Division championships — or at least, the way they’re celebrated — are a weird thing.
Think about it: When a team wins the World Series, what do they do immediately after?
Mob their teammates on the field, do a few postgame interviews, put on some generic t-shirt design (typically involving the Commissioner’s Trophy and some slogan that a computer most likely spit out), and then go to the clubhouse to spray their teammates with copious amounts of alcohol, and potentially return home super intoxicated.
Think about what most teams do when they win the division title.
Exactly the same thing. (Yeah, I didn’t re-write that whole thing up above. You get the deal.)
Which, if the team clinching hasn’t done it in years—if ever—, or has done it after a long, hard-fought battle that came down to the season’s final days, makes sense, because making the playoffs can feel like winning the World Series in those instances.
In the next few days, the Washington Nationals will clinch the NL East. It may be today. It may be Tuesday, or even Wednesday. All it takes is two wins, two Marlins losses, or any combination of those two things.
For the Nats, making the playoffs will not — or at least should not — feel like winning the World Series, and it’s probably in their best interests to act as such.
This isn’t to discredit the impressive run the team went on while almost literally being duct-taped, bubble-wrapped, and rubber-banded together.
Nearly every starter on the team went down with an injury at some point, and the team’s ability to hold it together, to consistently win throughout the constant barrage of injuries, is nothing to sneeze at.
However, one of the reasons the team was able to keep on winning was due to the fact that their primary opponents, their NL Eastern divisional rivals, have been and continue to be, the baseball equivalent of the Washington Generals.
That may be overselling it, actually. A better comparison would be if the Washington Generals were cloned four times and put into four rebuilding stages, in four equally painful (but somehow all different) stages of those rebuilding stages.
In short, this NL East title was gift-wrapped (with a bow on top), and pre-handed to the Nationals. They were given four targets not to sink to, and were told to try not to screw up a ton (which, given the team they fielded, wasn’t that difficult).
Not to say that the Nationals didn’t have success against other, better teams — Dusty Baker’s squad has a winning record against every team in the National League playoff hunt other than Milwaukee.
However, the NL East was truly never in question, and it simply didn’t require much effort to lock it down.
Moreover, it makes sense for the Nationals to act like they’ve been here before, because they have in fact been here before. Three times in the last five seasons, to be exact, and this season will make it four in the last six.
There is no player in the Nationals clubhouse not named Andrew Stevenson, Rafael Bautista, Austin Adams, Raudy Read, Victor Robles, Enny Romero, or Adrian Sanchez that hasn’t seen a major-league clinch before.
Everyone else — even Wilmer Difo and Brian Goodwin — already knows the deal.
Which brings us to the most important part: Because everyone has already been here, because there was never any question as to if this clinch would ever occur, the team is able to focus on bigger and better things.
Namely, getting past the NLDS, the NLCS, and eventually a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.
The NL East title should not even remotely feel close to that, because all the guys know what that feels like, and also know what it feels like to be eliminated in the first round. They know they’ve had the division in the bag since day one. They know that the team has loftier goals.
So, with that all in mind, it might be time for a more subdued celebration. Not to say that the team shouldn’t celebrate at all — making it to the playoffs is ultimately an accomplishment, as evidenced by how horrible it feels to watch from the sidelines every now and then.
Celebrating on the field is okay, as are champagne showers. In fact, the team can do what it would normally do, but it would be wise to just tone it down, even if it’s only by a bit.
The aim shouldn’t be afternoon tea, instead more along the lines of avoiding, uh, this.
In other words, utter insanity, or the intensity of a World Series celebration is not ideal for a team that should know by now how little a division championship ultimately means if you punch your ticket to the playoffs but never leave the station.
This whole idea of talking about how the Nationals should celebrate is ultimately extremely over-bearing and over-controlling.
The team is going to party, and there’s nothing we can do to change how they do it. But we can hope, and suggest, and think to ourselves.
And then again, if we can’t affect things at all, then maybe the day can if the clinch occurs today: Partying hard on a Sunday afternoon may not be everyone’s idea of a good time.