Nationals

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Nats ready for home cooking

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Nats ready for home cooking

Much has been made of the Nationals' best-in-baseball road record, which following an 8-2 trip through Houston, Arizona and San Francisco now stands at 41-23. That's a better road winning percentage, by far, than any team in the majors has at home, a stunning fact when you stop and think about it.

One point, however, hasn't been made about the Nationals' prowess away from the District: They've played more road games than anybody in the sport.

Which also means they've played the fewest home games, which could prove quite the advantage as the final stretch of a remarkable season fast approaches.

Indeed, 27 of the Nationals' final 44 games are scheduled to be played on South Capitol Street, a nice little bonus for a club that already has done everything it can to position itself for a postseason berth.

Based on what we've seen over the last 4 12 months, the Nationals are perfectly comfortable playing wherever they are instructed to play. And certainly they aren't going to take for granted all these home games down the stretch.

But as the final leg of the regular season arrives, we are about to find out just what type of environment the Nationals (and everyone else in the sport) can expect from a town that hasn't experienced a pennant race in three generations.

Interest and attention in this team has progressively increased since Opening Day. Overall, the Nationals are averaging just under 30,000 fans per game, which ranks 14th among MLB's 30 clubs.

But the numbers keep getting larger. Over their last 33 home dates, the Nats are drawing an average crowd of 33,053. That's a 32 percent increase from this point last season.

There's every reason to believe those numbers will continue to climb. A six-game homestand against the Mets and Braves would typically draw well regardless. But with the Nationals returning home from the best road trip in club history and holding a four-game lead in the NL East, there's all the more reason for attendance to swell. The same theory should hold true later this month when the Cardinals and Cubs come to town.

It's no secret the Nationals' fan base is growing. MLB announced this week local television ratings are up 67 percent this season, the largest increase in the sport. There's been ample opportunity to watch this team on TV because so many games have been played on the road.

Now, though, the Nationals are gearing up for 27 home games in 48 days. The ballpark should be as electric as its ever been in its five years of existence.

This is when a team and its following establish its true identity, when the bond between players and fans grows and everybody lives and dies with each pitch. It may reach a crescendo sometime in late-September or early-October, when the outcome of every game really matters. And if all goes well, it reaches an entire new level after that.

What will that identity look and feel like? We don't know. Barely anyone in this town has experienced something like this before. It will have to develop organically over the next six weeks.

The process begins tonight. And for those who have waited a lifetime for this, it's not a moment too soon.

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Nationals Game 5 meltdown yet another reminder why D.C. can't have nice things

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Nationals Game 5 meltdown yet another reminder why D.C. can't have nice things

On Thursday night, a Washington, D.C. pro sports team did something Washington, D.C. pro sports teams are very good at doing: fall short of making a league or championship game.

The Nationals' disastrous fifth inning against the Cubs in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series was the beginning of the end, not to mention yet another in a long line of disappointing playoff results for Washington, D.C. sports teams.

You see, Washington, D.C. is the only city with at least three major pro sports teams to not have a single one make a conference or league championship game since 2000.

To make matters worse, Washington, D.C. sports teams have now lost 16 consecutive playoff games in which a win would've advanced the team to the conference or league championship. 

Think about that for a second. Four teams. Zero conference championship appearances since 1998. 

Here's the list.

Washington, D.C. sports fans are not greedy. We can't be. We've had some very good teams recently, with the type of talent, coaching and intangibles needed to win a championship. 

TRY THIS: 20 THINGS DC SPORTS FANS SHOULD BE HAPPY ABOUT. YES, HAPPY.

The last time a major Washington, D.C. pro sports team won a world championship was in 1992 when the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI.  The last time a major Washington, D.C. pro sports team even made a conference championship game was in 1998, when the Capitals advanced to the Eastern Conference Final, defeating the Sabres to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

Washington, D.C. isn't allowed to have nice sports things.

Sure, we have great players and great teams, but when the playoffs roll around, all the nice things go away. We aren't privy to plucky upstarts who run the table and we aren't privy to dominant teams that make long postseason runs.

Washington, D.C. will have its day, eventually. Sure it may only be a conference championship appearance, but for us, that's fine. We don't expect world championships. We just want something to get invested in.

Early playoff exits are rarely worth the investment.

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With contractual decisions looming, Nats missed chance at stress-free World Series run

With contractual decisions looming, Nats missed chance at stress-free World Series run

"This is the year."

That's the motto for almost every D.C. sports fan when their team is headed for the postseason.

The Nats led a weak NL East the entire season and clinched a spot to play October baseball early into September.

RELATED: COUNTLESS ERRORS DOOM NATIONALS IN SEASON-ENDING LOSS

The team overcame the obstacle of being plagued with injuries and with pitchers like Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer having a strong bullpen to back them up, the stars were aligning for the team to go all the way.

But now with players like Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy having contracts up for grabs in 2019, Nationals reporter Chelsea Janes says 2017 was really the last chance for the team to win a stress-free title.

"I think those questions you've raised like Bryce [Harper's] contract, [Daniel} Murphy may be leaving, you know Rizzo's contract's up after next year, I think those are the things they didn't have to deal with this year that made this such a free chance," Janes said on the Sports Junkies Friday.

"It was a free chance to just feel good and do it now and not have everyone say this is your absolute last chance, and next year it's their absolute last chance for a little while, I think."

"I mean they're not going to be awful in '19, but they're going to be different and I think they've sort of wasted their free pass here and there's legitimate and kind of unrelenting pressure on them next year to make it happen."

It's hard to make sense of what a team will look like one day after a devastating series loss. One thing that is fairly certain is that time is ticking for the Nats to make it happen with arguably the most talented group of players they've ever had.