Marty Niland: Forget jinxes, Nats are going to the playoffs

Don't read this if you are superstitious.

Is the word "playoffs" taboo in your household? Do you use euphemisms to talk about that sort of thing? Then maybe you can find a new argument about the Stephen Strasburg shutdown to read.

Believe in jinxes? Stop here.

This is for fans who dare to dream.

Because the Nationals are going to the postseason. Not only that, they will win the National League East and have home-field advantage as deep as they go.

There. It's been said. It's not the first time. Heck, the team has been using "postseason priority" as a hook to sell 2013 season tickets for almost a month. But more than two months ago, two weeks before the All-Star break, as the Nats' lead over the New York Mets was about to shrink to three games, a group of Nats bloggers gathered at a downtown watering hole with members of the D.C. Baseball Society. The group included several who have written in this space.

We discussed how team loyalty is passed down through generations, whether Bryce Harper should be an All-Star, the Strasburg innings limit, whether suspected steroid users would ever make the Hall of fame and the state of the game in general. As the last rounds were consumed and the checks paid, one last question was posed to the panel: Will the Nationals make the postseason?

The group was divided. Some who follow the team closely and have access to the players were unconvinced, fearing that the team would wilt in the spotlight of a division race. I, however, was among those who said yes without wavering.

At that time, it was just a hunch, a belief, a leap of faith. Now, with the Nats sitting at least six games ahead of Atlanta with 38 games to play, I can say that history is on my side. Yes, the Braves and Boston Red Sox defied the odds and choked away huge wild card leads last year. But the addition of the second wild card team in each league renders that moot. Both Boston and Atlanta would have made the playoffs under that scenario, and for all we know they could have righted their ships and gone on to meet in the World Series.

But the new system is a double-edged sword, as Nats manager Davey Johnson recently pointed out. Nobody wants to see their season come down to a one-game playoff. That's why it's so important to win your division. And history says the Nats are most likely to do that. Over the past 10 seasons, 46 of the 60 teams who have led their divisions at this point have gone on to finish first. What's more, only two teams with a division lead as big as the Nats' have failed to hold on.

In 2010, the San Diego Padres led the NL West by 5 1/2 games over the eventual division and World Series champion San Francisco Giants. But a 10-game losing streak that stretched from August into September, and some shrewd moves by the Giants, including the acquisitions of outfielders Cody Ross and Jose Guillen, helped the Giants make up the difference.

In 2006, the Detroit Tigers blew a 6 1/2-game lead over the Chicago White Sox and a seven-game edge on Minnesota, as the Twins climbed over two teams to take the division crown.

Other than that, a lead as big as Washington's has been safe. That's not a guarantee. Anything can happen. But then again, you would not have read this far if you entertain such thoughts. Because this is for fans who dare to dream. This is for fans who believe.

Marty Niland blogs about the Nationals for D.C. Baseball History. His thoughts on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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