By: Chris Larson
The 2019 World Series officially concluded last night with the championship going to the Washington Nationals. Although the theme on this Halloween is all about ghosts and goblins, that isn't the case for the Washington Nationals, who for the first time in franchise history and in what was clearly an upset, will be traveling with the World Series trophy back to Washington DC and will get a ring to go along with it.
After what started out as a miserable season with their manager's job on life support, the Washington Nationals seemingly overcame obstacle after obstacle to win the World Series and proved to the rest of baseball that analytics aren't always 100% spot on when making critical plays in key moments of a game or deciding when to bring in a certain pitcher to face an opposing team's batter. After concluding the month of May with a 19-23 record and what looked like a season that was on pace to emulate some of the rebuilding teams like the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers, the Nationals were able to build a special bond in the clubhouse and really come together like a band of brothers to achieve this end goal.
Along the way, there were certainly challenges that the Washington Nationals faced everyday, but as Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer said, "You gotta believe." Believe is exactly what the Washington Nationals did and it was part of the equation that allowed them to keep their eye on the prize, ignore the outside critics, and rely heavily on a tremendous blend of veteran leadership and young talent along the way. Even players besides Scherzer were embracing the idea of believing in themselves and blocking out the outside noise.
If you recall, not only did the Washington Nationals have several star players on the Injured List in April and May, they also were trying to piece things together in their bullpen and find the best winning combination to help them close out games. With the help of General Manager President of Baseball Operations, Mike Rizzo, and his entire staff as well as the leadership provided by skipper, Davey Martinez and his entire coaching staff, the entire organization was able to find the winning combination. At that time, the Washington Nationals were forced to bring in guys on the cheap like RHP Fernando Rodney along with the likes of right-handers Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough. The latter two of that three-some were no longer with the team, once they made it to the postseason, but they still had to come in and give the Nationals some sort of bullpen depth for the team to be successful.
In addition, Mike Rizzo and his entire front office staff didn't stop there as they acquired three more relievers at the July 31st Trade Deadline in right-handers Daniel Hudson, Hunter Strickland, and Roenis Elias. Although both Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elias didn't impact the postseason success of the Washington Nationals, Daniel Hudson (pictured above) was tremendous and seemingly came through in many big spots. Hudson was the guy that got the ball in the ninth inning last night before closing the door and sealing things up for the Nationals.
Beyond having to piece things together in the bullpen, having a tremendous blend of veteran leadership and young talent was another key that allowed the Washington Nationals to have the success that they did this year. Over the course of last offseason, the Nationals identified the need to bring in the likes of second baseman Brian Dozier, infielder Howie Kendrick, and eventually outfielder Gerardo Parra who joined the team in May. Being able to rely heavily on those veterans with the young, talented players that make up the core of the Washington Nationals in outfielders, Juan Soto and Victor Robles, along with shortstop Trea Turner was critical.
Furthermore, you can't forget about the contributions that first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and third baseman Anthony Rendon brought to the park everyday either. Both are star-studded corner infielders who are well respected around the game and are favorites of the entire Washington Nationals fanbase. Without the contributions that both Zimmerman and Rendon brought to the field this year, the Washington Nationals likely wouldn't have made the playoffs and wouldn't have had the offensive success that they had both during the regular season and the postseason.
Lastly, in the Washington Nationals pursuit of a World Series Championship beyond overcoming challenges, having to piece together the bullpen, and having a tremendous blend of veteran leadership with young talent - you can't overlook the inundation of the "Baby Shark Dance" either. The aforementioned Gerardo Parra is the one that originally came up with the idea and decided to implement that song as his walkup song in honor of his kids. After doing so, the song not only became popular all over the airwaves around the country, but virtually took over the entire fanbase to the point where fans were coming to Nationals Park dressed in shark costumes, shark hats, and doing the shark dance anytime Parra would come up to the plate.
Those fun antics carried over with the Washington Nationals to the postseason and it's fair to say that they could have definitely had an effect on the way the team performed during the postseason. While it's Halloween and dressing up as a shark is socially acceptable on this day, that's part of the magic that summarizes the Washington Nationals 2019 season. It's unbelivable to think that a song like that could have such an effect on a team's performance, but it did just that and it likely brings back the idea of teams promoting team chemistry at a greater level moving forward.
In the age of numbers and analytics, team chemistry seems to get lost in the shuffle, but it's just as important now as it was twenty or thirty years ago. Without team chemistry, the Washington Nationals wouldn't have been the team they were this year and certainly wouldn't have ended the season hoisting the World Series trophy or with a ring on their finger. Even though it's funny, the "Baby Shark Dance" was all the rage and should be socially acceptable from now on regardless of what team embraces a similar song around the league.
Now that the Washington Nationals are riding high and World Series Champions, all of the attention now turns towards the offseason and determining the best course of action moving forward. The Nationals will have some tough decisions to make with free agency looming for aforementioned first baseman, Ryan Zimmerman and third baseman, Anthony Rendon, and a possible opt-out clause that can be exercised by World Series MVP and starting pitcher, Stephen Strasburg. All three of those players played an integral role in the Washington Nationals success this season, as mentioned previously, and all are fan favorites, but there will definitely be both payroll and luxury tax concerns that come into play when it comes to deciding which names to sign and which names to let walk in free agency.
Regardless of the tough decisions to come and the best course of action moving forward for the Washington Nationals, this Halloween the Nationals can celebrate knowing that they are bringing home a treat to Washington DC and their entire fan base in a World Series Championship. Although there are plenty of ghosts, goblins, and tricks that will be seen around the country today, the 2019 season was not a trick for the Washington Nationals and while it did feature some ghosts and goblins, in the form of injuries and underperformance that tried to derail their season, the team was able to overcome those obstacles and come out.