Superstitions run rampant in baseball -- the same can be said for the Nationals, whether they care to admit it or not.
Washington is now 7-0 in the postseason when wearing their navy blue jerseys. The Nationals have worn the blue threads in every game since Game 4 of the NLDS, and they've won all six of those games, including their four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals to win the National League title and secure their spot in the World Series.
Back toward the beginning of the season, Nationals skipper Davey Martinez joked, "I'm not superstitious, I'm just a little stitious," a line from the popular TV show The Office.
The only postseason victory the Nationals haven't worn their navy blues for this year is the Wild Card win over the Brewers -- that night, their clean all-whites did the trick. (Even after Martinez "screwed up" and accidentally trimmed his 'playoff beard' a little too much).
Baseball, arguably more than other team sports, is known for its superstitions. Because the season is so long, and because so much of the sport (especially for pitchers) revolves around maintaining a routine, it makes sense that those superstitions develop.
Traditionally, superstitions have been associated with baseball since the start of the 20th Century; a 1938 article in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin cited a major-league manager as having repeatedly claimed "luck is one-third of baseball." Whether the Nationals' success is due to the blue jerseys or whether it comes from the team's attitude and capabilities on the field, the fact remains that there's a correlation between which jersey they wear and whether or not they win.
Now the Nationals have a six-day break before the World Series starts on Tuesday, which gives them plenty of time to wash (or not) the navy blues.
It is unlikely the Nationals risk breaking their streak by wearing a different jersey for the World Series, if they can help it. If not, maybe the power of Baby Shark will make up for the lack of blue jerseys.
The Nationals took a significant step in building their roster for the 2020 season Friday when they reportedly re-signed Howie Kendrick to a one-year, $6.25 million deal with a mutual option for 2021.
Kendrick was limited to just 121 games during the regular season but played an important role for the team in the playoffs with some hits that will forever live in Nationals lore.
But Kendrick wasn’t just a clutch hitter in the playoffs. His 1.135 OPS in “late and close” situations—defined by Baseball-Reference as any situation in the seventh inning or later where a hitter’s team is either up by one, tied or the tying run is on deck—ranked second on the team among players with at least 30 such plate appearances last season.
Washington is bringing back the 36-year-old with hopes that he can continue to come through in key moments as his career winds down. But even if he doesn’t, Kendrick has cemented his Nationals legacy.
Here are six of his best moments from the 2019 season.
April 13 – Eaton, Kendrick spoil Archer’s big day
Chris Archer has had an up-and-down tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates since being acquired in a blockbuster trade midway through the 2018 season. His best start of the year, however, came against the Nationals on April 13.
Archer held Washington one run on four hits over seven innings, handing the game over to the Pirates’ bullpen with a 2-1 lead. Reliever Richard Rodriguez retired the first two batters he faced in the eighth before Adam Eaton came to the plate.
That’s when the pendulum swung, as Eaton left the yard only for Kendrick to do so a few minutes later. Sean Doolittle closed the door in the top of the ninth and the Nationals moved to 7-6 on the year.
May 9 – Kendrick drives in four against the Dodgers
Patrick Corbin may have been the story in this one by blanking the Los Angeles Dodgers over seven strong frames, but it was also one of Kendrick’s best games of the year.
His big hit didn’t come late, however. Kendrick took Rich Hill deep for a three-run homer in the top of the first to set the tone early. He then hit an RBI single with two runners on in the eighth before the Nationals eventually won 6-0.
June 9 – Kendrick hits the first of four straight homers
It was a 1-1 game when Kendrick came to the plate in the top of the eighth against the San Diego Padres on June 9. So naturally he saw a curveball heading for the center of the plate and pulled it into the left field seats for a go-ahead home run.
What followed was absolute madness. Trea Tuner homered. Then Eaton did. Then Anthony Rendon. It was the second time the Nationals went back-to-back-to-back-to-back in team history and more than enough to give Washington the win.
NLDS Game 5 – The greatest moment in Nationals history, for a few weeks
“Do you believe it!?”
That was the radio call Dave Jageler made when Kendrick hit a go-ahead grand slam in the 10th inning. It was the moment that delivered the Nationals’ first postseason series winning, putting to bed a history of disappointment for the franchise.
It was the single-most important hit any Nationals player ever had. That is, until a certain World Series game a few weeks later…
NLCS Game 3 – Kendrick hits three doubles en route to NLCS MVP honors
There was no way a list like this could be put together without a nod toward Kendrick’s NLCS performance. He reached base seven times in the series, driving in four runs and scoring another four of his own. But by far his best game came in Game 3.
The Nationals returned to D.C. with a 2-0 lead over the St. Louis Cardinals and treated their fans to a blowout 8-1 win. Kendrick smacked three doubles, including a two-run, opposite-field gap plugger off Jack Flaherty in the bottom of the third that gave Washington a 4-0 lead.
World Series Game 7 – You know the one
When that ball clanked off the foul pole down the right field line, it changed the lives of D.C. sports fans forever. The magical run had one last bit of magic left, and of course it came courtesy of the man who gave the fan base real hope in the first place.
Kendrick is back for another run in 2020. The Nationals? They’re hoping his magic hasn’t run out just yet.
The Nationals have a long and well-documented history of working out deals with agent Scott Boras. Max Scherzer, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Matt Wieters are just a few of his clients who’ve signed with Washington in the past.
But that longstanding relationship may be tested this offseason, with Boras’ prized free agents Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon both on the open market. Principal owner Mark Lerner sat down with NBC Sports Washington on Thursday, admitting that the team doesn’t expect to retain both its former stars.
“We really can only afford to have one of those two guys,” Lerner said. “They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with.”
Boras spoke with The Athletic shortly thereafter and didn’t agree with the notion that Washington was strapped financially.
“The Nationals are experiencing a revenue festival in 2020,” Boras texted Ken Rosenthal on Friday morning. “World Series momentum has blossomed, millions in DC.
“The franchise value has increased by nearly $2 billion since their purchase. The Nationals made an extra $30 million winning the World Series. Attendance will increase by more than four to five hundred thousand. TV ratings and advertising rates all skyrocketed.
“Everyone in DC knows special cherry trees create revenue bloom.”
Rosenthal noted that Boras may have overstated the value of the Nationals’ franchise, as Forbes pegged it at $1.75 billion entering the season. The Lerner family purchased the team from Major League Baseball in 2006 for $450 million.
Nationals President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo spoke with reporters at the premiere of the World Series documentary on Monday, saying both free agents “know where our heart lies.” Rizzo added that while team officials haven’t sat down with either of them so far this winter, “we’ve been meeting for about 10 years.”
Whether Lerner was just using a negotiating tactic to drive the prices down or speaking bluntly on the team’s budget remains to be seen, but the prospects of either player returning to D.C. won’t be nil until they’ve both inked new deals.