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How one Juan Soto swing changed the Nationals' Wild Card win probability entirely

How one Juan Soto swing changed the Nationals' Wild Card win probability entirely

For much of Tuesday's National League Wild Card contest, things looked very similar to the postseason horrors from years past for the Nationals.

Tuesday marked the first time the Nationals played in the one-game Wild Card, a format that the MLB adopted in 2012 that added a fifth playoff team in each league. But it wasn't the first time this team has faced a win-or-go-home scenario, as it was the club's fourth time playing in a postseason winner-take-all game since the franchise moved from Montreal to Washington, D.C.

In their first three games of said situation, the Nationals were 0-3. The sting from 2012, 2016, and 2017 still feels fresh.

Early on, things seemed to be no different this time around as well. Nationals ace Max Scherzer walked Brewers leadoff hitter Trent Grisham to open the game. Next came Yasmani Grandal, who sent a Scherzer fastball into the Nationals bullpen for an early Brewers 2-0 lead. 

Just two batters into the game, the Nationals win probability dropped to 31 percent, according to Fangraphs. An Eric Thames home run an inning later dropped Washington's win probability to just 21 percent. 

But after a rocky pair of innings, Scherzer would settle in. A home run from Trea Turner in the third inning slimmed Milwaukee's lead from 3-1, but Washington still had an uphill battle to climb. Even after the big fly, Fangraphs still only put Washington's chance of winning at 28 percent. 

The early fireworks began to fade. Neither club would cross home plate from the fourth inning through the seventh. Scherzer lasted five, paving the way for Stephen Strasburg to take the bump for the Nationals in relief. He was magnificent, but the Washington offense remained silent. 

With every out, the Nationals win probability became slimmer. A 1-2-3 inning from the Nationals following the stretch left them with just a 13 percent chance to come back with six outs to work with. Matters seemed to get even worse when they saw the Brewers trot out Josh Hader, one of the best relief pitchers in baseball, from the bullpen.

Strasburg allowed a two-out double in the top of the eighth, but got Ryan Braun to ground out to end the inning. No. 37 was pitching lights out for the home squad, but was due up second in the bottom half of the frame.

With the way Washington's bats had been all evening, a comeback still seemed far out of reach. Prior to tonight, teams down by multiple runs entering the eighth inning in the playoffs had a .050 winning percentage, according to Elias Sports.

After Victor Robles struck out to open the bottom half, Nationals manager Dave Martinez elected to pinch-hit Michael A. Taylor for Strasburg, ending his pitcher's night. As the outfielder entered the batter's box, Fangraphs gave Washington just an 11.9 percent chance of winning, down 3-1 with five outs to play.

Then came one of the most memorable innings in franchise history. Taylor was hit-by-pitch, bringing the tying run to the plate. A Turner strikeout would give Milwaukee their second out of the eighth, bringing Washington's win probability down to 11.6 percent.

But that's as low as it got. Pinch-hitting for Adam Eaton, the longest-tenured National stepped into the box. Ryan Zimmerman miraculously singled up the middle while breaking his bat, giving the Nationals runners on first and third. Their win probability remained slim: 16.6 percent to be exact.

Rendon walked, juicing the bases for the Nationals 20-year-old phenom. But no moment is too big for Juan Soto. 

Soto squared up a Hader fastball, a line drive landing in front of Grisham in right field. Two runs would score. The game was tied. Then, the ball skirted past Grisham, and Rendon would come in from first on the error. Soto was tagged out at second, but that was the last thing on the star's mind. He has just given the Nationals their first lead of the game. 

When Rendon walked, the Nationals had just a 22.7 probability to win. After Soto's three-RBI knock, that percentage skyrocketed to 83.8 percent. All Nationals reliever Daniel Hudson had to do was get three outs, and it would be Washington, not Milwaukee, traveling to Los Angeles on Thursday for Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Dodgers.

