The Philadelphia Phillies are at the end of their five-year run atop the NL East. Now Phillies fans like myself hope the Washington Nationals don't start their own five-year run, although it'd be more likely if they went far this October. However, when Philadelphia started its five-year championship era, its first playoff appearance didn't go too smoothly.
Yet the 2012 Nationals have already done much better in the postseason than the 2007 Phillies ever did. All they had to do was win one game to do that, and they did in rallying over the St. Louis Cardinals by 3-2 on Oct. 7.
No matter what, the Nationals won't get swept out of their first postseason like the 2007 Phillies did. Of course, Philadelphia was unlucky to face the historically hot Colorado Rockies five years ago. The Rockies used a miracle run to win the wild card - even more shocking than the Phillies' run to win their first NL East title - and then destroyed Philadelphia for three straight games.
Although the Nationals faced their own hot wild card opponent in the Cardinals, they managed to cool them off in Game 1 of the NLDS. It took some extra effort, as Washington had to go on the road despite having the best record in baseball, and didn't have Stephen Strasburg to set the tone. 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez seemed to be an ideal Game 1 starter, yet the Cardinals got out to a 2-1 lead anyway.
However, the young Nationals did what the young 2007 Phillies couldn't, by overcoming adversity in their first playoff game. Despite their inexperience, they got out of a bases loaded, nobody out jam in the seventh, then went on to take the lead in the eighth on a Tyler Moore bloop single. Even without Strasburg, with Gonzalez issuing seven walks and with Bryce Harper going 0-for-5, the Nationals still gutted out the win like they were playoff veterans.
There's still plenty of time for the Nationals to get embarrassed out of the playoffs - which wouldn't be a bad thing if they follow the Phillies' example. That humiliating first postseason in 2007 was just the wakeup call Philadelphia needed, as it retooled and then won it all in 2008. However, Washington would like to become a champion a lot sooner.
If the Nationals are about to start the NL East's next dynasty, they are already further ahead than the previous one. Unlike the 2007 Phillies, the Nats didn't need an improbable comeback to win their first division title.
Instead, they finished with the best record in baseball and went nearly wire to wire - and have now won at least one playoff game to go with it. If they win 10 more in the coming weeks, it may be a long time until Philadelphia - or any other National League team - knocks Washington off again.
The Phillies had only one World Series title to show for their five years of division titles, which ultimately made this era a disappointment. If the Nationals - of all franchises - can outdo them in that area as well, it would be a final kick in the pants. They've already learned to win in October faster than the Phillies ever did, so that bodes well for them - if not for the Cardinals and the rest of the NL.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Phillies since he was eight years old.
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