Can Nats make it back to playoffs?

Can Nats make it back to playoffs?
October 14, 2012, 7:00 am
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The mantra was repeated over and over and over by just about everyone in the Nationals organization: This is a ballclub that expects to be good for a long time and expects to make many trips to the postseason.

And that belief was repeated late Friday night in the aftermath of their soul-crushing National League Division Series loss to the Cardinals.

"We've come a long, long way in a fairly short period of time," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "Like I said all along, we like where we're at. We like the core players on this team. And we're going to be excited to ratchet it up in the spring."

The belief this team just entered a long-term window for success was among the guiding principles behind Stephen Strasburg's shutdown, with Rizzo insisting he wanted the right-hander around for future postseason runs. It's among the reasons nearly every roster move he's made has been to acquire players who could not only help this team win now but in the future as well.

And the Nationals should have every reason to believe they'll be back in the postseason again in 2013 and for several years to come. But they also should have every reason to understand there are no guarantees they'll find themselves in this situation again.

There are plenty of recent examples that seem to support the Nationals' chances of a long, sustained run of excellence, maybe none as comparable as the Phillies of the last half-decade.

After winning their first NL East title in 2007, they immediately were swept in the NLDS by a red-hot Rockies team that went on one of the greatest September/October rolls in history. How did the Phillies respond? They won the World Series in 2008, then returned to the Fall Classic in 2009, the NLCS in 2010 and the NLDS in 2011.

Another potential comparison: In 1995, the Yankees reached the postseason for the first time in 14 years, then lost to the Mariners in a Division Series Game 5 finish every bit as dramatic as what the Nationals and Cardinals just experienced. How did New York respond? By winning four World Series titles in the next five years: 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

More examples:

-- The Rangers reached the postseason for the first time in a decade in 2010, reached the World Series two straight years and were poised to win another AL West title this fall before a stunning collapse left them in the Wild Card Game.

-- The Rays came out of nowhere to qualify for the postseason in 2008 and went all the way to the World Series. They didn't get to experience October baseball in 2009 but returned to appear in the ALDS in both 2010 and 2011.

None of those franchises is a perfect comparison for the Nationals, but it does underscore the ability of well-constructed franchises to become regular postseason participants.

There are, on the other hand, examples of teams getting knocked out of the playoffs one year, believing they'd return in future years and failing to do so.

The Detroit Tigers, who went 19 years between playoff appearances, reached the World Series in 2006 and appeared to be built for a long and sustained run. They missed the postseason the next four years, not returning until 2011.

Then there's this sobering stat: Eight of the last 11 World Series winners didn't even qualify for the postseason the previous year. The overwhelming majority of franchises in the Wild Card Era have gone from watching baseball on TV one October to winning it all the next fall.

What does any of that mean for the 2013 Nationals? We won't know for some time.

Yes, they are as well-positioned as any franchise in the majors to make it back to the postseason and become October regulars.

But it's one thing to position yourselves well. It's quite another to actually get the job done.