One fan looks on nervously from Nationals Park as the team looks to eke out its first win in the World Series.

One fan looks on nervously from Nationals Park as the team looks to eke out its first win in the World Series.

Washington had been championship-starved for a long time. It has, after all, been generations since a World Series was played here in D.C.

But now, with the Capitals and the Mystic winning national titles — and the Nats edging closer to a title of their own — that luck appears to be changing.

We’ll talk about the historic occasion and what it means for both longtime and bandwagon fans.

Produced by Julie Depenbrock

Guests

  • Neil Greenberg Sports Reporter, Washington Post; @ngreenberg

Transcript

  • 12:00:19

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned into The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.05. Welcome. Later in the broadcast the honor and hard work behind military funerals. But first ...

  • 12:00:41

    KOJO NNAMDIOh, yeah, Baby shark. The Nationals defeated the Astros 12-3 in the second game of the World Series last night. It was the second win for the Nationals in the best of seven series. Now the team is headed home to play a World Series in Washington, the first in generations. So what is the significance of this moment? Joining me in studio is Neil Greenberg. He's a Reporter who analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Washington Post. Neil Greenberg, good to have you here.

  • 12:01:09

    NEIL GREENBERGThanks for having me. I appreciate it.

  • 12:01:10

    NNAMDIGot to start out by talking about last night's game in Houston. The Nationals destroyed the Astros on their home turf, but for quite a while the two teams were neck and neck. What was the turning point?

  • 12:01:21

    GREENBERGThe turning point was the seventh inning. They were able to score, what, six runs in that seventh inning. And, you know, against a team like Houston that's been the best team in baseball both during the regular and for most of the post season up until this point, that's a lot of runs. And those type of runs are going to win you a lot of games. And that was significant. I think that the Astros perhaps finally realized that the Washington Nationals were every bit as good as they are. And that this is not going to be a difficult situation for them if they want to take back the World Series Championship they won a couple years ago.

  • 12:01:56

    NNAMDIHow important was Stephen Strasburg limiting them?

  • 12:01:58

    GREENBERGVery important, I mean, the entire pitching staff for the Washington Nationals I think is their strength. I mean, you have Max Scherzer. Then you have Strasburg and then you have Patrick Corbin, any of those three would be number one starters on another team, but being able to have him go limit the use of the bullpen as much as possible has been huge, because the bullpen's shaky for Washington.

  • 12:02:20

    NNAMDINeil, how are you feeling about the team's odds, especially now that they're coming home to Nationals Park.

  • 12:02:25

    GREENBERGI think it's great. You know, I think if you would have asked Washington before the series started going up against Garret Cole, going up against Justin Verlander, one who is probably going to be the AL Cy Young Award Winner another one who has a couple of those trophies in his closet already, they would have been happy with a split right? Win one, lose one, bring it back Washington. The fact that they beat -- they handed Cole his first loss, I want to say since -- in 18 starts. I mean, it was a long time before Cole had lost and then to just destroy the Astros in Verlander's outing. You know, coming back up two nothing on the road is huge. There's been 14 other teams in similar situations, 11 went on to win the World Series. So now they only have to win two out of the next five. I think the Nationals have to love their chances right now.

  • 12:03:15

    NNAMDIYou're the statistical guy. Back in May, this team what I understand was a three percent chance of making it.

  • 12:03:22

    GREENBERGThat might be generous.

  • 12:03:23

    NNAMDIOf making the playoffs. Now they're headed into game three of the World Series. How did they get here between May and now?

  • 12:03:28

    GREENBERGWell, yeah. I mean, May was a dark time for this team. They had injuries. They had just lost a four game series to the Mets. There was no head coach manager position on a hotter seat than Dave Martinez. A lot of people wanted him fired. I lot of people wanted ...

  • 12:03:50

    NNAMDII was singing the "Dusty Baker Blues" back then.

  • 12:03:52

    GREENBERGYeah. A lot of people thought that they, you know, they made a big mistake and then they got healthy. They were able to get healthy. They were able to get their lineup in the way that they want with Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Victor Robles, were all healthy in the lineup after that. They got their pitching inline. The bullpen wasn't as historically terrible. They were just bad. And they were able to start to win. And like I mentioned earlier when you have three pitchers like the Nationals do in Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin at the front of the rotation, that's going to limit losing streaks especially if they're all healthy. So what we saw was just a lot of momentum being created. The Atlanta Braves had some of their issues. Some of the other wild card teams started to fall behind. And the Nationals just kept on winning.

  • 12:04:40

    NNAMDIThe dynamic on this team seems unique. They've become known for kids' songs, sweet group hugs and goofy superstitions. What's special about this group of guys?

