Examining the Washington Nationals’ Playoff Failures

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No. 4 Washington Nationals


Standings: 30-18 (1st in NL East)
Last Week's Ranking: 5th
Outlook: The Nationals started off the week with a win in Atlanta. Washington took two of three games against the Mariners. The Nationals also won their first game against the Padres. Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman continue to be the story for the Nationals. Harper is hitting .340 with 15 home runs, 40 RBI and 111 total bases. Zimmerman is hitting .362 with 13 home runs, 39 RBI and 114 total bases. Max Scherzer is 5-3 with 89 strikeouts this season. Stephen Strasburg is 5-1 with 59 strikeouts. The Nationals will spend the majority of the week on the road in California. They have a three-game series in San Francisco then Oakland to close out the week. (Getty)

If it seems like a familiar script for the Washington Nationals to have lost a decisive fifth game at home in the playoffs, that’s because it is. In five trips to the playoffs, the Nationals have never once won a playoff series. To make matters worse, the Nationals have had home-field advantage every single time, but have managed to lose a Game 5 at home in every instance but one, the exception coming in 2014 when the San Francisco Giants didn’t let the Nationals get the series back to Washington and finished them off in four games.

The Nationals added yet another failure to a city and a franchise that have been full of them in the playoffs. Since D.C. United in 2004, no Washington-based team has even made it to the last four of a league’s playoffs. Here’s a look at what’s gone wrong for the Nationals when it’s mattered most.

1981 NLCS vs. Los Angeles


1981 NLCS Gm5: Dodgers win NL Pennant10/19/81: Bob Welch gets Jerry White to ground out for the final out as the Dodgers beat the Expos in Game 5 and advance to the World Series Check out http://MLB.com/video for more! About MLB.com: About MLB.com: Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig announced on January 19, 2000, that the 30 Major League Club owners…2013-09-28T11:14:01.000Z

The Nationals’ home playoff failures aren’t limited to their time in the nation’s capital. Back in 1981, the Montreal Expos had the NLCS where they wanted it after splitting the first two games in Los Angeles. Upon taking the third game in Montreal, they had two shots to win the pennant in Quebec and move on to a World Series matchup with the New York Yankees.

Instead, they got whipped in Game 4 and couldn’t get the job done in Game 5. With the score tied at 1 in the ninth, the Expos summoned Steve Rogers, their ace pitcher, to try to keep them alive for as long as possible. That didn’t prove to be very long, as Rick Monday drove a pitch over the wall in right-center field in the top of the ninth for a 2-1 lead, sending the Dodgers to the World Series, a matchup they won against the Yankees while the Expos were left to wonder what went wrong.

1981 NLCS Gm5: Rick Monday's homer gives Dodgers lead10/19/81: Rick Monday's two-out solo home run in the top of the ninth gives the Dodgers a 2-1 lead over the Expos in Game 5 Check out http://MLB.com/video for more! About MLB.com: About MLB.com: Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig announced on January 19, 2000, that the 30 Major League Club owners voted unanimously to…2013-10-25T10:03:00.000Z

The answer was a lack of offense. In a five-game series, the Expos scored just eight runs total, including just three in the three games they lost.

2012 NLDS vs. St. Louis


2012/10/12 Recap: STL 9, WSH 7 NLDS Gm510/12/12: Late magic lifts Cardinals to NLCS2012-10-13T07:27:37.000Z

Eight years after the move to Washington, the Nationals were finally in the playoffs and seemingly in position to take a big step forward by knocking out the St. Louis Cardinals and reaching the NLCS. After beating the Cardinals in Game 4 on a Jayson Werth home run, they had to like their chances.

Jayson Werth Walk-Off Home Run Game 4 NLDS 10/11/12All rights go to MLB and this is property of MLB.2012-10-11T23:35:06.000Z

When they jumped out to a 6-0 lead in Game 5, a meeting with the Giants loomed. But the Nationals then fell apart. They scored just once the rest of the way and couldn’t hold a 7-5 lead with two outs in the ninth inning. Instead, the Cardinals did all the damage with two outs to go ahead 9-7, and the Nationals responsed by going down in order and out of the playoffs.

2012 NLDS Gm5: Cards rally for four in 9th for win in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS10/12/12: The Cardinals turn a two-run deficit into a two-run ninth-inning lead after Carlos Beltran's leadoff double, a pair of walks and two-out hits from Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma Check out http://m.mlb.com/video for our full archive of videos, and subscribe on YouTube for the best, exclusive MLB content: http://youtube.com/MLB About MLB.com: Commissioner Allan H.…2015-03-31T20:20:40.000Z

Once again, the loss came down to an inability to close the door in the ninth inning. This time, however, the Nationals had their actual closer in Drew Storen on the mound and were protecting a lead. It didn’t matter. The Nationals still couldn’t get the out they needed.

2016 NLDS vs. Los Angeles


Dodgers Beat Nationals 2016 NLDS Game 5 Kershaw2016-10-14T04:53:43.000Z

With three playoff failures in the books and two of them in Washington, this was supposed to be the year that it was all different. The Nationals had Max Scherzer on the mound after signing him to a rich contract in 2015, and this was the game he was brought in to pitch.

Scherzer was brilliant, only giving up one run in the seventh. But the Dodgers hung on long enough that they were able to get to the seventh inning trailing by just one run. The Dodgers then scored four in the seventh and hung on for a 4-3 lead to eliminate the Nats yet again.

10/13/16: Jansen, Kershaw power Dodgers to NLCSDaily Recap: After a four-run rally, Kenley Jansen and Clayton Kershaw tossed three scoreless innings or relief in a dramatic Game 5 win Check out http://m.mlb.com/video for our full archive of videos, and subscribe on YouTube for the best, exclusive MLB content: http://youtube.com/MLB About MLB.com: Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig announced on January 19, 2000,…2016-10-14T09:13:53.000Z

2017 NLDS vs. Chicago


With the start they had to the final game of this series, the Nationals should’t have blown it. Getting a three-run home run from Michael Taylor should have been a cushion that a full Nationals bullpen should have held down.

And still it wasn’t enough. Making matters worse was the fact that Scherzer tried to come in out of the bullpen and ended up charged with the loss, dropping his postseason record to 4-5. When the Nats couldn’t get their big bats going at the end, they were once again sunk, and they now face yet another offseason where they have far many more questions than they do answers.