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Nationals now have backs against the wall

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Nationals now have backs against the wall

For six months, they could stake claim to the title of "Best Team in Baseball." And after they won their first-ever postseason game Sunday afternoon, the Nationals had every reason to continue crowing about themselves.

Then they got beat up in St. Louis on Monday. Then they got beat up again on Wednesday, this time in front of a record-setting home crowd that gave the first playoff game in Washington in eight decades into a true playoff atmosphere.

And now, in the span of 72 hours, the "Best Team in Baseball" finds itself 27 outs from elimination before many on the roster have even had a chance to process what is going on.

"This isn't the situation we wanted to be in," shortstop Ian Desmond said following an 8-0 drubbing at the hands of the Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLDS. "But we're here and we're going to deal with it, just like we've been dealing with wins and losses all year long."

That was the prevalent theme throughout a somber Nationals clubhouse at the end of one of the more frustrating afternoons in team history. Just because they're facing a do-or-die scenario Thursday in Game 4, players don't believe it's necessary to change the dynamic all of a sudden.

"Our formula has worked pretty well," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "I think it would be kind of bad to change it now."

Perhaps that philosophy works. There's enough talent on the Nationals' roster -- in the lineup, in the rotation, in the bullpen and on the bench -- to win two games in two days, no matter the opponent.

But there's also no proof that success from April through September guarantees success in October. The postseason, plain and simple, is a different animal.

Over the course of a 162-game schedule, there's always ample opportunity to snap out of funks, always another game to play and put yesterday's events in the rear-view mirror.

In a five-game Division Series, that's not the case. Every at-bat, every pitch is magnified. One clutch hit becomes the stuff of legend. One squandered opportunity becomes something that lingers all winter.

"That's how the playoffs are," Zimmerman said. "I think that's why all you have to do is get in. It's whomever's hot. These first series are obviously a little bit more leaning toward that, because it's such a short series. You get hot for a couple games, you have a commanding lead.

"But we've put ourselves in a good position by playing the way we did in the regular season, and now we have to win one game. If we win one game, we have a good chance with our guy on the mound."

Before they can get to their guy, Gio Gonzalez, in a decisive Game 5, the Nationals first need Ross Detwiler to lead them to victory in Game 4. That's easier said than done. The left-hander has enjoyed a breakthrough season in many ways, but he's still battle-untested, and the freshest memory of him with a ball in hand is the trouncing he took 10 days ago in St. Louis against the same lineup he'll face on Thursday.

"Det's capable of pitching a good game tomorrow," manager Davey Johnson said, shooting down any possibility of Gonzalez returning on short rest. "That's been our strength all year. These young guys have pitched great all year."

Great pitching is only one-half of the equation. It wouldn't matter who toed the rubber on Wednesday, because he couldn't have won a game when his teammates didn't score once.

A Nationals lineup that was among the most productive in the majors during the season's second half hasn't exactly gone ice-cold in the postseason. This team has put 36 men on base in the first three games of the series.

The problem, though, hasn't been putting men on base. It's been driving them in. After an 0-for-8 showing in Game 3, the Nationals are now a paltry 3-for-24 with runners in scoring position, stranding 30 total men on base.

The only three players who have come through in those situations: Kurt Suzuki, Tyler Moore and Jordan Zimmermann. Yes, the No. 8 hitter, a rookie off the bench and a pitcher.

Is that lack of playoff experience finally starting to show, with young hitters pressing at the plate in key spots?

"When you're down a few runs, you want to drive something in," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "You can get a little anxious then and try to take more than they give you. Probably later in the game, that was more the case, guys trying to do a little extra to spark something."

It's a natural tendency to try to do too much when the pressure is ramped up. How could anyone in a Nationals uniform not feel that when standing in the box on Wednesday with two men on base and two out, the crowd of 45,017 imploring him to do something special?

That, of course, is the last thing anyone wants to do in that situation. Yet there's no escaping the fact the Nationals have arrived at a moment of desperation.

After mostly cruising through their regular season with few hints of true adversity -- ie. facing a must-win situation -- they'll now arrive at the park on Thursday knowing this could be their final game of the year.

"I believe in this team, I believe in these guys," right fielder Jayson Werth said. "We've been here all year. Over a 162-game season, we were the best team in baseball. And I still feel that way."

The best team in baseball over 162 games, though, isn't always the best team in baseball over a five-game playoff series.

That's a lesson the Nationals hope not to learn over the next 48 hours.

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2017 fantasy baseball team names: The top 25

2017 fantasy baseball team names: The top 25

Baseball season is about to begin, which means fantasy baseball seasons are about to begin, which means the season of naming your fantasy baseball team(s) is about to begin.

Are you struggling to come up with a clever/cheesy/"Yo, that is 90-percent stupid but 10-percent funny" 2017 fantasy baseball team name? Allow CSNmidatlantic.com to help you with the following 25 fantasy baseball team name ideas.

The first 12 are Nationals and Orioles-related fantasy team names, and the 13 after are inspired by the names of players with the 28 other organizations. Using any of them will ensure your season gets off to a strong start. Building a potent roster to go along with the name, though? Well, that's on you.

The top 25 2017 fantasy baseball team names

Nationals and Orioles names

1) The Bryce is right

2) The Scherzey Shore

3) Alternative Max

4) Damned if you Drew, damned if you Rendon't

5) Earth, Lind & Fire

6) 50 Shades of Trea

7) Beef Welington

8) Game of Jones

9) Watch me Whip, watch me J.J.

10) 8 Miley

11) Machado About Nothing

12) You say Ma-chay-do, I say Machado

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General MLB names

13) Hold the Odor!

14) Abad and Boujee

15) The Life of Pablo 

16) Catch me if Yu can

17) Bauer Rangers

18) Upton Funk

19) Wacha Flocka Flame

20) Russell & Flow

21) No Cain, no gain 

22) Gin Andrus

23) Honey Nut Ichiros

24) Soler powered

25) Gettin' Miggy Wit it

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Nationals, MLB betting odds and prop bets for 2017 season

Nationals, MLB betting odds and prop bets for 2017 season

Sports Betting Dime released betting odds and prop bets for the 2017 MLB season this week.

According to the sports book, the Nationals, in particular, sit well in their chances to win the World Series, as well as to have the NL MVP in Bryce Harper and the NL Cy Young Award winner in Max Scherzer.

Harper, at 5/1, also has the best odds to have the largest home run increase of any player in Major League Baseball this season among players who hit a minimum of 20 a year ago.

The Nationals and Orioles, for what it’s worth, also have 199/1 odds – sixth best – to meet each other in the World Series. The Orioles have 50/1 odds to win it in general.

But there’s also some interesting prop bets, as well, namely a number of things involving former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, who has been assigned to the Mets’ low Class A affiliate to begin the season.

For a full list of odds and props, click here.

RELATED: Donald Trump will not throw out Nationals Opening Day first pitch

Odds to win World Series

Chicago Cubs: 11/2

Cleveland Indians: 8/1

Boston Red Sox: 9/1

Los Angeles Dodgers: 9/1

Washington Nationals: 14/1

Baltimore Orioles: 50/1

Odds to meet in the 2017 World Series

Cubs-Indians: 13/1

Cubs-Red Sox: 16/1

Cubs-Yankees: 66/1

Mets-Yankees: 195/1

Dodgers-Angels: 166/1

Orioles-Nationals: 199/1

National League MVP

Kris Bryant (Cubs): 6/1

Bryce Harper (Nationals): 7/1

Corey Seager (Dodgers): 9/1

Nolan Arenado (Rockies): 9/1

Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers): 2/1

Max Scherzer (Nationals): 5/1

Noah Syndergaard (Mets): 8/1

National League Cy Young Award

Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers): 2/1

Max Scherzer (Nationals): 5/1

Noah Syndergaard (Mets): 8/1

Odds at least one player hits 50-plus home runs: 7/4

Over/under number of players to hit 40-plus home runs: 6.5

Odds Tim Tebow …

--gets an at bat for the Mets this season: 250/1

--retires or is released before the end of the 2017 World Series: 2/1

--over/under career MLB home runs for Tim Tebow: 0.5

Odds to have the largest home run increase from 2016 (minimum 20 HRs):

Bryce Harper (Nationals; 24 in 2016): 5/1

Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins; 27): 11/2

Gary Sanchez (Yankees; 20): 7/1

Jose Bautista (Blue Jays; 22): 9/1

Jose Abreu (White Sox; 24): 9/1

Odds Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez announce their engagement in 2017: 3/1

RELATED: 10 insane ballpark foods you'll find in 2017