- - Wednesday, October 12, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION

I don’t believe in curses, jinxes, hexes or mojo. But that’s all you’re left to talk about when your team keeps losing crucial games at the most inopportune time.

Three NL East titles in five years is a wonderful accomplishment by the Nationals, not to be taken lightly or for granted. However, what have they done for us in October? Teddy Pendergrass’ “Bad Luck” could be the unofficial theme song when the postseason rolls around.

On the flip side is whatever you make of the San Francisco Giants‘ run. Those fans enjoyed a wonderfully heady streak before the Chicago Cubs snapped it Tuesday night. How do you explain a ballclub winning the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014, while missing the playoffs altogether in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015?

The Giants had the flimsiest reason to claim “This is our year!” Yet, their argument made cosmic sense until they faced baseball’s best team, which is dragging around its own steamer trunk crammed with 108 years of misfortune.

No one on the south side of Chicago has patience with fan bases that complain about postseason futility. But the Cubs’ sorry recent history is no salve for Washington Nationals fans, whose wounds are at risk of being re-opened Thursday night in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.

The Nationals are working on their own even/odd streak, except it’s a polar opposite to the Giants‘ run. Washington reached the playoffs in 2012, 2014 and 2016, with also-ran campaigns sandwiched between. In 2012 and 2014, the fun ended with losses in the NLDS, first at Nationals Park, then on the road.

So Thursday’s game represents a two-fold pattern, set to happen or set to be broken.

“This is going to be a heck of a ballgame,” Max Scherzer told reporters Tuesday in Los Angeles after the Dodgers forced the issue in Game 4. “The effort from both sides over the first four games has been incredible. We’ve seen unbelievable baseball, from both sides. Great pitching, great hitting, defense, everything.”

Yes, everything. Including, for Nats fans, worry, unease and dread.

The Nationals have trailed after the first inning in each game. Fans have breathed easily for only a moment, on Monday, when the Nationals broke open a one-run game by scoring four times in the top of the ninth. They rallied to tie Game 4 in the top of the seventh, only to yield a run in the bottom of the eighth.

Now, Thursday night, who knows?

It could be a repeat of 2012 when the bullpen collapsed (they’ve been excellent, but Blake Treinen gave up the go-ahead run Tuesday). The $210 million starting pitcher could implode (Scherzer might win the Cy Young but he was hit hard in Game 1). The offense could tighten up and go cold (Jayson Werth, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner and Ryan Zimmerman are hitting .333 or higher, but might rub up against .091-Danny Espinosa).

At least the Nationals will bat last.

“That’s why we fought so hard for the home-field advantage,” manager Dusty Baker said after Tuesday’s 6-5 loss. “You don’t think it’s going to come into play, but most of the time, it does. And so we’re going home.”

The question is whether they’ll take individual flights into the offseason afterward, or fly together to Chicago for the NLCS.

Another question: How many folks will remain at Nationals Park for either the wild victory celebration or the round of polite applause?

These games are moving slower than Artic ice. According to ESPN Stats & Info, this is the first postseason series where each of the first three games lasted 3:45 or longer. Tuesday’s affair just missed, coming in at a crisp 3:44. With Metro’s SafeTrack program creating an 11:20 p.m. last-call for many subway riders (service shuts down at midnight), there could be a mass exodus in the eighth inning.

Metro has been firm in its stance to deny exceptions other than the presidential inauguration next January, having already said no to the Marine Corps Marathon and Washington’s NFL team. Metro board Chairman and D.C. City Councilmember Jack Evans has lobbied hard for extended service during the postseason. So has Scherzer.

“I would hope to believe that playoff games here in D.C. would mean more than shutting down the lines for a couple of hours,” Scherzer said last month on 106.7 The Fan. “Are we gonna have the seventh-inning stretch and then, ‘Oh, no, the Metro’s line closing. We can’t stay. It’s the playoffs, but nice seeing ya.’”

If the same 2012, end-of-night heartbreak awaits fans Thursday, it’s probably better that they spare themselves by leaving early. But we put no stock in curses, jinxes, hexes or mojo.

The Giants failed in the quest to continue their #BelievEVEN magic.

But in D.C., the Nats are poised to get past the sad results of #DisbelievEVEN.

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