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Milestone wins show Nats’ progress in one year
This past week produced a couple of milestones for the Nationals in the 2016 season, as they continued their hopeful march toward the National League East title.
Their sweep of the Atlanta Braves guaranteed the Nats their fifth consecutive winning season. Does that seem pretty ho-hum for a team that’s seems bound for a third postseason in that span? Ask the most experienced baseball fan you know if they can recall the last time that happened in this town. They won’t be able to, because it hasn’t.
The expansion Senators had just one winning season, 1969, between their birth in 1961 and departure for Texas a decade later. Their predecessors in Washington won three pennants and the 1924 World Series over 60 seasons, but the most winning seasons they could string together was four, in 1924-through 27 and again from 1930-33. So this five-year run of success is unprecedented in the nation’s capital — something neither your father nor grandfather ever saw.
Friday night’s victory over the Phillies saw the team reach another milestone: Their 83 wins matched the total from last season, when they finished seven games behind the New York Mets and missed out on the postseason. This time, however, there were still 21 games to play when they hit that plateau.
Now those Mets come to town, still with postseason aspirations of their own. The visit comes a little more than a year after the two teams met in a series that proved to be the beginning of the end for the Nats in 2015.
When the Mets arrived on Labor Day, Sept. 7, they led the second-place Nats by four games. A three-game sweep by the Nats would have made it a whole new race heading into the season’s final weeks. Instead, the Mets flipped the script and took all three games, all but eliminating the Nats from the division race.
In the most excruciating of the losses, Blake Treinen, Felipe Rivero and Drew Storen coughed up a six-run lead in a single inning when they combined to walk six batters. Then Jonathan Papelbon surrendered the game-winning home run in the eighth.
After giving up a two-run homer in a tie game the next night, Storen famously slammed his hand in a locker in frustration after exiting, breaking his thumb and ending his tenure in Washington.
A year later, the Nats are firmly in control, leading by nine games. The pressure is all on the Mets this time as they try to hold onto a wild card spot. But wins by the Nats would help to exorcise some demons and put them closer to the division title.
Once they do reach the postseason, they will confront more demons — disappointing losses to St. Louis in 2012 and San Francisco in 2014, but those are best left for another time.
For today, it’s good to appreciate how far this team has come in the past year, and how lucky its fans are to be rooting for a perennial winner and postseason contender.