It has been a week since the Washington Nationals captured their first-ever World Series title, defeating the Houston Astros in seven games. After the initial onslaught of reactions, we took some time to highlight key takeaways from the Nationals historic, unexpected, and memorable run through the 2019 season.
2019 World Series Takeaways
When it comes to any professional sports playoffs, there is high precedent given to the idea of home-field advantage. It is perceived that playing on your own field, in your own stadium, in front of your own fans is supposed to be just that— an advantage. When it comes to the 2019 World Series, that is all for naught.
For the first time in history, the road team won every game. The World Series is divided in a 2-3-2 format, meaning the team with home-field advantage hosts the first two games, and then returns home for the pivotal final games. The Nationals stymied the Astros in Houston the first two games, returning to DC with a commanding 2-0 lead. In front of rabid Nats fans expecting to witness a title-clinching victories, the Astros won three straight and crushed the spirits of the DC faithful. The Nationals, a team built on resiliency and a never-doubt-us mentality, stunned the world in winning Games 6 and 7 in Houston. Teams battle all season in order to gain home-field advantage. The 2019 World Series taught us that gaining home-field advantage is only half the battle.
The Ewing Theory
Sportswriter Bill Simmons famously coined an idea called The Ewing Theory, inspired by former New York Knicks forward Patrick Ewing. In 1999, Ewing was injured in a playoff series against the Pacers, and the Knicks seemed dead in the water. Yet, they won 3 of 4 games to advance to the NBA Finals.
The theory is two-fold— first, a team must have a dominant all star, widely considered to be a once-in-a-generation talent. That player, however, never wins anything substantial with that team. Second, that player leaves the team, the team is written off, only for them to bounce back and finally win meaningful games.
The Nationals were the first ‘Ewing Theory’ team to win a title. Their ‘Ewing’ player was Bryce Harper, a former MVP, Rookie of the Year, and six-time all star. Harper shunned the Nationals to sign a then-MLB record 13 year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. Pundits immediately bounced the Phillies to the top of the league, and the Nationals to the bottom. The results of the deal? The Phillies missed the playoffs, and the Nationals are world champions.
Young Star Juan Soto
How were the Nationals able to recover from the loss of Harper?
The emergence of new, young, and exciting new stars. Juan Soto, a 21 year-old left fielder, grew to become a league icon this postseason. Admired for his style of play, Soto electrified crowds, delivering game-changing home runs and frequently igniting a spark in the Nationals. His behavior at the plate, although criticized by some, is nevertheless entertaining, and effective. Baseball is frequently considered to be a boring and uneventful sport— Soto flips that narrative on his head through his charismatic and confident style of play. Add that to his on-field play, which is stellar, and the MLB may have a new superstar. One thing is for sure— with Soto in the mix, the Nationals have no love lost over the departure of Bryce Harper.
Expect the Unexpected
We’ve seen this time and again with title teams this year. The Toronto Raptors lost their franchise player and battled back to win an NBA title. In addition, the St. Louis Blues were at the bottom of the standing midway through the season, only to catch fire and win their first Stanley Cup title. The Nationals took a page from their playbook, as a result overcoming a dismal start to the season to stun the world.
On May 23, the Nationals were 19-31, good for the 4th worst record in the MLB. All they did was tear through their schedule the rest of the way, ending the season with a 93-69 record, good enough for a Wild Card berth. They snuck by the Milwaukee Brewers in the Wild Card game, advancing to face the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers were dominant in 2019, winning the most games in the National League. The Nationals won 4 games to 1. Next were the St. Louis Cardinals and their suffocating defense, led by the historic Jack Flaherty. The Nationals swept. All that was left was the team with the best record in baseball— the Houston Astros. However, we know how that ended.
The 2019 Nationals are an incredible story, and certainly one of the most memorable championship teams in recent memory. In order to win their first World Series title, they overcame the loss of an all-time great player, a horrid start to the season, and a brutal postseason lineup of opponents. Along the way, new stars emerged, and new legends were made. In 2019, the Washington Nationals cemented themselves in history as an unlikely, but deserving, World Series Champion.