The Washington Nationals are sitting at home this October after losing an MLB-worst 107 games.
But if you tilt your head and squint really hard, it sort of looks like the Nationals are playing postseason baseball.
The MLB playoffs are littered with former Nationals players — from Bryce Harper in Philadelphia to Juan Soto in San Diego to Trea Turner in Los Angeles. In total, nine former Nationals are playing (or managing) in the League Division Series.
The familiar faces provide Nationals fans who can still stomach watching baseball with players to root for (or against). On the other hand, it’s a reminder that all these superstars were once playing in the District — some on the team that won the World Series just three years ago.
Of the former Nationals in the postseason, none are playing as well as Harper. The 2021 National League MVP missed all of July and some of August with a thumb injury, but he’s been red hot in the playoffs.
Harper, still just 29 years old despite debuting with the Nationals a decade ago, hit a home run in Philadelphia’s Wild Card Series-winning triumph over the Cardinals last week. He then followed that up by getting on base all four times in a 7-6 win over Atlanta in Game 1 of the NLDS on Tuesday. In four contests this postseason, Harper has a .429 batting average, .500 on-base percentage and .786 slugging percentage. The series is tied 1-1, with Game 3 scheduled for Friday.
Two other ex-Nationals are on the Phillies, albeit neither are particularly known for sporting the curly W. Kyle Schwarber, who played half a season in the District before being shipped up to Boston at the trade deadline last year, led the senior circuit with 46 home runs this season but has struggled mightily in the playoffs without a hit in 16 at-bats. And reliever Brad Hand, whose midseason meltdown last July helped spur general manager Mike Rizzo to initiate the rebuild and sell at the deadline, has pitched just once this postseason.
Harper is the only Phillie that Nationals fans have a true connection with. Unlike Soto, Harper wasn’t traded before his contract ran out. Instead, Harper left on his own accord to sign a $330 million deal with the Phillies. Now in the playoffs for the first time with the Phillies, maybe Harper can bring a World Series title back to Philadelphia — not to D.C., as he accidentally said in his introductory press conference — for the first time since 2008.
Soto, meanwhile, didn’t want to leave the District — or at least that’s what he said on multiple occasions to reporters this summer as rumors swirled about him being traded. But he did turn down a would-be record-breaking $440 million offer from the team, which led Rizzo to trade him and first baseman Josh Bell to the Padres in exchange for five prospects.
Early on with the Padres, as San Diego fans began to boo him during a stretch of poor performances, Soto said it was a “challenge” to go from a last-place team to one with World Series aspirations.
“The challenge is just going from a team that doesn’t care about anything because they know they don’t go anywhere to a team that has a really good chance to win the World Series,” Soto said.
Soto struggled with San Diego after the trade with a .236 batting average and just six home runs in 52 games, although he did post a .388 on-base percentage because, well, he is still Juan Soto. The struggles have continued in the playoffs, as Soto is hitting .250 with no extra-base hits and just two walks in San Diego’s five games. But he did hit a two-run single in the Padres’ Game 3 win over the Mets on Sunday.
“Everybody wants the big stage,” Soto told the San Diego Union-Tribune before the playoffs began. “I’m a guy that I want to be there. I want to have the bat in the moment. So even if I fail, or not, I want to be there.”
Bell, meanwhile, has had an even tougher time than Soto in San Diego. Bell hit .192 with just three long balls after the trade and is 3-for-15 this postseason. However, Bell’s two-run blast off Max Scherzer in San Diego’s Game 1 win over the Mets started the postseason off on the right foot for both him and the Padres.
The final Nationals star who is still playing is Turner, who was an All-Star in his first full season as a Dodger this year. Turner, who was traded to Los Angeles at last year’s deadline along with Scherzer, has homered in both games against the Padres. That series is tied 1-1 ahead of Game 3 Friday.
The Dodgers, who won an MLB-best 111 games this year, have another ex-National in reliever Blake Treinen, who pitched for Washington from 2014 to 2017 before becoming an All-Star closer in Oakland and back-end arm for Los Angeles. The Braves also have a lesser-known former National in Ehire Adrianza, who played just 31 games in Washington this season before going back to the team he won a World Series with in 2021.
Oh, and who could forget about Dusty Baker?
The Nationals’ manager in 2016 and 2017 is back in the playoffs in his third season with Houston, still looking for his first World Series as a skipper. The Astros, who won an AL-best 106 games, have a 2-0 series lead over the Mariners after Thursday’s 4-2 win in Game 2.