I don’t feel all that badly about the Nationals’ horrific loss to the Cardinals in Game 5 of their National League Division Series. No, really.
I slept like a baby Friday night, or maybe like someone who never heard of baseball. One fan told me he couldn’t nod off for two hours, presumably after muttering “Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma” hundreds of times.
My friends couldn’t understand how I took the calamitous events so calmly. After all, I’ve been a Washington or Baltimore baseball buff since Bess Truman was running things in the White House. There are three reasons:
The Nats deserved to lose Game 5, even if their fans didn’t.
We know, or should, two incontrovertible facts about postseason baseball: It’s a crapshoot, and you can’t beat yourself. A Nats team that won 98 regular-season games did just that in Friday night’s 9-7 defeat by the Cardinals — that’s right, all of ‘em and not just Drew Storen, the stellar closer who was the Face of Failure at the end.
You don’t go four innings without scoring a run after grabbing a 6-0 lead. Your starting pitcher doesn’t nibble away at the plate instead of just throwing fastballs for strikes. And your supposedly brilliant manager doesn’t hand the ball to struggling starter Edwin Jackson instead of bullpen stalwart Ryan Mattheus in the seventh inning.
But you know what? Let’s forget all that and dwell on the positives. A young club that supposedly was a year away from contention put up the best regular-season record in baseball (98-64). What’s more, everybody except probably the unfortunate Jackson will be back, assuming free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche re-signs.
Stephen Strasburg will be dealing guided missiles from the mound all season. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, his shoulder surgically repaired, will be making normal throws instead of those awkward, often errant sidearm flings. Bryce Harper will be a 20-year-old star rather than a 19-year-old Wunderkind.
And there’s no way Nats regulars will lose as many man-games to injuries. All told in 2012, Wilson Ramos sat out 137 games, Jayson Werth 81, Michael Morse 60, Ian Desmond 32, and Zimmerman 17, If you’re not scoring at home, that adds up to a whopping 327 — plus those missed by Goon Squadders Chad Tracy and Mark DeRosa and Storen’s absence for half the season.
If the 2012 Nats were an aging team taking its last shot at the World Series, I’d be depressed, too. But Washington had the second-youngest roster in MLB, and the future looks much brighter than the recent past. If the Nats can hold off the always threatening Braves, they could dominate the National League East for years.
From here to seemingly eternity, we’re going to read and hear speculation whether last week’s loss will “motivate” the Nats for next season. That’s malarkey, to borrow a word from Joe Biden, because motivation doesn’t win baseball games and championships — talent does. And there’s plenty of that residing in all those bodies with a curly W on their shirtfronts.
It will be more than four months before pitchers and catchers report for spring training in Viera, Fla., and for us baseball nuts, that seems an interminable wait. But let’s spend it thinking of all the good things to come rather than harboring sad memories of a chilly winter’s night in October.