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Ranking the top Nats post-season games of all time

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The new Nats #1 all -time game. Photo via nytimes.com

The new Nats #1 all -time game. Photo via nytimes.com

In the wake of the 2019 World Series run, I thought (while its fresh in everyone’s mind) it’d be a fun one to try to rank all the Nats post-season games.

I put in my top 10, then put in all the other candidates in chronological order.  For years I had a running list that conflated regular season exploits and post-season glory; now there’s so many games to consider just from 2019 that I’ve separated them in my (future) larger list of Best and Worst games.  As it turns out, I’ve got 8 of our top 10 post-season games now being from the 2019 run.

Feel free to discuss and tell me i’m wrong.  Nicely please :-)

Greatest Nats Post Season Games:

  1. October 30th, 2019: WS Game 7 win.  Scherzer throws 5 heroic innings, the Nats beat Greinke with a Rendon homer and a Kendrick homer to seal it, then run away to take Game 7.
  2. October 9th, 2019: NLDS Game 5Howie Kendrick caps a come-from-behind win with a grand slam in the 10th to exorcise the Nats playoff daemons and seal their first ever playoff series win, 7-3 over the Dodgers.
  3. October 29th 2019: WS Game 6 win; Strasburg masterpiece, Turner controversy at first, Rendon homer exploits, another elimination game rally.  This game had it all.
  4. October 11th, 2012NLDS Game 4Jayson Werth walk-off homer in an epic battle against Lance Lynn, hitting the 13th pitch of the at-bat (!!) on a line-drive into the seats.  Ironic that what I think is the most special game in Nats franchise history occurred the day before what I consider to be the worst game in franchise history.  (note; thanks to my former coworker Eric Hay for correcting me on my pitch count memory here in the comments).
  5. October 1st, 2019come-from-behind Wild Card win over Milwaukee on Juan Soto‘s bases-clearing single in the 8th against super reliever Josh Hader.  First ever franchise “win-or-go-home” victory.
  6. October 11th, 2019: NLCS Game 1: Anibal Sanchez keeps a no-hitter into the 8th and the team blanks St. Louis to steal game one on the road and set the tone for what became a 4-0 sweep.
  7. October 9th, 2016NLDS Game 2 comeback win over the Dodgers: after dropping the first game in a missed opportunity, the Nats fell behind quickly 2-0 and the crowd was quiet, worried and lethargic.  That all ended when the team put some runners on base for Jose Lobaton, who clubbed a 3-run homer into a stiff wind coming in from left; the crowd exploded, the team relaxed and they tacked on a couple of runs later for a 5-2 win.
  8. October 12th, 2019: NLCS Game 2: Scherzer throws seven innings of one hit dominant ball to power the Nats to the win and the surprising two game sweep on the road.
  9. October 22nd, 2019: WS Game 1: The offense surprisingly gets to Astros ace Gerritt Cole while Scherzer holds on for the shock game 1 win in Houston.
  10. October 23rd, 2019: WS Game 2: The Nats explode on Astros pitching for 12 runs to shock the baseball world and take a 2-0 series lead.

I’m putting the 2019 WC winner just below the Werth homer.  I realize this is not a popular take; I like the way that frequent commenter MarkL put it in a discussion just after the WC game:  “[the WC winner] excitement level is #2 after the Werth game but #1 in importance.”  I agree with that sentiment.  If the Soto hit had been a walk-off we wouldn’t be having this argument; it’d easily be #1.  But its ok for a non-clinching game to be considered great; consider that most pundits put Game 6 of the 1975 World Series (aka the “Fisk  homer”) as the greatest game of the last 50 years…. and it was won by a team that went out the next day and lost game 7.  It doesn’t matter in the end, since the Kendrick homer trumped them both, and then the WS winner trumped all.

Post season honorable mentions (in chronological order):

  • October 7th, 2012: NLDS Game 1: 2-run rally in the 8th on Tyler Moore‘s flair to beat the Cardinals in St. Louis in the first ever playoff game for the team.  In theory it should have completely set up the Nats to cruise through the series.  Didn’t quite happen that way (see worst games ever).
  • October 6th, 2014: NLDS Game 2: Beating Madison Bumgarner in the 2014 NLDS; our only 2014 post-season win and the only time Bumgarner lost that post-season.
  • October 10th, 2016NLDS Game 3, a win in Los Angeles 8-3 to grab back home field advantage and put themselves on the brink of advancing.
  • October 7th, 2017: NLDS Game 2: Behind homers from Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, the Nats dump 5 runs in the bottom of the 8th on the Cubs to turn what was looking like a 2-0 series deficit into a 6-3 victory.
  • October 11th, 2017: NLDS Game 4: Stephen Strasburg shakes off illness and pitches the game of his life, punching out 12 in 7 scoreless innings in an elimination NLDS game against Chicago.  Michael Taylor squeaks out a grand-slam in the 8th to turn a 1-0 nail-biter into a 5-0 win to force a decisive game 5 back home.
  • October 4th, 2019: NLDS Game 2: Nats jump on Clayton Kershaw early, Strasburg shuts down the Dodgers to steal a game on the road
  • October 14th, 2019: NLCS Game 3:  Nats score four in the 3rd to set the tone and run away in Game 3, nearly guaranteeing the series win behind another dominant Strasburg performance.
  • October 15th, 2019: NLCS Game 4: A shocking 7 run first was all the team needed to complete the sweep at home behind a rocking crowd and move onto the World Series.
  • October 8th, 2019: NLDS Game 4: Scherzer dominates the Dodgers in a NLDS win-or-go-home Game 4 at Nats park, Zimmerman blasts a 3-run homer to put the team ahead for good, and the Nats push the series back to LA for Game 5.

24 Responses to 'Ranking the top Nats post-season games of all time'

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  1. I understand the argument behind putting the Werth walk-off ahead of the 2019 WC game, but that’s the only change I’d make to your list. First, WS Game 7; second, 2019 LDS Game 5; third, WS Game 6; and fourth, Soto WC game. I know it’s not a walk-off, but my problem is that I have difficulty separating the 2012 game 4 walk-off from the game 5 that followed it (and the Gio/Storen meltdowns that made it so I literally couldn’t sleep that night). I realize this is unfair, because the games should be viewed in isolation, but I can’t do that. I just can’t. It’s a really good list, though, Todd.

    Clark17

    4 Nov 19 at 10:37 am

  2. I have a soft spot for the Werth homer. Clouds my judgement :-)

    Todd Boss

    4 Nov 19 at 10:47 am

  3. I’ll repost what I put up earlier, my list trying to rank the 2019 wins only:

    On a different subject, here’s my first stab at trying to rank the 12 postseason wins in some sort of order. Things are already getting a bit hazy on some of them. I feel like I’m slighting the dominant performance in the NLCS, but there wasn’t that much drama, other than over potential no-hitters. I also feel like I have NLDS Gm 2 a bit low, as that was a huge win in the grand scheme of things. But was it “bigger” than the first two wins in the WS?

    1. WS Gm 7
    2. NLDS Gm 5
    3. WS Gm 6
    4. Wild Card
    5. NLDS Gm 4
    6. WS Gm 2
    7. WS Gm 1
    8. NLCS Gm 1
    9. NLDS Gm 2
    10. NLCS Gm 3
    11. NLCS Gm 4
    12. NLCS Gm 2

    KW

    4 Nov 19 at 11:03 am

  4. I can’t argue with the top of the order because of the meaningfulness of the games, but in terms of the volume of emotion at the time, I’d say it was 2,3,1.

    To respond to a few comments from previous thread:

    I gotta say one last thing about 2019: Bregman – man, what an a-hole. I don’t mind celebrating, but that bat thing was pure arrogance. And I think Soto was just giving it back to him, so it didn’t bother me as much. It’s possible I am just being a homer here :-)

    On Rendon, here’s my concern: the biggest market could be the Nats closest competitors: PHI, ATL and NYM. I could also see NYY get involved. But honestly, 7/$210mish feels like his ceiling, so maybe it just comes down to how much is deferred.

    The FG article on Stras seems real low, and if he makes it to Wed (out of the exclusive period), the bidding could get nutty. I also think he’d like to come back and I certainly hope he does, but everyone could use him, and I totally agree that he looks like he could age well.

    Wally

    4 Nov 19 at 11:27 am

  5. Wally — It’s funny that there’s supposed to be this exclusive window, with no “tampering,” and yet you’ve got stories everywhere saying that the Padres would be willing to break the bank to get Stras. I’m sure Boras has pumped some of that, but presumably someone from SD said something to someone that’s getting repeated. Sure smells like “tampering” to me!