  • 12:04:50

    GREENBERGThey're a bunch of goofballs. You know, you mentioned it, the "Baby Shark." I thought we had put "Baby Shark" behind us. Like I thought we were done with that and we were moving on as a society and then it rears its ugly head in the World Series, in the playoffs. You know, the bullpen is wearing red polo shirts. They're 8-0 now. The team is in these navy blue uniforms that they don't want to take off. You know, they're hugging each other. They're dancing. They got these other things. I mean, I think it's because they were playing with house money like you said in May, right? I mean, like they're not supposed to be here. They weren't supposed to get passed the Dodgers, who were the best team in the national league. They certainly weren't supposed to be in this position against Houston, the best team in the league.

  • 12:05:35

    GREENBERGI think that, you know, they're playing with a little bit of house money and, you know, they're just having a lot of fun doing it. And that to me is what's pulling in other fans, right? You mentioned bandwagon fans at the top of the show. I think that it's -- they look like a regular group of guys. Like they celebrate the way we would probably celebrate, right? I know I would be like highfiving everybody. Hugging whoever. So I think that that's -- it humanizes them in a way that makes them very relatable.

  • 12:06:03

    NNAMDIHere's Carol Ann in Bethesda, Maryland. Carol Ann, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:06:07

    CAROL ANNHi, Kojo.

  • 12:06:08

    NNAMDIHi, Carol Ann.

  • 12:06:09

    ANNI don't know if you remember I told you I lived around the corner from Sandy Koufax and I was on the street with the kids screaming at him when he decided not to play on Yom Kippur.

  • 12:06:19

    NNAMDII remember everything.

  • 12:06:21

    ANNBut last night was absolutely a riot. I had my cousin in New Jersey a couple of days ago razzing him about the fact that our team was going to beat him if we played the Yankees, because he was a big Yankee fan. Last night I was on the phone with my cousin in Houston watching the game with him and it was 2-2. And it was incredible how we were each defending our team and how we each knew about the players and talking about Bregman, who is Jewish and we were wondering ...

  • 12:06:55

    NNAMDIAt what point did your cousin hang up on you?

  • 12:06:57

    ANNIt was just around the time that the third run came in.

  • 12:07:00

    NNAMDII would think so, yes. Got to go, bye. But thank you very much for sharing that story with us Carol Ann. And speaking of the Yankees here's Paul driving toward D.C. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:07:12

    PAULHey, Kojo. Hey, just wanted to tell you how excited I am. I'm definitely jumping on the bandwagon. The Houston Astros beat my team the Yankees. But I worked in Washington. I live in Virginia and we love the Nationals. I can't stay up late, but I can watch it on YouTube and I can watch the reruns. I am so excited. They are definitely going to sweep and we have the Nationals and the Capitals, and it is a great time to be in D.C., Virginia area. So Hallelujah to the Nationals.

  • 12:07:41

    NNAMDIAre you going to stay a Nationals fan or are you going to circle back to the Yankees after the World Series?

  • 12:07:46

    GREENBERGI'm going back to the Yankees.

  • 12:07:48

    NNAMDIDie hard.

  • 12:07:49

    GREENBERGIt's a big win for us.

  • 12:07:50

    NNAMDIDie hard. Thank you very much for your call, Paul. Pitcher Sean Doolittle talked about the influence of the new players on this team and the new music like reggaeton that they're bringing to team celebrations.

  • 12:08:02

    SEAN DOOLITTLEI don't really know what they're saying, but I love the energy. And it gets everybody in the clubhouse going. It gets everybody dancing. I think, you know, we're lucky to have guys like Parra, Anibal, Fernando, these guys that have come here and changed the culture in the clubhouse. And got a lot of guys in here to kind of loosen up and play the game with a little bit more fun to be honest. And I don't know. It's been really good. And, you know, just like there's dancing in the dugout after a homer. There's dancing in here after a win. Obviously after a clench it gets taken up a notch. But they've made it a lot of fun.

  • 12:08:54

    NNAMDINational's pitcher Sean Doolittle. We are talking with Neil Greenberg. He is reporter who analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Washington Post. Neil, I'd like to talk about some of the key players here. Let's start with some of the veterans of the team. Who do you see as leaders? Long time Washingtonians, of course, remember Kyle Zimmerman when he was at the University of Virginia.

  • 12:09:13

    GREENBERGYeah, Ryan Zimmerman.

  • 12:09:14

    NNAMDIRyan Zimmerman before he even got here.

  • 12:09:17

    GREENBERGYeah. I mean, he is certainly at the top of the list. He was the team's first draft pick in 2005, like you said local roots. This is the only team he's been with. And, you know, it's been a little bit of a struggle for him. There was a little bit of uncertainty as to what was going to happen to him at the end of the year his contract being up, but talk about storybook ending if it is indeed the end, right? I mean, first draft pick, first homerun for the team in the World Series. I mean, just finally gets there, breaks through. He's been through all the heartache all the heartbreak with his team's ups and downs.

