Washington, D.C., hasn’t hosted a World Series game since 1933.
That should change this October.
Critics are welcome to accuse me of recency bias, seeing as how I’ve made this proclamation with the Washington Nationals on a seven-game winning streak — the last three by walk-off.
The Nats own the NL’s best record, but that guarantees nothing once the leaves turn. Fans in our nation’s capital were reminded of that two years ago, when Washington had the most regular-season wins in baseball but bowed out against the Cardinals in the first round.
These days, it’s simple: The Nationals are the most well-rounded team in the NL — a statement that shouldn’t be all that surprising. The Nats lead the majors in fielding-independent pitching this year, according to FanGraphs.com, and they’ve scored the second-most runs in the NL since July 1.
There was a time, earlier this season, when the Los Angeles Dodgers’ undeniable talent seemed likely to prevail in the end. But the Dodgers’ mounting injuries make it difficult to have much faith in them. Consider their densely populated disabled list: valuable infielders Hanley Ramirez and Juan Uribe; starting pitchers Hyun-Jin Ryu, Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley; relievers Chris Perez, Paul Maholm, Paco Rodriguez and Chris Withrow. (Billingsley, Maholm and Withrow are out for the season; Beckett could be, too.)
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti has tried to address the pitching attrition since the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, dealing for veterans Roberto Hernandez and Kevin Correia. But even with the brilliance of Clayton Kershaw, it would be difficult to argue the Dodgers have a clear rotation advantage in a hypothetical matchup with the Nationals.
Game 1: Kershaw vs. Doug Fister, who has been one of the best starters in baseball since the All-Star break. Advantage: Dodgers
Game 2: Zack Greinke vs. Jordan Zimmermann. Advantage: Nationals — although it’s very close
Game 3: Ryu (assuming he returns to full health) vs. Stephen Strasburg. Advantage: Nationals
Game 4: Correia, Hernandez or Dan Haren vs. Tanner Roark, one of the most underrated pitchers in the game (12-7, 2.93 ERA, 1.100 WHIP). Advantage: Nationals
Fister should be Matt Williams’ choice to start Game 1, and not only because of his recent dominance. Fister is a proven postseason winner, with a streak of six straight quality starts (six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs) dating back to 2011.
The Nationals should have a versatile bullpen during the playoffs, with left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez possibly moving into a relief role. (In that event, the postseason bullpen would include two left-handers — Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler — who were part of the Nationals’ NLDS rotation two years ago.) Even if closer Rafael Soriano continues his recent struggles, the Nationals have two other viable options to pitch the ninth, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen.
Offensively, the Nationals have found their identity — even with longtime franchise cornerstone Ryan Zimmerman on the disabled list for an indefinite period. Leadoff man Denard Span is having his best season since 2009, Adam LaRoche is supplying consistent power from the cleanup spot, and second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera has proven to be the ideal trade-deadline upgrade. Catcher Wilson Ramos, healthy at last, is showing his full offensive potential.
Just imagine if Bryce Harper (six home runs in 64 games this season) puts together an October worthy of the hype surrounding him.
The Milwaukee Brewers, led by MVP candidate Jonathan Lucroy, are coming off a weekend sweep of the Dodgers and can’t be overlooked. The San Francisco Giants have October savvy and arguably the game’s best manager, Bruce Bochy. But on this day, in the middle of August, no NL team projects to have a better postseason roster than the Washington Nationals.
It’s been 81 years since Washington hosted the Fall Classic at long-departed Griffith Stadium — back then, as the American League’s Senators. The District is due.