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Nationals to wear Montreal Expos throwback jerseys next month


The Washington Nationals have a complicated history with respect to their Montreal Expos origin story. As in, they don’t pay all that much attention to it. They’ve retired the numbers of a couple of Expos greats and have put them in their ring of honor — and of course the Expos’ franchise records are, officially, part of the Nats history — but it’s not a super close thing. Some Nationals fans go beyond ignoring that history to being downright hostile to the idea that the club they root for is carrying on the Expos’ tradition somehow.

Given that the Expos were intentionally run into the ground in a Major League Baseball-led gambit to reward Jeffrey Loria with a new franchise and relocate the team to a market the league had long been hungry to re-enter, Expos fans from back in the day put it in starker terms. From an article in the Washington Post a couple of years ago:

“I’ll put it to you as simple as I can,” said Perry Giannias, who estimated his Expos fandom at about a 15 or 25 on a scale of 1 to 10. “It’s like you being friends with a guy who’s now sleeping with your ex. And now they invite you to the wedding, and your kids are ushers or bridesmaids or flower girls. It doesn’t work like that. It’s very difficult to digest.”

So, yeah, it’s not exactly a nostalgia-fest when it comes to the Expos and Nationals sordid historical stew.

But now there’s this:

The Nationals will throw it back to 1969 and recognize their Canadian heritage when they host the Kansas City Royals at Nationals Park on July 6. For the first time, Washington will wear Montreal Expos throwback uniforms — specifically, the powder blue away jerseys and pants the expansion franchise wore with its classic tri-color cap during its inaugural season 50 years ago.

For those of you more familiar with the Vlad Guerrero-era Expos livery, here’s what the 1969 throwbacks will look like:

Pretty sweet, even if it makes a lot of people kinda grumpy. Feelings don’t matter that much when there’s merch to sell, however.

The real question is how Stuart Sternberg and the Rays are gonna react to this given that the Nationals are trying to muscle in on what is, apparently, now their new market.

Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

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In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.