  • 12:09:51

    GREENBERGI mean, if fans think they have it rough, I mean, Ryan Zimmerman has been there through every part of it, right. And so I would say for sure he's a leader on this team. Max Scherzer, I mean, the big free agent pitcher that typically never works out has been probably a bargain at the $200 million or whatever they're paying him. Certainly Stephen Strasburg won the first big name draft picks they signed. And all his ups and downs over the years. I mean, there's a lot of leadership both on the hitting side, the pitching side and of course the managerial side.

  • 12:10:24

    NNAMDIThere's Anthony Rendon. There's Kendrick. There's all kinds of leaders. The Astros on the other hand made headlines this week after a staffer shouted at a group of female reporters, thank God we got Osuna, referring to pitcher Roberto Osuna, who's been accused of sexual assault. What do you make of this controversy and how the Astros handled the fallout?

  • 12:10:44

    GREENBERGI think they handled it like a bunch of bozos. You know, you look at the situation and their first line of defense was to call it fake news, right. I mean, they were very quick in doing that. And then it was, well, our guy said it and he didn't mean it and he apologized for being misinterpreted.

  • 12:11:03

    NNAMDIThat was after it was corroborated.

  • 12:11:04

    GREENBERGThat was after it was corroborated by a couple of other journalists with the Houston Chronicle. And then, you know, the woman that wrote the Sports Illustrated article and the organization of Sports Illustrated never got an apology. They never got the apology that said, you know what, we called it fake news. We said it was fabricated. We shouldn't have done that. We should have investigated first. My hope is the third party investigation that's going to be done by Major League Baseball brings some closure to it. And I think that at the very least, the very least the Astros need to give a public apology to everyone they defamed at that original point of this is fake news.

  • 12:11:45

    NNAMDIFinally, he is Iman in Chantilly, Virginia. Iman, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:11:50

    IMANGood afternoon, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 12:11:52

    NNAMDIYou're welcome.

  • 12:11:53

    IMANI think I just want to say that we all -- we have one disease. We always celebrate early before we even win a championship. I think we should enjoy every game that we win and have that game behind us. And win next two games. Washington they haven't won this. People they're already -- they're acting up like they win the championship. This game is seven games. Got a long way to go and we should hold on to our horses. And enjoy the ride slowly. And that's my suggestion about this thing. We are definitely we going to win. I'm hoping that we will win the championship. But the way we're acting right now it might pump up the other team and think that, look, they think they win the championship while they didn't.

  • 12:12:37

    NNAMDIWell, Neil, Iman thinks that we're celebrating too early. Some people might feel that way, but there is already a lot to celebrate isn't there?

  • 12:12:46

    GREENBERGYeah. Be like Carol Ann. Just rub it in their noses any chance you get, right? I mean, look, as I said earlier they would have been happy with a split. I think they would have been happy losing the first two if they were even competitive, right. If they weren't blowing out, but the fact that they're up 2-0, they got to win two more in the next five with the next three games at Nats Park. You know, let the optimism flow. I mean, this is something -- we're witnessing a very special season and you should enjoy every minute of it.

  • 12:13:11

    NNAMDIWhat should their strategy be going in to these final games?

  • 12:13:16

    GREENBERGJust let the players hit. One of the things I don't like is there's a lot of bunts happening with this Nationals team. Even if you take out the pitcher bunts, they still have the fourth most bunts by position players in the Majors. It's not a good strategy. I know that there's a lot of winning happening and they've been doing it this whole time. But, you know, it could catch up to them in the worst possible way. And as we saw in that seventh inning last night, you know, let them swing. And you kind of have the knockout punch that way. And I understand why they're bunting, because the Houston is so good, but you know what? Nationals are good too and they got great hitters. Let them swing. Let them do as much damage as they possibly can, because right now Houston hasn't shown an ability to recover.

  • 12:13:59

    NNAMDII'll let Rebeca in Virginia have the last word. Rebeca, your turn.

  • 12:14:03

    REBECAHi. I'm a D.C. native and a big baseball fan that always wished we had our own team. And it's so great that we finally do and we've been following them ever since they showed up. And my father, who was a huge baseball fan would watch every game even when they were losing. He would record it if he wasn't going to be in front of the TV so he could watch it later. We took him to spring training a year ago. He had a long battle with cancer that I'm afraid he lost last fall. But every night as I'm watching this team do their magic I'm thinking of him. And I know he's on their side. And I want to thank them for helping me celebrate my dad.

  • 12:14:43

    NNAMDIRebeca, thank you very much for your call. Neil Greenberg, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:14:48

    GREENBERGThank you for having me.

  • 12:14:49

    NNAMDINeil is a reporter, who analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Washington Post. We're going to take a short break, when we come back the honor and hard work behind military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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