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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