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A history lesson of MLB wild-card playoff games with Nats on cusp of postseason berth

A history lesson of MLB wild-card playoff games with Nats on cusp of postseason berth

Now that winning the NL East division is an impossibility, the Nationals have turned their attention towards making the 2019 MLB Postseason by way of the two NL Wild Card spots. This is entirely unfamiliar territory for the Nats and their fans.

The four times the Nats have qualified for the postseason, they won the NL East division. They have lost to wild card teams, but have never been one themselves.

MLB's wild card system wasn't installed until 1994. The current setup, with two wild card teams that face off in a winner-take-all game to qualify for the Division Series, wasn't enacted until 2012. So, the Nats are in a much better position than they would have been just eight years ago.

That said, beginning the postseason with a one-off game is not for the faint of heart. Anything can happen in one baseball game and especially when two teams put their seasons on the line.

From the seven years of the wild card game system, we have learned a few things. For one, those teams have a solid chance of going on deep postseason runs, even though they then have to meet a division-winner in the next round in a five-game series that begins on the road.

In the last four years, three teams won the wild card game and then advanced to the Championship Series. It has happened six total times in seven years. If the Nats got to the NLCS, it would be further than they have ever been before.

In 2014, the San Francisco Giants won the NL Wild Card game on the road, then went on to win the World Series. They, of course, beat the Nationals in the NLDS that year. Washingtonians remember that series well.

The Nats also lost to a wild card team in 2012. That year the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Braves in the wild card round, the Nats in the NLDS and went on to lose in seven games to the Giants in the NLCS.

The 2014 Giants were one of two teams to win a wild card game and then go to the World Series. It also happened with the Royals the same year, as they lost to San Francisco in the championship round.

Six total teams have won a World Series after entering the postseason as a wild card team. That includes the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who ended their famous title drought by sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals.

The MLB postseason has enough parity to where any team that qualifies has a real chance of winning it all. And the wild card game itself has all the makings for MLB postseason madness.

But interestingly enough, the games are often not very close. In fact, of the 14 total wild card games played between the AL and NL, only two have been decided by fewer than three runs. Half of them, seven total, have been decided by four runs or more.

The drama, especially early and late in games, can be exhilarating. All the anticipation, with the season on the line, and every pitch represents a scoring opportunity, especially in this era where home runs fly out of ballparks more often than ever before.

But oftentimes, the result of the game becomes clear by the middle innings. The tension is cut earlier than expected by the realization your team is probably moving on, or that your season is in all likelihood about to be over.

That adds some pressure to managers who try to squeeze every ounce they can out of their teams. If the Nats are to make it, expect a lot of pitching changes.

In the 14 wild card games, half of the participants have used at least six pitchers. For context, only 17 percent of teams in World Series Game 7s have used at least six pitchers.

Last year, Cubs manager Joe Maddon used nine pitchers in a 13-inning loss to the Rockies in the NL Wild Card round. The game last four hours and 55 minutes.

Yeah, the games are usually long, too. The average wild card game has been three hours and 34 minutes. That is about 30 minutes longer than the average regular-season game during the same time period.

It can be fun for the teams that win. But the wild card game is usually a certain degree of excruciating for both sides. All of the drama of an MLB postseason series is packed into one, nine-inning game.

It's all the emotion and stress of the MLB Postseason boiled down into a concentrate. 

Get ready, Nats fans. It could get weird.

Baseball Reference's play index was used for this research.

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Davey Martinez names Carter Kieboom the Nationals’ starting third baseman

Davey Martinez names Carter Kieboom the Nationals’ starting third baseman

Carter Kieboom has not joined the Nationals for their on-field workouts yet. But, he does have a job assignment.

Davey Martinez said Saturday that Kieboom will be the team’s full-time third baseman when the season starts. The position was previously a competition between the rookie and veteran Asdrúbal Cabrera in spring training.

“As of right now, yes, I anticipate in a 60-game season, he’s going to go out there and play every day,” Martinez said of Kieboom.

The decision answers one of the largest questions of the offseason for the defending World Series champions. Their managing principal owner, Mark Lerner, said they could not afford Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon. So, they paid Strasburg and not Rendon. He signed with Anaheim.

