon Belt solo home run in 2014. The San Francisco Giants went on to become the only winners of the wild card game to win the World Series. The Nationals have a major task ahead of them to follow in those footsteps, but after this series, it’s hard not to root for them.