Before this weekend’s trip to St. Louis the Washington Nationals had won ten out of thirteen games and appeared to be hitting the type of hot streak that could propel them to a division title. Then Washington received a punch to the gut as a three game sweep by the St. Louis Cardinals brought the team back to reality.
There is no doubt that the Nationals have postseason and possibly World Series talent when they are clicking on all cylinders. However, failure to consistently defeat the top teams in the National League over the last three years should be a cause for concern within the organization.
A team cannot make it through the National League postseason without going through the Atlanta Braves and/or St. Louis Cardinals. So far this season, Washington has a record of 3-10 against Atlanta and St. Louis. Though it appears that they will be in the thick of the postseason race going forward, the Nationals will need to better their play against the league’s elite to win their first playoff series.
As an organization, Washington lacks the pedigree of Atlanta and St. Louis. I don’t believe the Nationals’ failures against these two teams are based on a severe talent differential, but rather a winning culture developed over time. The Braves won the NL East eleven straight times between 1995-2005, an accomplishment that is almost unthinkable in today’s MLB. Over the last three years, the Cardinals have made the postseason each year while reaching the World Series twice.
Since moving to Washington, the Nationals have not yet won a playoff series. Dating back to their years in Montreal, the organization is only one of two in the majors that has not reached the World Series. This is a tough hurdle to climb as a winning culture is developed over time, an organization standards are difficult to change.
Thankfully, if there is some silver lining for Washington, each season provides a clean slate for every organization. Each ball club faces new challenges and records and trends are broken. For the Nationals, the time to win is now. Ryan Zimmerman recently stated, “realistically, we are only going to be together for this year and next year”. Referring to the impending free agency for multiple current roster members, Zimmerman realizes the window for this team may close at the end of 2015. To achieve their most important goal, the Nationals must develop an expectation to win the biggest games immediately.