Josh Donaldson was a high-end free agent they could have paid to play third base. He signed a four-year, $92 million contract with Minnesota. Trade rumors were also attached to Chicago’s Kris Bryant and Seattle’s Kyle Seager.

RELATED: WHAT DOES A SHORTENED SEASON MEAN FOR KIEBOOM?

None of that happened. The Nationals instead entered spring training with a question about who would replace Rendon, an MVP finalist in 2019, someone the organization drafted, developed and played for seven years, and the central figure in their offense. They needed a replacement and settled on Kieboom.

The 22-year-old’s brief, 11-game stint in the major leagues did not go well last season. He compiled -1.0 bWAR in barely two weeks. He struggled defensively at shortstop and produced an OPS-plus of 24 at the plate. However, the sample size is minuscule.

Washington has a history of playing its top prospects consistently under Mike Rizzo. Bryce Harper and Juan Soto were those the organization deemed ready at a young age, so they brought them up and put them in the field for good. The same idea follows Kieboom into the short season.

Kieboom started nine games at third base for Triple-A Fresno late last season. He made four errors. He played in 14 of the 17 spring training games before baseball slammed to a stop this year. Kieboom made three errors in 10 starts at third base then. It’s an alarming rate. That’s a 49-error full season. Rendon made 53 errors in seven seasons playing third base (729 starts).

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“The biggest thing for him was obviously his defense,” Martinez said. “We feel that he’s going to hit here. One thing when he left, [Tim Bogar] and Chip [Hale] talked to him about his footwork and really honing in on his footwork and getting his feet turned to where he’s going to throw at all times. I know he’s been working out. He’s hit tons. I know he’s faced live pitching and [was] trying to keep in shape the best he can and trying to do baseball activities as much as he can.”

Kieboom is expected to join the group workouts in Nationals Park on Sunday. When the season starts, he will be standing at third base, a legacy spot within the organization first held by Ryan Zimmerman then Rendon. Even in a short year, Kieboom will be compared to the person he is replacing, though he would argue there is no comparison.

“I’m not here to fill [Anthony Rendon's] shoes,” Kieboom told NBC Sports Washington in February. “That guy, in every category possible -- baseball, clubhouse, off the field, family, he checks all the boxes. He does it. He’s a special player. That’s not my job, to fill his shoes. My job’s to be myself, do what I can. Control what I can control.

“There’s going to be expectations of course. There’s going to be comparisons to what I do versus what Tony does. But that just comes with the job. That comes with anything when somebody as great as he is leaves, and joins another team and somebody needs to come in and fill the spot. I wouldn’t even say I’m replacing him. I don’t -- he’s not replaceable. But I’m here to fill a spot, take care of business, play my game and go from there.”

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Freddie Freeman and three other Braves have tested positive for the coronavirus

Freddie Freeman and three other Braves have tested positive for the coronavirus

ATLANTA -- Atlanta Braves four-time All-Star Freddie Freeman, reliever Will Smith and two teammates have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Manager Brian Snitker said Saturday the four players, including right-hander Touki Toussaint and infielder Pete Kozma, agreed to have the team disclose their positive tests.

Snitker said Freeman had a negative intake test before having a positive test on Friday. Snitker said the first baseman has a fever and "is not feeling great."

"It will be a while before we can get him back," Snitker said of Freeman.

RELATED: WHO IN SPORTS HAS TESTED POSITIVE FOR CORONAVIRUS

Major League Baseball has scheduled the 60-game season to start on July 23. Freeman is the biggest star in the sport so far to have his positive virus test publicly announced by his team.

The 30-year-old Freeman set career highs with 38 home runs and 121 RBIs last season in helping Atlanta win its second straight NL East title.

The Braves signed Smith, the former Giants reliever, to a three-year, $39 million deal in the offseason.

Snitker said Smith and Toussaint have no symptoms. He said Kozma, who is working with top minor leaguers at the team's Triple-A Gwinnett facility, has a fever.

Snitker also said first base coach Eric Young Sr., 53, has opted out of for the season due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

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