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A familiar refrain for the Nationals: Close, but no cigar


The Nationals have been in the postseason in four out of the last six years. They still have yet to win a playoff series. They officially became the Nationals (nee Expos) in 2005, but missed the playoffs up until 2012. After each playoff exit, the club’s manager faced scrutiny. Davey Johnson lasted just one more season after losing in 2012. Matt Williams had one more year after the Nats lost in 2014. Dusty Baker was at the helm each of the last two seasons in which they failed in the playoffs and he’ll be under the microscope for the next week or so in the aftermath of the NLDS.

Nationals fans and detractors alike can pinpoint specific moments of abject failure. In 2012, it was closer Drew Storen giving up two two-run singles to the Cardinals in the ninth inning, erasing a two-run lead and creating a two-run deficit. In 2014, it was Joe Panik scoring the go-ahead run in the seventh inning on an Aaron Barrett wild pitch. In 2016, it was the Nationals’ inability to solve closer Clayton Kershawwhat? — after he relieved Kenley Jansen in the ninth. This time, it was Jose Lobaton straying just a bit too far from the first base bag and being nabbed on a microscopic infraction, popping his foot off the first base bag for a microsecond.

Three of the four playoff series the Nationals have played over the last six years have gone to a decisive fifth game. The Nats have been plenty competitive and they have been able to hang with any team, but a combination of bad luck, bad timing, and bad execution have led to zero playoff series wins. For example, the run differential for the Nationals and Giants in the 2014 NLDS was zero, each team scored nine runs. In the 2016 NLDS, the Nationals outscored the Dodgers 24-19. This year, the Nationals outscored the Cubs 20-17 in the NLDS.

The Nationals made many mistakes in Game 5 of the NLDS on Thursday evening. But so, too, did the Cubs. The Cubs had slightly better timing and as such have earned the right to play in the NLCS. One has to feel bad for Nationals fans, who have come so close to tasting playoff success in recent years but have never actually gotten there. Branch Rickey once said that “baseball is a game of inches” and no team knows that better than the Nationals.

Aaron Judge set a new postseason strikeout record

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For a few days, it looked like Aaron Judge was finally hitting his stride in the postseason. He was still striking out at a regular clip, piling more and more strikeouts atop the 16 he racked up in the Division Series, but he was mashing, too. He engineered a three-run homer during Game 3 of the Championship Series, followed by another blast and game-tying double in Game 4. His one-out double helped pad a five-run lead in Game 5, while his 425-footer off of Brad Peacock barely made a dent during a 7-1 loss in Game 6. And then Lance McCullers‘ curveball found and fooled him, as it did five of the 14 batters it met in Game 7:

The strikeout was Judge’s first of the evening and 27th since the start of the playoffs. No other major league batter has racked up that many strikeouts in a single postseason, though Alfonso Soriano’s 26-strikeout record in 2003 comes the closest. Within that record, Judge also collected three golden sombreros (four strikeouts in a single game), narrowly avoiding the dreaded platinum sombrero (five strikeouts in a single game).

It’s an unfortunate footnote to a spectacular year for the rookie outfielder, who decimated the competition with 52 home runs and 8.2 fWAR during the regular season and was a pivotal part of the Yankees’ playoff run. Thankfully, the image of McCullers’ curveball darting just under Judge’s bat won’t be the image that sticks with us for years to come. Instead, it’ll look something like this: