News & Politics

The Unrelenting Existential Dread of Being a Nationals Fan

The Nationals blew another chance to advance in the playoffs, because such things are inevitable.

Washington Nationals' players walk in the dugout after the Chicago Cubs beat the Nationals 9-8 to to win baseball's National League Division Series, at Nationals Park. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Do you feel that? It’s not disappointment that DC sports’ teams playoff-victory drought is another season longer. It’s not sadness that another run at October baseball was dashed.

It’s dread. Sinking, crippling, baseball-induced dread. The deadening feeling that this result was inevitable.

To be sure, the Nationals’ latest early-postseason exit that started on Thursday night and stretched into Friday morning will live on as a self-contained debacle. An early lead was quickly swallowed up by passed balls by catcher Matt Wieters that resulted in multiple runs for the Chicago Cubs, misplayed fly balls that resulted in more runs, the single-worst inning in Max Scherzer‘s time here, and umpires’ calls that just didn’t go the Nationals’ way. The game that was supposed to expel Washington’s early-round demons became one more chapter in our chronicle of misery. Scherzer’s fifth will be remembered alongside Drew Storen‘s ninth, the 18-inning game, and the time Jonathan Papelbon choked Bryce Harper as moments any traces of hope evaporated.

Even with all the Cubs’ late-game screw-ups that allowed the Nationals to claw back to a one-run deficit, once that early advantage was gone, it was tough for people inside Nationals Park to think the team stood a chance of actually winning. In a way, this latest defeat might be the most stinging. The 2012 loss could be blamed on one players’ last-minute collapse; the 18-inning game in 2014 might have been cold and bleak, but every extra frame at least offered the chance of a walk-off win; in 2016, the Los Angeles Dodgers were simply a better squad.

When you’ve endured all those losses and then watch your team blow it again halfway through the game, you know there’s no climbing out. All you can do is wait it out, expect the worst, and start assigning grievances. Here are a few:

  1. Jayson Werth is responsible for the greatest hit in Nationals history. He’s now also responsible for some of the team’s worst moments. Sure, that walk-off in Game 4 of the 2012 National League Division Series will be played in every DC sports highlight reel until the city sinks into the Potomac. But since then, late-stage Werth has been a leading hazard of Nationals fandom. Oh, sure, the slide-stops like the one he did on a single on Thursday night can be fun. But more memorable have become moments like Werth trying to slide into catching that Addison Russell line drive in the sixth inning, only for the ball to land behind him and allow the Cubs to pad their lead. And Werth’s whole shtick is getting tiresome: the goofy MASN interviews, the Game of Thrones walk-up music. His contract is done. Time for him to pack his stuff and head back to Westeros, or at least to the American League, where he can be an overpaid designated hitter.
  2. No matter how much of a baseball cliché it is, don’t pin it all on Dusty Baker. That said, should he really have pulled Matt Albers after one inning just because the pitcher’s spot was due up in the bottom of the fourth? Albers cruised in his appearance, retiring the Cubs in order on 16 pitches while the Nationals still had a lead. Instead of pinch-hitting so he could jump right to Scherzer, maybe Baker should’ve just sent Albers to the plate for a quick fat-guy strikeout and gotten another frame of relief.
  3. Michael A. Taylor is great. I’ve got nothing bad to write here. Taylor’s grand slam on Wednesday and three-run home run to get things cooking on Thursday better go in that highlight reel now. But maybe bat him higher than eighth next time?
  4. Every recent Major League Baseball “innovation” ordered to make the game experience more enjoyable is crap. The no-pitch intentional walks did nothing to speed up a game that lasted 4 hours, 37 minutes. Replay challenges do more to dilute the game than purify it. Did José Lobaton raise his foot off first base for a split-second in the eighth inning, allowing the Cubs to overturn a safe call? Yes, but MLB is the only level of the sport where such a ruling would be made, and these calls happen on the most trifling of plays. And yet, a pick-off is reviewable, but a bat dinging the catcher’s helmet that should result in a dead ball—like when the Cubs’ Javier Baez nicked Wieters in Scherzer’s wild fifth inning—is not. This game is rigged, man.
  5. I don’t think Stephen Strasburg was ever sick. Who bounces back from a mold illness to pitch seven near-perfect innings? There should be more theories about Strasburg’s Game 4 start, not fewer. Google “flu game conspiracy” and you’ll understand.
  6. Are the Nationals under a curse? Maybe! Maybe not. But might as well try to exorcise it in 2018. Dress Screech the Eagle in a Grim Reaper outfit. Behead Teddy during the Home Run Derby. Invite every living president other than the current one to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. It can’t hurt to try.
  7. Professional sports remain the most lopsided form of the public trust. A city puts up a staggering amount of money—say, $611 million—to build a coliseum where people paid exorbitant amounts of money to play a kids’ game will perform their craft between 81 and 92 times per year. (And maybe it’ll host a dozen other events.) To watch that game, the team that employs those players will charge you an average of $45 just to get in the door, after which you’ll shell out double-digit sums for food, drinks, and merchandise. And what do we get for our money? Whiffs of victory and a shot at regional pride, but more likely, misery and dread. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in 123 days.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.