Five reasons the Nationals are going to their first World Series

Mark TownsendYahoo Sports Contributor

Has it sunk in yet, Washington Nationals fans?

For the first time in franchise history, your favorite team is going to the World Series after completing an impressive sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS.

Dare we ask the same question of those who supported the Montreal Expos for 36 seasons? To see the franchise you once called your own not only win a postseason series for the first time, but also a National League pennant, has to be surreal on many levels.

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To say this outcome has stirred some emotions would be an understatement, but the focus belongs on the here and now. The 2019 Nationals have already made history, and are poised to continue making history when they play either the New York Yankees or the Houston Astros in the World Series beginning on Tuesday, Oct. 22.

There’s still work to be done. The Nationals will be the first to tell you anything less than a World Series title will be a disappointment. But their journey just to reach this point is one worth revisiting because in a span of five months that journey has gone from unlikely and excruciating to unstoppable and exhilarating.

There are countless reasons the Nationals will finally play in the World Series. We’ve narrowed it down to the five biggest reasons. And there will not be a single mention of Bryce Harper. Well, aside from that one.

The Nationals never gave up

Entering play on May 23, the Nationals had the same number of losses as the Miami Marlins.

Hopes for a postseason appearance were quickly replaced by rumors that Dave Martinez might not survive the year as manager, and that free-agent-to-be Anthony Rendon might be traded. Washington’s front office stayed the course despite pressure to abandon ship. Now they are reaping the rewards of their patience and confidence.

From that point on, the Nationals went 74-38. They went from 8.5 games back in the wild-card race, to earning home-field advantage in the wild-card game by four games over the Milwaukee Brewers.

This is already among the greatest single-season turnarounds we’ve ever seen. If the Nationals can complete it with a World Series championship, it might vault to the very top of that list.

Stephen Strasburg (left), Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin (right) gave Washington the National League's best pitching trio. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Stephen Strasburg (left), Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin (right) gave Washington the National League's best pitching trio. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The Nationals’ dominant starting pitching

The offseason signing of Patrick Corbin gave Washington a legitimate third ace to go along with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. It was no surprise then that Washington's rotation posted the second best ERA (3.53) in MLB during the regular season, trailing only the Los Angeles Dodgers. And it's no surprise now that the Nationals rotation is a major reason they've been able to advance through the wild-card game, NLDS and NLCS.

Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin have combined to throw 55 1/3 innings in October. They've allowed only 19 earned runs, while striking out an astonishing 86 batters. If you throw out Corbin's six-run inning as a reliever in Game 3 of the NLDS, their collective postseason ERA is 2.12.

We have to mention Aníbal Sánchez as well. The 14-year veteran set the tone in NLCS Game 1 by taking a no-hit bid into the eighth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals. He has a 0.71 ERA in two postseason starts and he could give Washington an edge in the World Series if he continues pitching at that level.

Juan Soto celebrates his clutch hit in the Nationals wild-card game victory. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
Juan Soto celebrates his clutch hit in the Nationals wild-card game victory. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)

Washington’s wild wild-card game comeback

One different bounce in the National League wild-card game could have sent the Nationals packing before the NLDS.

The Milwaukee Brewers jumped out to an early 3-0 lead against Max Scherzer and held it all the way until the eighth inning. That's when Washington finally rallied and gave us one of the most thrilling and simultaneously heart-wrenching moments of the postseason.

Juan Soto, the Nationals' 20-year-old phenom, stroked a clutch, bases-loaded single off Brewers' All-Star closer Josh Hader that should have merely tied the game, but ended up giving Washington the lead when the ball rolled under the glove of Brewers' right fielder Trent Grisham. It was a stunning turn of events that left Milwaukee crushed and set the stage for what we're now witnessing.

Howie Kendrick puts stamp on NLDS comeback

The Nationals had their backs against the wall against the Los Angeles Dodgers as well. Needing wins in Games 4 and 5 to stay alive, Washington showed its resilience once again by battling back and eliminating the 107-win Dodgers in stunning fashion.

In Game 4, it was all Washington as veterans Max Scherzer and Ryan Zimmerman provided huge lifts.

In Game 5, the Nationals were down to their final six outs when Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto hit back-to-back home runs against Clayton Kershaw to tie it. That set the stage for Howie Kendrick's dramatic 10th-inning grand slam, which propelled Washington to its first series win in franchise history.

If there's a signature moment from this run, this is certainly it. Kendrick hasn't slowed down since. He earned MVP honors in the NLCS by going 5-for-15 with four doubles and four runs driven in.

Daniel Hudson slams the door

Daniel Hudson started the NLCS on the paternity list. His decision to be present for the birth of his third child then set off a silly controversy fueled by misguided priorities.

Five days later, he ended the series with a four-out save that included the biggest out of the series recorded by a Nationals pitcher. Hudson retired pinch-hitter Matt Carpenter, who represented the go-ahead run with the bases loaded in the eighth inning. The Cardinals had rallied from a seven-run first-inning deficit to get that one to continue the series, but Hudson won the battle and then slammed the door shut on St. Louis with a perfect ninth inning.

Both Hudson and former closer Sean Doolittle have come up big for Washington in the postseason. They've combined to allow only two runs in 13 innings.

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