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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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.