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

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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.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.