One of MLB history’s most improbable championship runs ended Wednesday night the only way it could — with an indestructible, indomitable Washington Nationals squad celebrating on the road after its World Series-clinching 6-2 victory over the Houston Astros in Game 7.
It was Washington’s fourth win in Houston during the Fall Classic, making the Nats the first major men’s pro team to win four road games in any best-of-seven playoff series. And that only scratches the surface of just how remarkable the Nats’ run has been. At almost every stage of the season and playoffs, they had to grind against ridiculously long odds. Few champions ever fought harder for their title than this Nationals ballclub did.
We’ve written before about Washington’s early-season struggles, but it’s impossible to overstate how resilient the team was in digging out of a 19-31 hole in the standings on May 23. The Nats were 12 games below .500 — the second-deepest pit any World Series winner has ever climbed out of, trailing only the 1914 Boston Braves (who went 12-28 to start their championship season):
The Nats were one of the most resilient champs ever
Most games below .500 for eventual World Series champions at their low point during the regular season, 1903-2019
|Low Point (Most Games Below .500)|
|1914||Boston Braves||June 8||12||28||-16|
|2019||Washington Nationals||May 23||19||31||-12|
|2003||Florida Marlins||May 22||19||29||-10|
|2002||Anaheim Angels||Apr. 23||6||14||-8|
|1935||Detroit Tigers||Apr. 27||2||9||-7|
|1991||Minnesota Twins||Apr. 20||2||9||-7|
|1977||New York Yankees||Apr. 19||2||8||-6|
|1979||Pittsburgh Pirates||May 15||12||18||-6|
Washington also faced multiple moments of crisis in the playoffs. Perhaps the most memorable came in the Nationals’ very first game of the postseason, trailing late in the wild-card contest (with a mere 13 percent chance of winning, according to The Baseball Gauge) until Juan Soto’s single — and an ill-timed error by right fielder Trent Grisham — helped propel them past the Milwaukee Brewers and into the NL Division Series. Once there, the Nats faced an 11 percent chance of winning the series at their low point in Game 5 before once again coming up huge against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers to advance.
An NLCS sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals went more smoothly, with Washington’s series win probability never dropping below 50 percent after the opening few innings of Game 1. But the Nats made up for that with one of the most back-and-forth World Series seesaws in history.
Despite going in as one of the heaviest betting underdogs in World Series history, the Nats stunned the Astros at first. At their initial high point in the first inning of Game 3, Washington had a 2-0 Series lead and was at home for the next three games — which gave it an 83 percent chance of taking home the first championship in franchise history. But things could never be that easy. As the Series unraveled over the next three games in D.C., the Nats’ championship win probability fell to a mere 22 percent by the end of Game 5.
The last of that trio of games was perhaps the most crushing, as presumptive starter Max Scherzer was scratched late because of neck spasms, leaving Joe Ross on the hill instead. Our Elo pitcher ratings thought the drop-off from Scherzer to Ross caused the Nats’ probability of winning the game to fall by 8 percentage points, a big swing as far as starters go. And things got even worse in the initial stages of Game 6, with Washington falling behind 2-1 early. Midway through the do-or-die road contest, the Nats’ chances of winning the World Series were down to 14 percent.
But this team specialized in high-pressure comebacks — and in playing its best with the season on the line. So it should have been no surprise to see Washington storm back to win Game 6, then rally from down 2-0 (and another 13 percent World Series win probability) in the sixth inning of Game 7. All the Nats did this postseason was orchestrate clutch comebacks.
Washington fought from far behind at (almost) every turn
Lowest series win probability by playoff round for World Series champions, 1995-2019
|Lowest Series Win Prob. By Round|
|2018||Boston Red Sox||—||46||28||50|
|2015||Kansas City Royals||—||1||50||38|
|2014||San Francisco Giants||41||47||46||18|
|2013||Boston Red Sox||—||41||19||24|
|2012||San Francisco Giants||—||7||8||50|
|2011||St. Louis Cardinals||—||14||34||2|
|2010||San Francisco Giants||—||28||45||44|
|2009||New York Yankees||—||44||52||29|
|2007||Boston Red Sox||—||50||12||52|
|2006||St. Louis Cardinals||—||48||24||45|
|2005||Chicago White Sox||—||51||32||50|
|2004||Boston Red Sox||—||47||2||46|
|2000||New York Yankees||—||27||27||38|
|1999||New York Yankees||—||50||41||40|
|1998||New York Yankees||—||50||30||38|
|1996||New York Yankees||—||17||37||14|
Including World Series Game 7, the Nationals went 5-0 in elimination games this postseason — and all of them were come-from-behind victories. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Washington is the first team in MLB history with five comeback wins when facing elimination in a single postseason. And that doesn’t even get into the caliber of teams the Nats had to go through, including the 107-win Astros (with their ridiculously stacked pitching staff) and the 106-win Dodgers. They battled — and beat — the likes of Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Miles Mikolas, Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and even Zach Greinke (who was rolling Wednesday night) along the way.
Add it all up, and we just witnessed one of the most improbable postseason runs in baseball history by one of the most entertaining teams in recent memory. In a season of supercharged megateams, the eventual champion was the one nobody saw coming — the team that simply couldn’t be killed, no matter how high the odds were stacked against it.