Almost no one has more right to ordain a celebration for the Nats than Lerner, who’ll be 87 next month and knew the ’33 Nats lineup by heart when they played in the World Series. “It’s only a first step,” he said, muting congratulations as he accepted them.
In an odd sight, Nats players were given champagne in a town that’s had no reason to pop any in 79 years, yet they didn’t spray it, just clinked and toasted a tad. If anything, they blended graciousness, a sense of the almost infinite patience of some of their fans, with a self-confident edge. “I have a much bigger picture in my mind,” Ian Desmond said. “We’re way beyond” celebrating a wild-card spot.
The Nats clinch is a lovely story, but also a foregone conclusion for weeks. They aren’t merely a good team that will now play at least one postseason game.
Objectively, the Nats are so excellent that 13 big-league franchises have seen only one team as superior as they are, or none at all, in the last 50 years.
After Thursday night’s 4-1 win over the Dodgers, the Nats are on pace to win 99 games. That’s one win above a symbolic baseball number: 98 wins. Why 98? At that threshold you win more than 60 percent of your games (.605) In other major sports, that rate of success is seldom noticed. But in baseball, it is a landmark.
Since both leagues went to a 162-game schedule in 1962, the glamorous Red Sox have had just two 98-win teams. The Dodgers haven’t had even one .600 team since 1977. Since 1900, the Phillies have had just three .600 teams. The Rangers, who’ve been to the past two World Series, have never had a .600 team in franchise history back to their Washington Senators days.
In those 50 seasons, seven current franchises have never won 98 and six others have only had one such .600 season. That’s 13 teams, or nearly half the entire sport.
The point is not to guess the Nats’ exact win total. The idea, entering this last two vital weeks, is to have a general sense of how well this team has played to this juncture so that, whatever pennant-race fate comes next, it can be watched in a sensible context.
The Nats’ season benchmark is now .611. That’s the best in the sport and an altitude which gives us perspective on why there is such a wide disconnect between the Nats’ confident sense of themselves and the town’s skittish, is-it-safe-yet viewpoint. By D.C. standards, this is a ballclub from Mars.