Nationals fans’ rooting guide for the 2020 MLB postseason originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The 2020 season was a disappointing one for the Nationals. After being robbed of the chance to celebrate their World Series title with their fans because of the coronavirus pandemic, the team got off to a slow start and injuries combined with a lack of consistency prevented them from climbing back into contention before the shortened 60-game season came to an end.
But while the Nationals are now focused on 2021, there are 16 teams still vying for the Commissioner’s Trophy after the postseason got underway Tuesday. Each of them have their own set of merits that makes them worthy of jumping on the bandwagon to root for this October.
Here’s a list of every team in the playoffs broken up into categories based on their appeal to Nationals fans.
If there are any two teams in the postseason this year that Nationals fans will not be rooting for, it’s the Braves and Astros.
Atlanta is the Nationals’ biggest division rival, winning the NL East each of the last three years (though they still have yet to win a playoff series with their current core). The Astros not only played the Nationals in last year’s Fall Classic, but they’re the biggest villains in baseball after a cheating scandal that occurred during their 2017 championship season was uncovered last offseason.
Past playoff dream crushers
Three of the four teams that have eliminated the Nationals from the playoffs in the past made it into this year’s expanded format: Cardinals (2012 NLDS), Dodgers (2016 NLDS) and Cubs (2017 NLDS).
Washington beat both the Cardinals and Dodgers on its way to winning the World Series last fall, so one could consider those losses avenged. But the Nationals lost to all three of these teams in a Game 5, including brutal conclusions to their series against both the Cardinals and Cubs.
These NL contenders have been up there with the Nationals as some of the best teams in the Senior Circuit over the past 10 years. Chicago and St. Louis won it all during that span while the Dodgers have taken their division each of the last eight years. There are better options for Nats fans to choose from.
Former Nationals players and prospects
For some Nationals fans, watching these teams may be a little bittersweet. Washington made two key trades between 2016 and 2017 that will play a big role in the opening matchup between the Athletics and White Sox.
In December 2016, the Nationals traded pitchers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo López and Dane Dunning to the White Sox for Adam Eaton. Giolito has since evolved into an ace, placing sixth in AL Cy Young voting last season and throwing a no-hitter in August. Dunning posted a 3.97 ERA as a rookie in 2020 and López just missed the playoff roster.
Seven months after the Eaton trade, the Nationals worked out a deal with the A’s for some relief help. This time they acquired Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson for Blake Treinen and then-prospects Jesús Luzardo and Sheldon Neuse. Luzardo faced Giolito in Game 1 of their Wild Card series after putting up a 4.12 ERA over 12 appearances (nine starts) in his first full season.
Eaton and Doolittle played important roles in the Nationals’ World Series run, so it can’t hurt to root for the players that got them to Washington in the first place.
For fans who relish the underdog role Washington played throughout the 2019 playoffs, there are four teams that FanGraphs gives a three percent chance or less to win the World Series: Brewers (3.0%), Cardinals (2.2%), Marlins (1.5%) and Blue Jays (1.4%).
With the Cardinals already ruled out, that leaves three potential options for pulling off a Cinderella run with support from Nationals fans. The Brewers, who lost to Washington in last year’s NL Wild Card Game, will likely be cheered on in their opening series against the Dodgers. Milwaukee is only back in the playoffs after edging past the Giants for the eighth seed on the final day of the regular season.
Another great story is the Marlins, who overcame a massive COVID-19 outbreak in their clubhouse to clinch their first playoff berth since 2003. They were expected to be rebuilding in 2020 but a 31-29 record was enough to get them the No. 6 seed with a matchup against the Cubs. Finally, the Blue Jays made a splash last winter signing Hyun-Jin Ryu; the move has already paid off as Ryu anchored their rotation while their young lineup hit its stride. Toronto faces the top-seeded Rays in the first round.
Few fanbases have been spoiled with greater starting pitching over the past decade than the Nationals, who have seen Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Patrick Corbin, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Doug Fister all turn in seasons since 2012 that netted them Cy Young votes.
If there are Nationals fans out there who have grown used to cheering for good starting pitching, there are two teams that stand out among the rest. The Reds and Indians both boast favorites for their respective league’s Cy Young award, but the talent doesn’t end there.
The Indians’ rotation is fronted by AL triple crown winner Shane Bieber (8-1 with 1.63 ERA and 122 strikeouts over 12 starts) with Carlos Carrasco (2.91 ERA) and Zach Plesac (2.28 ERA) behind him for their series against the Yankees. On the other side of the bracket, the Reds will start Trevor Bauer (5-4 with 1.73 ERA and 100 strikeouts) in Game 1 against the Braves followed by Luis Castillo (3.21 ERA) and Sonny Gray (3.70).
Just looking for homers
If you’re tired of watching dominant pitching and want a change of pace by rooting for a team stocked with power bats, then the two teams with the most home runs since the start of the 2019 season are right up your alley.
The Twins have four players who hit at least 10 homers this season in Nelson Cruz, Miguel Sanó, Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton. Max Kepler (nine homers in 48 games) and Josh Donaldson (five homers in 28 games) likely would’ve gotten there as well had they been healthy all year. Donaldson is out for the Wild Card round with a calf injury, but they should still light up the scoreboard against the Astros.
In New York, the Yankees have MLB’s home run leader in Luke Voit, who was the only player to hit more than 20 bombs this season (he finished with 22). They face the Indians in the first round with a now-healthy lineup that includes Voit, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu and Gio Urshela. Even with Cleveland’s deep pitching staff, this is a lineup that can make some noise.
Young and fun
Fans who enjoy watching players like Juan Soto who have a lot of energy and swagger in their game should keep an eye on the Padres and Rays this postseason.
San Diego made the jump to contenders behind the production of MVP candidates Fernando Tatís Jr. (21 years old) and Manny Machado (28). They have a mix of young stars like Jake Cronenworth (26) and Trent Grisham (23) alongside veterans Eric Hosmer (30) and Wil Myers (29) in the lineup, while their rotation has benefitted from surprise seasons out of Zach Davies (27) and Dinelson Lamet (28).
The Rays haven’t received all the hype of the Padres, but they’re just as exciting with plenty of youth to go around. Their rotation includes a pair of stars in Blake Snell (27) and Tyler Glasnow (27), Nick Anderson (30) closes for one of baseball’s best bullpens and Brandon Lowe (26), Nate Lowe (25), Willy Adames (25) and Randy Arozarena (25) headline the offense.