The Nationals aren’t participating in the 2021 postseason. And yet, everywhere you look, you find folks with Nationals connections that stir up all kinds of emotions inside you.
Really, they’re everywhere. There’s Kyle Schwarber hitting Schwarbombs for the Red Sox. Lucas Giolito dealing for the White Sox. Dusty Baker managing the Astros. Mike Maddux coaching the Cardinals pitching staff. Blake Treinen coming out of the bullpen and Steven Souza Jr. coming off the bench for the Dodgers. And, of course, the big ones: Max Scherzer and Trea Turner leading the way in L.A.
How are we supposed to feel about all of this?
On one hand, it’s easy to dismiss this as part of the game. Players, managers and coaches move around all the time. This isn’t unique to the Nats. Every non-participating team can find someone still playing who used to be with them.
But you can’t deny that some of these former Nationals aren’t just any former Nationals. These are prominent people who figured prominently into the franchise’s successes and failures alike before moving on.
One of the greatest regular-season moments in club history was made possible by Souza, whose diving catch of Christian Yelich’s drive to left-center with two outs in the ninth sealed Jordan Zimmermann’s 2014 no-hitter.
Few players have made themselves as popular with fans in such a short amount of time as Schwarber did this June with his historic home run barrage.
Giolito might be the biggest what-if in team history, an elite pitching prospect who was supposed to ascend to ace status after Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg’s time was done, only to underwhelm in four starts in 2016 and then serve as the centerpiece of the blockbuster Adam Eaton trade.
Treinen was the symbol of past bullpen disasters, a gifted reliever with a big arm who couldn’t seem to handle big moments here, only to develop into a late-inning gem in Oakland and now Los Angeles.
The emotions are stirred up most, though, with the Astros manager and the Dodgers’ two newest stars.
No Nationals fan is indifferent to Baker. You either adore him and believe he got a raw deal when he was fired after winning back-to-back division titles, or you believe he was never going to be able to lead a team all the way through October. Now he’s managing his fifth different organization in the postseason, having led all of them to a division crown. And he’s doing it for the same Astros franchise the Nats beat in the World Series and then were exposed as cheaters.
How are we supposed to feel about this? Are we hoping Dusty finally gets over the hump, wins a championship and punches his ticket to Cooperstown? Or are we hoping Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and company suffer another indignity, with Baker left to suffer again as a result?
And then there are Scherzer and Turner. The emotions of the July trade are still really raw for most. It’s not that long ago we all had reason to believe these guys would be playing in October in Nationals uniforms, trying to win a second World Series, then re-signing new contracts to stick around here a while longer.
That’s a pipe dream now. If you didn’t realize before, you certainly did late Wednesday night: Scherzer and Turner are thrilled to be Dodgers right now, and they celebrated that dramatic wild card win just as much as any victory from October 2019.
Maybe we should just take our cues from Juan Soto and Kevin Long. They showed up at Dodger Stadium, wearing Turner and Scherzer’s old Nats jerseys, and were fully invested in the outcome of the game, rooting for their friends without hesitation.
Yeah, it’s a little awkward at times. But if it makes you uncomfortable at any point, just pop in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series. It’ll make watching the 2021 postseason a little easier.