We spend most of our time at this particular corner of the internet focused on payrolls and rosters. The tendency of contemporary baseball analysis is to seek value; to appreciate (in the full sense of the word) the role of fortune and the impossibility of predicting which players will come through in big moments.
But who among us doubts that some have icier veins, or hotter-burning competitive fires? Or that some leaders are better than others at spurring their charges to play at their best … or make the right decision in a key moment? We may not be able to make statistically valid assessments of these characteristics in advance, but it doesn’t feel especially bold to suggest that some players and some teams have more than just a lucky bounce of the ball to credit for their high-leverage triumphs.
That brings us to the topic of this morning’s poll: the Nationals, baseball’s perennial postseason underperformers, who just finished off a stirring run through the National League. You know the essentials of this tale already. The Nats’ four previous divisional series were exceptionally competitive, featuring mind-blowing twists and turns. All ended in defeat for the D.C. team, which always seemed to come up just short at the pivotal juncture.
Not so this time. The Nats came roaring back in the regular season after a dismal start. They returned from the brink of elimination in the Wild Card game against the Brewers, scraping together a comeback against one of the game’s most dominant short-appearance pitchers. They not only pushed the powerhouse Dodgers to a fifth game but won it, overcoming an early deficit and outshining L.A.’s stars in crunch time. And the Nationals finally put to rest their earliest postseason demons — those summoned by Yadi and co. back in 2012 — by thoroughly destroying the Cardinals in a four-game NLCS sweep.
It’s a talented roster, to be sure. But the recent-vintage Nats have never lacked in talent, stars and otherwise. What is actually different this time around? It’s nearly an impossible thing to analyze with any amount of scientific precision. But it’s an essential question to ponder for those that care about winning baseball championships.
I’ve compiled a few … theories, I guess we will call them. What say you? (Poll link for app users.)