    I don’t really think Stras wants to go through the drama of a prolonged public dilemma (AKA the Boras Way). I think he wants it DONE. Whatever he does, if not this week, I’d say by Thanksgiving.

    While there would be some market for Stras, there are twin things working against him: a younger top starter who had a better year (Cole), and a number of good second-tier starters who could be had two for the price of one, and for shorter contracts.

    Rendon is far and away the best field player available, unless you count the “value” of catching (Grandal). That said, teams do have a cheaper option for fewer years (Donaldson).

    KW

    4 Nov 19 at 12:46 pm

  6. Todd — Werth can be on the list somewhere, but no way I’m putting it ahead of the Wild Card. And no way I’m putting the Sheriff Lobo game any win that had to do with eliminating the Dodgers and Astros this year.

    If we’re going to talk about a “soft spot,” for me, that’s NLDS Gm 4 this year. A lot of tears in the eyes for the Zim homer, and Stras and Zim basically carrying the team back from the brink, the two cornerstones of the franchise. Stras’s 2017 Gm 4 gem against the Cubs was awesome, but this one meant more.

    I’ll also admit that as excited as I got at the time of the Werth walk-off — and it’s still great to hear Charlie Slowes’s call on some of the game lead-ins — after a while, to me, that moment sort of came to represent the false hope of the seven unfulfilled years that followed. All of that is buried now, although not completely forgotten!

    KW

    4 Nov 19 at 12:55 pm

  7. I too would move the Werth game lower. And I would absolutely have 2017 NLDS G4 (Strasburg dominates after being sick) well above 2016 NLDS G2 (Lobaton homer). Of all the pre-2019 Nats playoff games, those are the only two – the Werth and Strasburg games – that would make my list. But this is all very very subjective.

    Derek

    4 Nov 19 at 1:18 pm

  8. Its a tough list to do b/c of the nature of “ranking” wins. Is it impact to the franchise? Emotional value? Excitement? Value of the game itself actually being good? Some combination of all three?

    The reason I have the Werth homer and the Lobaton homer was, well, because the energy those homers caused in the stands was unlike pretty much anything i’d ever felt before. Maybe you need multiple lists to try to rank the games based on these differing criteria.

    the nlcs game 4 clincher was a dud of a game. 7 runs in the first, then nothing afterwards? So obviously its important as a series clincher but … was it a “good” game?

    Todd Boss

    4 Nov 19 at 1:26 pm

  9. FWIW, I have heard some say that the roar for the Soto hit against Hader, and particularly the “second roar” with the misplayed ball, was louder than the Werth roar, basically the loudest in Nats Park history. Totally subjective, though! I’m sure it was similar for Zim’s Gm 4 NLDS homer.

    KW

    4 Nov 19 at 1:34 pm

  10. Had the same “good problem” of trying to figure out what to do with the 2019 NCLS games because of the dominance. There was no real defining moment. At the same time, there was an amazing tingle during the last two knowing that we were going to the World Series.

    KW

    4 Nov 19 at 1:36 pm

  11. We’re all on the same page re: the NLCS, I think. Just as Todd does, I’d rank NLCS Game 1 over 2019 NLDS Game 2, but only because Sanchez got within four outs of a no-hitter. NLCS Game 2 was kind of a repeat of Game 1, except that Max didn’t come quite as close to a no-no (an absurd thing for me to actually type!). Then Game 3 was a laugher, and Game 4 actually made me stress at the end. Two quick notes about the NLCS, though: First, none of the past playoff failures equals the pain of the 2012 NLDS for me, so it was great that our only playoff rout this year was the Cardinals. And second, don’t forget that the Cardinals only scored one run in Game 2 and again and Game 3, and both of those runs only came because of misplays in the outfield. We were that close to shutting out the Cards for three straight games, and that’s an amazing testament to our starting pitchers.

    Clark17

    4 Nov 19 at 1:57 pm

  12. Wally per the previous thread, I don’t in any circumstance want Dozier back. He had so many bad ab’s this year and really harkened back to the Nat’s Espi-Desmond all or nothing swing and miss teams.

