In 2019, the Washington Nationals reached the pinnacle of baseball, beating the new enemy of Major League Baseball, the Houston Astros. It was cathartic for fans to finally see the team accomplish what they’d sought to do every year since 205. Up until last year, they just couldn’t get the job done in the postseason.
Then, of course, all that changed.
It seemed plausible that the Nationals would make a deep run in the 2020 postseason, as well. Teams don’t often repeat in baseball; it’s a finicky sport where plenty of things can go wrong and where a single player can’t steer the ship alone (like LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals).
But then the pandemic hit, baseball was derailed, and once the season finally resumed, the Nationals could never really get it going. So now, we must wonder: Is this team’s window closed?
Overall, the Nats are old. When a team is ready to compete, that can be a good thing. It contributes savvy veteran experience, which often is accompanied by exciting young talent. In some ways, that does describe the Nationals. In others, not so much. For 2020, that was the expectation for many — the thought was perhaps they could compete for a second World Championship in as many years.
In 2020, over the course of 60 games, Washington deployed 23 players aged 30 or older. That doesn’t exactly bode well for this squad, especially when the team’s biggest competitor, the Atlanta Braves, are still quite young.
Presumably, this Nationals group consists of some players that will still be around the next time competing for a World Series is within view, like Juan Soto and Trea Turner. But many won’t be. Ace Max Scherzer is slated to become an unrestricted free agent after next season. Would Washington really want to shell out money for the aging pitcher, who’ll be 37 in 2022?
With so many aging veterans and a depleted farm system, will Washington somehow find a way to stay atop the NL East while nursing the big contracts of pitchers like Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg? It’s perfectly reasonable to think that the window of contention has closed and will remain closed through much of their contracts. Other than the players mentioned, a lot of the rest of the group is an amalgamation of veterans whose clock continues to tick, which equals diminishing results to a greater extent year over year.
Because of the makeup of the roster, along with the challenges in the farm system (No. 29 according to this article), it may well be we’ve seen the best of this incarnation of the Nationals. It might be time to set our collective sights on the not-so-imminent future of DC’s beloved baseball team. But hey, we’ll still have the Presidents Race.