The Nats won the NL East and fans and the team have had all weekend to celebrate. Great!
Got that out of your system?
Because it doesn't matter.
This Nats team, like every Nats team since 2012, won't be judged a success unless they win in the playoffs. It's as simple as that. I'm not talking by you or me in particular. I'm sure some of you would call them a success today. I'm sure some of the more generous fans might even call a winning season a success. I'm sure the harshest of you (Sammy?) might not judge them a success unless they win it all. But for the sports world at large the Nats need to at least make the next step. They need to progress. They've had their misstep. They need to win the NLDS vs the Dodgers.
The Nats need it, because they've lost twice now in DSs when they were favored, blowing up in the late innings in key spots. Even if it's a pretty unfair characterization, they've been seen as a cocky team ("World Series or bust" "Where my ring?" "nothing harder in the galaxy") that can't back it up when it counts. In their last appearance Tim Hudson colorfully suggested the Nats didn't have the inner fortitude to win, then they got beat in 4 games.
Dusty also needs it. Despite being a very successful manager Dusty has not had much playoff success. His teams have made seven playoff appearances, and have won a combined 3 playoff series. In his last stop, Cincinnati, he couldn't make it out of the first round be it the NLDS (swept out by Phillies in 2010, collapsed after taking a 2-0 lead over the Giants in 2012) or the Wild Card (giving the Pirates their only playoff success in recent vintage in a non-competitve game).
Right now both the Nats and Dusty are looked at as having issues in the playoffs. A series win would go a long way to putting that to rest. A series loss and, well I'm afraid it becomes a "thing". That becomes how people see the Nats and Dusty going forward until they prove otherwise. Playoff chokers. I don't think they have to win it all. Usually just making the World Series gives you a measure of credibility. I don't even think they have to beat the Cubs*. That is a juggernaut team that everyone believes has mojo on it's side, excusing whoever they beat on the way. But they have to beat the Dodgers.
So Bryce keeps stupidly sliding head first into bases and yesterday it might have done serious injury. Mind you we already believe he is injured so this only adds to it. Some fans were screaming at Kang for deke-ing Bryce into sliding. I wasn't watching the game so I assumed that when several stated the Pirates "got no advantage" from the move that I would see a play where Kang saw the ball clearly in the hands of a Pirate player ready to fire home for an easy out if Bryce tried to keep going. Instead I saw a ball miss 3rd by 15 feet and roll slowly past the bag.
This is not only a situation where a deke may happen, it's a situation where a deke SHOULD happen. You try to trick the player into sliding so he doesn't advance further. It's an old trick usually lauded by players and fans alike. But Bryce got hurt so somehow this time it's wrong and bad. Seriously? This was a perfectly acceptable play and if you don't see that, I don't know what I can tell you. I guess be less of a crazy homer?
Offensively the Nats had a good weekend which is good. But like the bad games the preceded the Pirates series they don't really mean too much. I want to see them hit the Dbacks. I really want to see them hit the Marlins. I accept that none of that may matter for the NLDS, but I want them coming in hot rather than cold if I can have it.
Daniel Murphy hasn't played a full game in over a week (it was the Saturday before last), taking two PH at bats since then. He doesn't need to play today, not really, but it would be nice. Really if you want to go full "DOOOOOOOM" about it - wait to see if he's not ready for the Marlins series. Then I would worry. He's been active. He's played 145 games or whatever. It wouldn't even be a full two weeks out. It shouldn't take him more than a few games to get back into the swing of things.
*Now if it's the Mets or Cardinals or Giants? Yes, the Nats have to beat them too. In fact it's more imperative because those are three teams who are seen as gutsy winners. Lose to them and you not only damn the Nats but you push the other guy up. You make things worse overall for me by extending this stupid narrative. Lose to the Dodgers and well, that hurts the Nats but no one is going to be screaming about scrappiness and grit for LA.