19 wins and 31 losses. Those are the numbers that keep sticking in my mind, even as I celebrate the first World Series Title for D.C. in my lifetime, because of what those numbers represent. The Nationals had 19 wins and 31 losses through our first 50 games, and we had a less than one percent chance of making the playoffs back in May. But we came back, with the best record in the Major League Baseball (MLB) over the second half of the season. The Nationals pulled it together. This was a season of defiance in an age where reliance on data has transformed sports, leading teams to choose younger and cheaper players over established veterans, the Nationals had the oldest team in the MLB. The Houston Astros, our opponent in the Fall Classic, represent the trend towards reliance on numbers over humans; they fired half of their scouting department last year. The Nationals were still sending advance scouts to the American League Championship Series (ALCS), because our General Manager (GM) is an old-school scout who trusts humans as much as numbers.
This was a season of the Nationals fighting trends, and nothing represents that better than our playoff run, one of the best in MLB history. The Nationals faced five elimination games over the course of the playoffs, were down in every single game, and came back to win all of them. We came into the playoffs as a wild-card seed, and beat teams that were some of the best in MLB history. Every single team that we faced was described as better than us.
The Dodgers had a better rotation, a better bullpen and a better batting order, but none of that mattered when we beat them in five games. The Cardinals had more playoff experience, but none of that mattered when we beat them in the National League Championship Series (NLCS). The Astros were one of the best offensive teams in MLB history, with the deepest rotation in the majors, but that did not matter when we beat them in seven games.
It is hard to describe how much this victory meant to Nationals fans. We have endured years of heartbreak from the Nationals, and with every loss that piled up we became more and more convinced that we would never break through. The teams that lost in past years looked better on paper than the team that won this year, with the Nationals coming into this year described as the third or fourth best team in our own division. None of that mattered though, because this team managed to stick it out and win.
Even when everyone else — even the fans — had given up on this team, they did not give up on themselves. They won the first two games in Houston, bringing the series back to D.C. with an enormous leg up and promptly got embarrassed over the next three games in front of the home crowd. The series was regarded as over; the plucky underdogs had surprised the giants at first, but had eventually fallen victim to a better team, and the Nationals were simply going to be a footnote of the Astros inevitable dynasty. The Nationals had not given up on themselves though, becoming the first team in MLB history to win the world series by winning all four road games.
In all of the interviews afterwards, the players expressed a single theme: that this team was fun. They won because they believed in themselves, their teammates but also because they had fun together. On Saturday, every other team had moved onto the next season, but not the Nationals. They were still having fun.