The regular season ended yesterday when the Washington Nationals beat the Philadelphia Phillies. This ensured that two things happened. First the Nationals clinched the best record in baseball and second they never lost back to back series all season long. 2012 was an impressive season for the Washington Nationals, but a 98-64 record speaks to that. Entering the playoffs though it still feels like the Nationals are underdogs.
The reason for that might be that everything that happens from this point out is a bonus, and that might mean the Nationals could go very deep into these playoffs. There is no pressure on the Nationals. None of the normal expectations that a team that wins 98 games would normally have. The Nationals were the best team during the regular season and if they exit in the NLDS one would be hard pressed to find a fan of the team disappointed in how everything turned out.
Baseball’s regular season is where the good teams truly separate themselves and over the course of the season the Washington Nationals did that. They ended up with the best overall record after all. Whatever happens now is meaningless to how this season is going to be viewed. There may be some instant rage depending on how the exit comes, but when people look back and look at the NL East Championship flag that will fly at Nats Park next season no one will view this season as a disappointment.
Compare the Nationals situation to that of the Yankees, Tigers, or Rangers. The Nationals didn’t enter the season with a World Series or bust mentality, having signed one of the most coveted free agents of the off-season, or having already lost back to back World Series. The Nationals entered to season expected to possibly have a winning record and contend for the second Wild Card. The Nats have already exceeded those expectations. There is nothing left for them to accomplish, but yet here we are.
The Nationals are in the post-season and are one of ten teams with a chance to win it all. That is more than 2/3 of MLB teams can say, and if you ask me this is going to translate onto the field. The Nats players can relax and go out and play the game of baseball. Everything they do from this moment on is going to be viewed as extra, an added benefit to an already great season. Any pressure that the players feel is self-made. The fans and the DC media are putting no pressure at all on the players. The feeling is that the Nats have made it this far and let’s see what else happens.
Baseball is a game that is played at its highest level when players are able to relax, and the Nats are in that exact situation. They can relax and play the game, and they have a number of players who can get hot and carry a team through October. Think about how great it currently is to be a fan of the Washington Nationals. Remember this feeling and cherish it, because starting next season there will be expectations. Strasburg will be back and expected to play an entire season, Bryce Harper will be a year older and expected to compete for league MVP, and the Jayson Werth contract will be back under the microscope. 2012 was a dream season, but it will end, and the Nats will never again be a team free of expectations.