    We really took off as a team when we marginalized Dozier in the lineup and got more ab’s for Kendrick and Asdrubal. On a similar note, I don’t see why people are including Robles right now in the lock up long term Soto-Turner discussion. I thought Robles approach at the plate all year and especially in the post season was even worse than his middling stats. Of course with that many ab’s, athleticism and swing at most approach he’s going to run into some hits and HR’s, but he didn’t display any real pitch recognition or strike zone recognition skill or growth all year. I really hope he can improve next year and beyond but I think the jury is still very much out on him being a superstar. I’m probably not the only one who was thinking the hot MAT would not have been a downgrade over Robles in the WS.

    I just love the pure hitters with real contact skills. A finally healthy 2nd half Eaton, the amazing Kendrick, Soto and Rendon carried the day with a couple pops from Zimm. Which shows that you need good pure hitters to hit post season pitching. Turner could be amazing if he can tighten it up a bit too strike zone and pitch recognition but he’s not there yet.

    Michael Brantley just scared the hell out of me the whole series. He was so good and drove our pitchers nuts with that amazing short stroke.. His last WS ending ab was probably his only bad ab of the entire series.

    Beyond the obvious Stras heroics, I thought Hudson was just nails the whole postseason. Went right after guys and got them out.

    Marty C

    4 Nov 19 at 2:34 pm

  13. Marty – can’t agree on Robles. You sign him now, his defense alone in the coming years will be spectacular. By mid season no one would test his arm and he got to everything. He certainly improved his hitting, from mid-August til the end of the season he improved from .235 to .255. Last month and a half he hit at about a.265 pace. And he can steal bases. If he hits .265 over a season you don’t need to find anyone else.

    M lloyd

    4 Nov 19 at 6:16 pm

  14. FA optimism: I wouldn’t be shocked if Stras, and perhaps Rendon, don’t have done deals with the Nats yet because Boras advises them to wait and receive the QO so that they can’t receive again in the future, especially if they have future opt outs built in to their deals. I’m hopeful that the Lerners won’t make this complicated and that both want to come back for another chance with this group that we’ve heard loved each other so much. As much fun as the home opener will be in 2020 to receive rings and raise the banner, it would be a real bummer if either Stras or Rendon are not there. All other FAs from 2019 much much less so.

    MG

    4 Nov 19 at 6:30 pm

  15. Yes I agree Robles defense will be great. But that’s not what made him or anybody a top 3 prospect in baseball. He needs to develop that top half of the order bat everyone was touting to be a star worth paying big money. Not too hard to find or develop light hitting good defensive outfielders. He needs to develop that knack for not swinging at sliders away so he can be counted on in clutch situations at top or middle of the lineup. Some guys it takes a while and some never get it and become Michael Taylors and Billy Hamiltons. But I didn’t see any real progess this season. Maybe was pressing too hard as he sees Soto’s star continue to rise. But Soto watches a lot of balls go by.

    Marty C

    4 Nov 19 at 7:44 pm

  16. Robles debate: meh. The Nats didn’t need him to be great as a rookie, they just needed him to be competent, particularly on defense, and he was. His 2.5 fWAR (and more impressive 4.1 bWar) and 91 wRC+ were significant upgrades on the 0.9 and 71 that Taylor posted in 2018.

    Robles’s power went down in the 2d half (only 4 HRs vs. 13), but his BA and OBP went up, which may indicate that Kevin Long was working with him to refine his approach. His SB number and success rate went up in the 2d half as well, indicating that he was learning.

    No, he wasn’t Acuna or Soto, but few are. He was competent and showed promise. His minor-league numbers indicate that he’ll continue to improve. There was a reason for the hype.

    I hope the Nats take the same approach with Carter Kieboom in 2020 that they did with Robles — basically, just let him play, regardless of the inevitable ups and downs. He can probably at least replicate, if not improve on, Dozier’s numbers from 2019. But that should be the expectation for the first year: competence.

    KW

    5 Nov 19 at 9:05 am

  17. For those like Todd with an interest in the Hall of Fame, here’s this year’s backdoor ballot:

    https://baseballhall.org/modern-baseball-era-ballot-2020

    KW

    5 Nov 19 at 9:09 am

  18. Everyone is talking about all the free agents with whom the Nats need to deal, both major (Stras, TTB) and minor (Hudson, Howie, maybe Cabrera, Parra, probably not Dozier), but they’ve also got a truckload of guys who are out of options who are going to present some interesting decisions.

