The Washington Nationals are leaving St. Louis with the Division Series tied 1-1 after the Cardinals walloped them on October 8 by a final score of 12-4. And Washington fans should be happy with that result. They could have been facing the end of a wonderful season day after tomorrow.
The division series can be an unbelievably humbling and frustrating experience for a team with great expectations.
A team that won 100 games in the regular season failed to get out of the division series 10 times since the wild-card format began in 1995.
The 1998 Houston Astros (102 wins), 1999 Arizona Diamondbacks (100 wins), 2001 and 2002 Oakland Athletics (102 and 103 wins), 2002 Atlanta Braves (101 wins), 2002 New York Yankees (103 wins), 2008 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (100 wins) and the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies (102 wins) all went into October with World Series ambitions.
Every one of them watched the League Championship Series from their living rooms while an inferior regular-season team moved on.
The Nationals fell short of 100 wins, but their 98 wins was tops in the bigs. The deciding games of the Division Series, NLCS and World Series could all be played at Nationals Park.
The first Washington World Series since 1933 and first title since 1924 were plausible.
And then Jordan Zimmermann got rocked, Carlos Beltran homered twice and the Nationals were clobbered.
And as last year's Phillies can attest, the Cardinals are dangerous if you give them a chance. If Ryan Mattheus hadn't gotten out of a bases-loaded no-outs jam and Tyler Moore hadn't hit a two-out, two-run pinch-hit single in the eighth inning of Game 1, then the Nationals might be staring down a 2-0 hole with the defending World Champions gaining confidence with each win.
The Nationals had better find their confidence that won them 98 games when they return to Washington.
Otherwise this season will be forgotten as quickly as those 100-win division-series losers before them.
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