Going into this year’s postseason there was a feeling that the American League was wide open, but the National League smelled like chalk. The Dodgers had won 106 games and were the favorite to waltz into their third consecutive World Series appearance with an eye on finally winning it for the first time since 1988.
It was hard to pick against Los Angeles making it back to the World Series. Unlike in 2018, the Dodgers were basically the wire-to-wire best team in the NL and they were one of the only teams that showed elite quality on the field from the beginning of the season until the playoffs began.
This air of expectancy eventually turned into an actual excuse at the trade deadline. While no team was publicly willing to say “We’re not going to go for it because we don’t want to make it to the wild card game only to get beat by the Dodgers in the divisional series,” there’s always still people who are willing to go off the record and say so. That’s what one NL team executive told Jayson Stark of The Athletic back at the trade deadline.
This quote, from @jaysonst's outstanding column today, caught my eye, about the risks of trading prospects "just" to get to the one-game wild-card. https://t.co/2jfJUPgKc1— Ryan Fagan (@ryanfagan) August 1, 2019
Not sure if that's the approach you want your front office to have if you're a fan. Because ... pic.twitter.com/qOPxmpLUk7
Ryan Fagan of Sporting News pointed it out and Fagan also proceeded to tweet about how many teams have taken that one chance and run with it. The main gist of it is that even having a small chance at success is better than having absolutely no chance of success. To quote a wise wordsmith from New York City, “Scared money don’t make none,” and a lot of teams with this mentality were playing with scared money before they even had a chance to realize that if they had even reached the wild card game, the “scared money” would actually be house money at that point.
So, to answer the question of above of “who’s going to make a big trade” for just one game and the right to take on the seemingly invincible Dodgers? The Nationals were one of those teams. While they didn’t really “win” the trade deadline at least it was clear they were trying. At that end of the day on July 31, the Nationals only had a slim shot at making a comeback in the division. But they did have a chance at grabbing a wild card spot and after giving their team a shot in the arm by adding to their bullpen at the trade deadline.
The Nats pulled off a late comeback to win the wild card game and then they were in the supposedly unenviable position of facing off against the Dodgers. All they did after that was beat the defending National League champions in five games and then proceeded to steamroll the Cardinals so that they themselves could win the National League. The Washington Nationals are now going to sit back for the next few days and watch to see whether they get to go to Houston or New York for Game 1 of the World Series.
This sequence of events only came about because the Nationals believed in the allegedly wild and crazy idea that you should actually hop at the chance of trying to win whenever you get the opportunity. While the one-game wild card isn’t ideal for anybody, it’s the system that’s in place right now and it’s a golden ticket. That never guarantees you anything, but it gives you the chance at winning something fantastic. Now they’ll at least have a pennant to raise once their home opener for 2020 rolls around.
I’m not going to tell baseball executives how to run their team. If they feel that they need to pass up on a chance in the present in order to succeed in the future, then so be it. This is more of a message to the bubble teams out there who had the same mentality as that anonymous NL executive. There’s always a chance that going for it with player acquisitions could blow up in your face. That possibility will never go away.
But there’s also a chance that your seemingly infallible opponent in the NLDS is suddenly fallible. Even if you “only” get to the NLCS, there’s still precedent of wild card teams making a deep postseason run — even before the Nationals did it this year. There’s always chance that you could be like the 2015 Royals and turn a wild card berth into a World Series trophy. The Nationals took that chance and now they’ll get to play for one.