    This list isn’t 100% guaranteed, but I think all of these guys are out of options: Voth, Ross, Fedde, Taylor, Stevenson, Difo, Ad. Sanchez, and Read.

    I think the last three will probably be gone, unless they clear waivers and remain in the system. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think they’ll tender Taylor, who is already making more than $3M. He struggled mightily during parts of 2019 but then made enough of a comeback to get to contribute a little in the playoffs. But is he “worth” almost $4M to them? I don’t think so. I hope they trade him for whatever they can get.

    I’m still not completely sold on Stevenson, although he was unusually good as a PH with the big club in 2019. I think they’re more likely to keep him than Taylor, but then do they also keep the LH Parra?

    The pitcher situation is really interesting because all three of those are talented guys. Voth more or less seemed to have “won” the 5th starter spot late in the year and had some quality starts, including a couple in tough situations against the Braves. Voth was on the postseason roster in early rounds but didn’t pitch, then got replaced by Ross, who had to pitch. Fedde seems to be the odd man out, and also a quality trade chip. Right now if I had to guess, I would point to a spring competition between Voth and Ross for 5th starter, with the “loser” as the swing man. But I can’t see them keeping all three on the 26-man roster, and it makes more sense to get trade value for at least one of them, if not two.

    KW

    5 Nov 19 at 10:38 am

  19. So much to talk about.
    – Stras as FA: why would he move his family to DC then leave. I know that sounds silly to worry about, but I can’t help but think of the conversation he’s having with his wife. “You mean to tell me you told me to pack up and move across the damn country only so you could leave and make me move out of the house I just bought and fell in love with, only to go right back where we were?” When we most recently moved … it f*cking sucked, and basically my wife said i’m never moving again.

    – Options: yes we have a ton; its worth a separate post once i do the

    – pending Fa: another post: i have done the spreadsheet work and from what I can tell we have shed about $92M in luxury tax dollars (I don’t look at or care at “real” dollars anymore since its immaterial to the luxury tax line that the team endeavors not to cross), and we have roughly $127M committed for 2020 right now. That leaves about $80M to work with. I can’t see to much saved with non-tenders or releases to be honest. Maybe you dump Taylor and save $4.5M or so? like i said, worth another post.

    Todd Boss

    5 Nov 19 at 12:45 pm

  20. KW: Nats have 10 players (ten!) that have no options remaining for 2020.
    Taylor, Michael
    Difo, Wilmer
    Strickland, Hunter
    Elias, Roenis
    Guerra, Javy
    Ross, Joe
    Fedde, Erick
    Read, Raudy
    Sanchez, Adrian
    Voth, Austin

    Its hard to predict, but i see a whole lot of non-tenders here. Again, worth a separate post but i see a whole lot of tough decisions here. I mean, Ross, Fedde and Voth are all competitors for the same thing: our 5th starter. Who wins? Difo and Sanchez are the same player too. Taylor? seems a goner. The relievers I can see making the cut. Read? gone.

    Todd Boss

    5 Nov 19 at 1:28 pm

  21. Stevenson was optioned in ’17, ’18, and ’19, so isn’t he out of them as well?

    I think Read, Difo, and Ad. Sanchez are all gone unless they pass through waivers and are outrighted. But really, their only real value is as AAA shuttle players, which they can’t be if they are out of options.

    KW

    5 Nov 19 at 2:35 pm

  22. Todd, even by your standard – the energy in the stands – I’d rank NLDS 2017 G2 (Harper game-tying homer and Zim game-winning homer) over the Lobaton game (I attended both). Again, this is all very very subjective.

    Derek

    5 Nov 19 at 4:20 pm

  23. Derek: I think i had better seats for hte Lobaton game so it was louder :-)

    Todd Boss

    6 Nov 19 at 9:31 am

  24. I have to say I have never heard a louder stadium anywhere as Nat Park was when Werth homered against St Louis. I used to run camera for countless college and pro games, including bowl games and the NCAA’s March Madness, so I have some compare to’s. Now it may have been because of where I was seated (lower level by the left field foul pole) but that was a crescendo beyond my experience.

    M lloyd

    6 Nov 19 at 1:08 pm

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