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Sport Nationals ride unique blend of experience, youth to World Series

23:51  17 october  2019
23:51  17 october  2019 Source:

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WASHINGTON — Somewhere along the way to the franchise’s first World Series berth in its 50 years of existence, the Washington Nationals found their identity.

a group of baseball players standing on top of a field: Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has hit .290 in the postseason.© Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sports Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has hit .290 in the postseason.

It wasn’t as a team that revolved around a manager or a player, but as a concept. Their twin mottos of “Go 1-0 today” and “Stay in the fight” gave them the motivation to rebound from a 19-31 start. The “Baby Shark” craze gave them character.

In the end, the 2019 Nationals used the pressure of not making the playoffs for a second consecutive season to inspire their run. And it made this season unlike any of the previous ones when postseason expectations led to disappointment.

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The oldest roster in the major leagues (average age 31.1) took pride in being able to battle and defeat teams that had enjoyed more regular-season and postseason success. It was no accident.

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The veterans on the roster – first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (35), starting pitchers Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez (both 35), second baseman Howie Kendrick (36) and catcher Kurt Suzuki (36) – all played important roles down the stretch, something manager Dave Martinez acknowledged before even taking the first question from the media after his team just completed a four-game sweep in the NLCS.

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“Don't ever call those guys old,” Martinez said. “They're really young in my heart and my eyes. They're playing like they're 22, 23.”

The veterans saw their age as an asset, not a liability.

“It just seems like everybody wants younger and younger players. Everybody wants to forget about all the old guys,” Scherzer said. “We see it in free agency. We’re not dumb.

“The fact that we’re the oldest team and we went out and won the National League pennant just shows you that we bring a lot of value to clubhouses.”

Even though he only takes the field every fifth day, Scherzer may be the closest the team has to a leader. He famously pitched in June despite a broken nose he suffered trying to bunt in batting practice.

“It’s one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in a while,” second baseman Brian Dozier said at the time. “That’s why you put him in the category of one of the best if not the best in the game.”

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Zimmerman, the Nationals’ first-ever draft pick in 2005, has been part of all the franchise’s highs and lows. Though he played in just 52 games during the regular season (hitting .257 with six home runs and 27 RBI), he’s been a force in the postseason.

Playing in all but one of the Nats’ 10 playoff games, Zimmerman has hit .290 with a huge three-run homer in Game 4 of the NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“He’s the classiest big leaguer I’ve ever been around,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said of Zimmerman. “He’s been through some trials and tribulations … but you see when he’s a healthy player, he’s a pretty damn good one still.”

While the veterans have set the tone in the Nationals clubhouse, they’ve also set the example for the team’s younger players to follow.

“I think the mixture of people that we do have is what makes us so good,” said Kendrick, the NLCS MVP. “The chemistry that we do have, we understand each other.”

The Nationals have relied on that pitching staff, specifically their starting pitchers, to get to this point. In the NLCS, Sanchez, Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg didn’t give up a single earned run in 21 2/3 innings.

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“It’s great, but it’s not just the starting pitchers, it’s everybody. Everybody has a hand in this,” Scherzer said. “You can give starting pitchers credit, but it’s also been the offense, defense, baserunning. We’re clicking and firing on all cylinders and that’s what makes it so much fun.”

What wasn’t fun was missing the playoffs last season. And bowing out early in previous years. After winning four division titles in six years from 2012 to 2017, the Nationals needed to earn a wild-card berth just to make the playoffs this year.

But being the underdog for a change served as a rallying cry. In both the wild-card game and the Division Series, the Nats had to come from behind to win.

As the players and coaches were popping champagne bottles and guzzling beer out of the National League championship trophy, no one noticed the absence of a player who occupied one of the large lockers on the left-hand side of the clubhouse for the previous seven seasons.

Bryce Harper never got to experience this kind of celebration during his tenure in Washington. Though it’s unfair to say his leaving as a free agent over the winter and signing with the division-rival Philadelphia Phillies was a factor in the Nationals getting over the hump, it’s also fair to wonder what kind of an impact it did have.

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Anthony Rendon stepped forward and became an MVP candidate at age 29. Left fielder Juan Soto blossomed into a full-fledged star in his first full season in the majors. Adam Eaton and Victor Robles each played over 150 games at the other two outfield spots.

And a large chunk of the money the Nationals didn’t spend re-signing Harper instead went toward a six-year, $140 million contract for free-agent left-hander Patrick Corbin, who was the winning pitcher in Monday’s NLCS clincher over the St. Louis Cardinals.

“The roster that Rizzo and the front office put together, it’s just next man up,” shortstop Trea Turner said – just before dismissing any mention of Harper in a follow-up question about this season’s clubhouse chemistry.

“We’ve been good every year, man. … Every year we’ve had a great team,” Turner said. “It’s hard as heck to get here where we’re at. Every roster is different and I’m just proud of these guys.”

As they await the identity of their next opponent when the World Series begins next Tuesday, the Nationals are ready to continue their one pursuit of a title.

“We've had a long season,” Martinez said. “What I believe in is it takes more than one person to win the championship, and that's been the message since spring training. Everybody's got to participate.”

As the music blared, the shouting echoed and the dancing continued, it was clear Martinez’s message had been received. Loud and clear.

The Nationals had found their identity: National League champions.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nationals ride unique blend of experience, youth to World Series

Related slideshow: Best of the 2019 MLB postseason (Provided by imagn)

a crowd of people watching a football game: Fireworks go off as the Washington Nationals celebrate their win over the St. Louis Cardinals in game four of the 2019 NLCS playoff baseball series at Nationals Park on October 15, 2019.

Here's what history says about Astros' chances of World Series comeback against Nationals .
According to, teams that have gone down 0-2 at home in the 2-3-2 format have won the World Series three of 25 times. Game 3 at Nats is Friday.History says “not very.

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