Honestly, with all of the real-time t-shirts that the Washington Nationals have caused to be produced this season, it still seems as though there might be a key one that’s still missing.
“Go 1-0 today.” Manager Dave Martinez has preached that mantra ever since the Nationals put themselves into that fateful 19-31 hole on May 23rd.
Back then, the bigger picture would’ve been demoralizing for the players if they focused on that rather than what was in front of them. Their postseason odds were a mere 3.8% on May 24th and their NL pennant odds were just 0.1%, according to Baseball-Reference.
That’s exactly why they needed to focus on one game at a time and start chipping away.
“We don’t pay too much attention to [the odds],” Anthony Rendon said on Wednesday.
“Obviously we read about it or hear about it because it becomes exploited and obviously we’re in the city and we have all the news outlets saying all these things, but we just try to stay together as a team and that’s all we really could do.”
Nobody believed in the Nationals on May 24th, the day they turned their season around. There was serious doubt about the manager’s future (whoops), calls for GM Mike Rizzo’s firing, and talk about how they should sell off all valuable assets for a full-scale rebuild.
But in the clubhouse, the players and coaches remained defiant despite the slim odds.
“We had nothing to lose at that point,” Rendon said. “We had 0.1% chance to lose, I guess, we had that much left.
“But we were just, hey, screw it, let’s go out and have some fun and play ball and whatever it was, something clicked and it turned around and we’ve been trying to ride that wave ever since and keep on just going.”
Playing with no pressure, the Nats and their simplified outlook bulldozed their way through the rest of the season to clinch a Wild Card berth and get them to where they are now.
That momentum has carried them to an impressive position in this series.
They easily could’ve been daunted by the prospect of going into Houston to face Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander where many would snap off your hand for the chance at a split.
Instead, taking it one game at a time as they have done for months, they pulled off unlikely back-to-back wins to put them in a commanding position in the World Series.
Teams that win the first two games in a seven-game series go on to win the series 84% of the time. If we dig deeper and look at the track record of teams that win two on the road in a best-of-seven, they have gone on to win the series 23 times out of 26.
The Nationals are part of both of those statistics after they won the first two games in St. Louis in the NLCS before going on to sweep the series and advance to the Fall Classic.
While the NLCS is still a huge stage in itself, the World Series is where everything ratchets up a notch. That’s why, with the finish line in sight, the team needs to focus on the phrase that got them to this point instead of looking too far forward.
The fans know the statistics, the media knows the statistics, even the players and coaches know the statistics. They all say that the most likely outcome is the Nats hoisting the trophy.
But, in the moment, the team can’t get carried away and think they’ve got this sewn up. The game isn’t played on paper, the players need to execute if they want to finish this thing off.
“We talked about this yesterday about complacency,” Martinez said ahead of Game 3. “I don’t think our guys would ever do that, but we said, hey, we’ve still got a lot of baseball left. We’ve just got to focus on today and go home, rest and get ready to play and go 1-0 again. That’s been the message all year. We don’t try to get ahead of ourselves.
“These guys need to understand the focus on the here and now and do the little things. That’s what’s got us here. And we’ve got to continue to do that.”
There it is yet again. “Go 1-0” is the phrase that helps the Nationals recenter themselves on their goal to just win the next game they play. Nothing more, nothing less.
At times, the phrase has become monotonous, especially during the dog days of summer.
However, it clearly works for the players who have adopted it and almost say it on cue whenever anyone asks them if they’re looking ahead.
“Obviously we know what’s at stake,” Kurt Suzuki said after the team’s Game 2 win.
“We’re not looking too far in the future. We know to keep our eye on the target, come out, just be 1-0 the next day and go from there.”
The attitude of going 1-0 every day has the Nationals to the brink of history, coming back to D.C. with a 2-0 lead in the World Series. Now more than ever, it’s what they need to win it all.