Pick up a newspaper or turn on local sports radio and any conversation about the Nats will eventually devolve to how they are a team of guys all pulling in one direction and doing whatever it takes to win. The picture being painted is the Nationals as a team of grit and heart and hustle but most importantly a team. There is a belief that the Nationals have no star players and if you isolated yourself to local coverage it’s easy to believe that but then you’d also believe that the Capitals and Wizards have no star players either and the only star player in Washington DC worthy of praise is Kirk Cousins.
Go outside this area to a national level. Turn on MLB network or ESPN and there will be commercials with Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, there will be talk of Jayson Werth and how he has turned his $127 million contract into a bargain, and there will be talk of how Anthony Rendon (4th in the NL in fWAR) is a player baseball fans should start paying attention to. Sure the Nationals don’t have an MVP or Cy Young candidate but this is a season where one man on the Dodgers is laying claim to both those titles, and the lack of star power can be mentioned of almost any baseball team.
The St. Louis Cardinals are once again leading the NL Central and have been one of the best teams in baseball over the last decade, and yet since Albert Pujols left they’ve been a team without stars. They have lots of good players, but baseball players in the modern era don’t become superstars in the way they once did. Outside of Derek Jeter baseball has no athlete on the same level as LeBron James or Tiger Woods. The narrative of a team that is truly a team with no superstars works for almost any baseball team.
Limit this to baseball fans and they’ll be able to tell you who is on the Nationals. The Nationals are not this gritty team of heart and hustle players just barely scraping by. By outscoring opponents 620-511 the Washington Nationals have the best run differential in the NL. They have also scored the second most runs per game in the NL and allowed the second fewest. The Nationals aren’t winning a bunch of squeakers and pulling together as a team. They are instead marching into their opponent’s kingdom and salting the fields as they go.
Make no mistake about it the Nationals are a great team. The line-up that sports commentators love to call soft and complain about not hitting well enough in the clutch or whatever other asinine thing they say has eight players with a wRC+ of league average or better. The lowest of those being Wilson Ramos at 96 which is the 2014 MLB average but slightly higher than the average for a catcher and much better than the MLB average for a number seven hitter. The Nationals line-up is full of players that can do damage and it has no easy outs. The Nationals have pitching and defense but that isn’t all they have and because of that they are not the team people want you to believe they are.
I can’t tell you how far the Nationals are going to go in October. The playoffs aren’t about who’s the best. It’s about who’s the hottest. But I can tell you that over 145 games the Washington Nationals have been the best team in the NL and it isn’t even all that close. The Dodgers record puts them right there with the Nationals, but they’re run differential of 72 is 37 runs fewer than the Nationals. People don’t want you to believe the Nationals are a dominant team. Nobody wants them to be Darth Vader roaming the universe in a Death Star, but that is exactly what they are. The Nats are not Little Red Riding Hood. They’re the Big Bad Wolf.