Nationals

Nationals

By winning the World Series, the 2019 Washington Nationals ensured they will be remembered for a long, long time. The only question is exactly how.

Most title teams accomplish their feats with a long list of contributors and the Nationals are no exception. They wouldn't have won all the playoff games they did if it weren't for everyone from Max Scherzer to Michael A. Taylor to Brian Dozier to Fernando Rodney.

But in the moment, as the elation of victory remains fresh, it seems like a safe bet two individuals will be remembered for what they did this October most above the others; Stephen Strasburg and Juan Soto. 

Strasburg was the World Series MVP after tossing 14 1/3 innings against the Astros with four runs allowed, 14 strikeouts and three walks across two starts. His 8 1/3-inning gem in Game 6 was pivotal as the Nats faced elimination on the road.

Strasburg made six total appearances in the postseason and the Nats won all of those games. He held a 1.98 ERA, struck out 47 batters in 36 1/3 innings and walked four. He had a great regular season and then, when the calendar turned to October, became an all-time great. 

Strasburg is on a Hall of Fame track statistically, boasting a 3.17 ERA in 239 total regular season starts across 10 MLB seasons. But longevity is so important to separate yourself in baseball history and Strasburg may have years to go of pitching the way he has to cement his case.

But this October sure helped. In fact, it probably supercharged his candidacy to where it now could be a relatively safe bet he someday ends up in Cooperstown. His postseason heroics now compare favorably to those of Madison Bumgarner, Jon Lester and other contemporary playoff legends.

 

Then, there is Soto who had a strong case for World Series MVP himself. He had three homers in the World Series, six runs and seven RBI. For the postseason as a whole, he had five homers, 14 RBI and 12 runs in 17 games.

Soto also had some indelible moments like his go-ahead hit off Josh Hader in the eighth inning of the NL Wild Card game against the Brewers. He then had the game-tying homer in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Dodgers. And his homer off Justin Verlander in Game 6 of the World Series, the one where he afterwards carried his bat down the first base line to one-up Alex Bregman, will never be forgotten.

Strasburg has left a lasting mark on the Nationals franchise in general, beyond his playoff exploits, which will help secure his legacy. And Soto looks like the future of baseball, a guy poised to become a face of the game for many years to come. If he follows the trajectory he is currently on, that will help his memories last.

Strasburg and Soto seem like locks to join some exclusive company in D.C. sports history, on the short list of postseason legends. It has names like John Riggins and Doug Williams, Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby. Wes Unseld is on there and so is Walter Johnson. They are synonymous with winning and championships and greatness.

Usually, as time goes on, the list of names championships are associated with can dwindle. But thirty years from now, even the next generation of D.C. sports fans that didn't live through what happened on Wednesday night will know the names Soto and Strasburg.

They will also know Scherzer's, of course, as he is going to go down as arguably the best pitcher of his generation. Winning a World Series tops off what was already a distinguished resume. He may have a statue outside of Nationals Park someday.

And Ryan Zimmerman will always go hand-in-hand with the Nationals. The fact he played his way into the starting lineup and delivered in several big moments made the World Series run that much sweeter.

Anthony Rendon's legacy in all of this could depend on what happens in the next few months, whether he leaves in free agency or not. But even if he signs with a rival team, his standing among Washington fans will always be as the homegrown star who delivered a World Series title.

What will be most interesting to monitor in the decades to come is which role players are immortalized. Howie Kendrick is the obvious one. He hit a grand slam in the 10th inning of Game 5 of the NLDS against the Dodgers. Then, he earned NLCS MVP honors against the Cardinals.

And then, in Game 7 of the World Series, he hit the go-ahead homer, an opposite-field shot off Will Harris. At 36 years old, not long removed from tearing his Achilles, Kendrick played the best baseball of his career at the perfect time.

 

Kendrick will go down in a special category of D.C. sports lore; the role player who played above his normal level on the biggest stage. What he did was akin to Devante Smith-Pelly and Lars Eller for the 2018 Capitals, or Timmy Smith for the Redskins in the 1988 Super Bowl. Like those guys, Kendrick will be more famous in Washington than anywhere else for the rest of his life.

How the Nationals will be remembered can only be determined in the years to come. We will have to see which moments and which players ultimately stand the test of time.

But what they did this season can never be taken away, that we know. They are World Series champions and that will last forever.

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