Hudson struck out Thames to begin the ninth, bringing the home team's win probability to 91.8 percent. Next up was Lorenzo Cain, who would single up the middle. But Hudson would get Orlando Arcia to pop out to Kurt Suzuki. With just one out remaining, the Nationals could smell the finish line. Their win probability was up to 92.1 percent.

Up to try and save the Brewers season was Ben Gamel. He put but a good swing on the ball, giving Nationals fans a brief scare. But Robles would jog just shy of the warning track, waiting a brief second before the ball squeezing the ball found the bottom of his glove.

The Nationals comeback was complete.

In many ways, Tuesday evening was a microcosm for the Nationals' 2019 season. April and May brought little joy to the ballclub. After they were swept by the New York Mets on May 24, they were given just a three percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to the Washington Post.

Their turnaround during the second half of the season became one of the most exciting stories in baseball, as they put together four excellent months resulting in a 93-win season. And on the first night of the month that defines baseball, they brought some October magic. Even the numbers show it.

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Ryan Zimmerman can't wait for 'most unique World Series celebration of all-time'

Ryan Zimmerman can't wait for 'most unique World Series celebration of all-time'

April 2 was supposed to be a historic day in Nationals history.

It was scheduled as their home opener against the Mets and the day they would raise their first World Series championship banner. But with coronavirus delaying the start to the season, Nats fans, players and personnel will have to wait a little longer. 

No player has had to wait for a World Series title in DC longer than Ryan Zimmerman, and he didn't hide his disappointment in an interview with 106.7 The Fan Thursday

"The bummer is today," Zimmerman said. "Today was going to be the day we all thought would be the one day where we actually look back on [the World Series].

"It's a beautiful day outside and it’s tough to look outside and think of what could’ve been," he said. 

Looking on the bright side, it's not like the wait will diminish anyone's excitement. Zimmerman also made an interesting point. The fact that the Nationals had an unforgettable and unprecedented run to a World Series title, it makes a little sense the celebration would be delayed for unforgettable and unprecedented reasons. 

"It'll be the most unique World Series celebration of all-time," he said. "A lot of things will not be forgotten about our 2019 season. The way we won it, the comebacks in the playoffs and it's only fitting that it won't be forgotten how long it took us to celebrate it."

We still don't know exactly when baseball will begin again, but when it does Nats fans will have plenty more to celebrate than just a World Series banner going up. 

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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Remembering the roller coaster of emotions that was Bryce Harper's return to DC

Remembering the roller coaster of emotions that was Bryce Harper's return to DC

Over the course of his seven-year stint in the nation’s capital, Bryce Harper stepped to the plate 1,994 times at the Nationals’ home ballpark. The D.C. faithful cheered him on each time, hoping the at-bat they were about to see was going to produce something special.

That 1,995th time, however, was different. When Harper arrived at Nationals Park on April 2, 2019, he was no longer the face of their franchise. He was the $330 million prized offseason addition of the Philadelphia Phillies, an NL East rival looking to climb back into contention following a lengthy rebuild.

Harper stepped to the plate in the top of the first faced the with the challenge of batting against former teammate and three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. It was unclear what to expect of a Nationals Park crowd that included a throng of Phillies fans in center field, but there was no confusion as to whether Harper was treated to jeers or cheers when his name was called.

The former NL MVP worked the count to 2-2 against Scherzer before striking out swinging on a changeup to electrify the Nationals Park crowd.

Other than another Harper strikeout, however, there would be little else that Nationals fans would cheer about that evening. The Phillies broke open a 5-0 lead against Washington’s bullpen before Harper hit an RBI single for his first career hit against the Nationals.

The home team would put two runs on the board to get within striking distance, but Harper had the last laugh that night after he put the game away with a 458-foot homer off Jeremy Hellickson before taking the time to toss a spinning bat flip at the Nationals’ home dugout.

Of course, the Nationals were really the ones who had the last laugh after they eliminated the Phillies from playoff contention with a five-game sweep in September before making a miracle run to their first World Series win in franchise history.

As for the Phillies, well, they have 12 more years with Harper to try and top that.

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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