On April 28th, 2015 the Washington Nationals' record stood at 7-13. They were 8 games out of first place to start the day and while the Mets had lost earlier that night, the Nats looked destined to stay exactly where they were. Spot starter AJ Cole was crushed by the Braves early and the Nats attempt at digging out of that hole was stalling out just short. Down two runs and down to their last two outs, Matt Williams sent up pinch hugger, Dan Uggla, to try to get a big hit against the Braves closer. On an 0-2 count Uggla miraculously delivered, hitting a three run home run and giving the Nats a 13-12 lead that Storen would close out.
Starting with that game the Nats would go 20-5 over the next four weeks and would climb from 8 games out all the way to a 2.5 game lead. That game turned the season around. That game sparked the team to a division lead. Those fun-loving chocolate sauce pouring guys were special!
Except then they'd find themselves unable to shake the Mets, playing .500 ball through the end of July until a sweep by the Mets would give New York a lead they'd never relinquish.
I bring this up not as a warning, or to try to draw comparisons between last year and this one. I bring this up because I'm hearing a lot of talk recently about how "special" this Nationals team is. The strong start, the big hits, the apparent camaraderie. I'm here to remind you that the history of baseball is littered with the corpses of teams thought to be special. The 2007 Rockies that went 14-1 to end the year and swept through the NL... only to get swept themselves in the Series. The "best team in baseball" Seatttle Mariners of 2001 who won
116 games in the regular season, best record in half a century, only to lose in the ALCS to the "9/11 inspired"
Yankees. Those same Yankees who got 2-out, bottom of the ninth, home runs in back to back games to take a 3-2 World Series lead... only to lose the championship in 7. Hell, I bet a good chunk of you felt that the 2014 Nats who cruised through August and September (33-13 to end year) and capped the season with a no-hitter were special. I could go on.
This happens every year in a half-dozen cities in every sport. Fans buy into a seemingly obvious truth. Your team wins a lot, therefore they are special. It's just a trick though. A way to explain why a team is doing better than expected without taking away anything from them. If it isn't fleeting, if it is something intrinsic to the team, why then it can go on forever.
It won't. Those teams were not "special" in some way beyond the talent assembled. Neither are the Nats.
What are the Nats then? The Nats are a very, very good team. The Nats are a team that most people picked to make the playoffs, many people picked to win the NL East and even a few had winning it all. They are a team with Bryce Harper, who has in one month moved from arguably to inarguably the best player in baseball. They are a team with a good shot of having the best starting pitching staff in the majors. They are a team that has started out hot and have moved themselves from slight underdogs to win the NL East to solid favorites. They are also a team who have played the weakest schedule by far in baseball and a team that might have gotten a break or two along the way.
But the reaction to that last sentence should be "so what" or "we'll take it", not to try to make this team into something beyond what they are. There's nothing that happened with this team that can't be explained by the talent and the competition.
Side Note :
I think some portion of this has to do with the strangely polarizing effect Dusty Baker has had for fans in regards to not the team, but HIM. Dusty has held some questionable views, has never been able to win a championship, and has had some messy exists in his past. This has left various fanbases and pundits selling him short on a career that shows he is nothing but a day to day winner. At the same time, Dusty has shown himself a master of controlling his story, and in engendering enough good will with those around him to create "Us vs Them" scenarios. This has left the current fanbase (and media, IMO) far more willing to ignore his occasionally poor decisions and side with Dusty in instances where that's really not necessary. For a soulless automaton like myself, dealing with a LOVE/HATE persona is unnerving.