Washington Nationals’ continued struggles prove they won it all just in time in 2019

The good news for the Nationals is that four wins in their last five games in June gave them a real shot at hitting the All-Star Break at a rate of losing less than 100 games.

The bad news, alas, is the good news for the Nationals, who are about to potentially answer a question seldom asked in the past 100-plus years: which World Series champion has declined fastest after his title ?

Barring an unlikely turnaround — and they must go 52-32 the rest of the way to finish .500 — the Nationals will become only the fourth World Series champion to finish with a losing record in each of the three seasons following his title.

The society the Nationals would join is certainly an eclectic bunch. The Red Sox finished with a losing record for 15 consecutive seasons – and finished .500 in season no. 16 in 1934 – after winning the 1918 World Series. The second season of that drought, of course, coincided with Babe Ruth’s trade to the Yankees, which may or may not have resulted in an 86-year curse.

The Blue Jays have had four straight losing seasons following the second of their back-to-back World Series titles in 1993, but that slippage comes with a few asterisks. The Blue Jays finished the strike-shortened 1994 season with a 55-60 record, but were 23-16 in their final 39 games. Maintaining that pace over the last 47 games would have taken Toronto above .500.

And even though the Blue Jays finished with a losing record in the hypothetical 162-game 1994 campaign, winning back-to-back titles makes the fade less pronounced. Along these lines: the second and most recent NBA champion to lose at least three consecutive seasons after their title was the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls, who tripped for the second time with Michael Jordan before tearing him down and suffer six consecutive subs. -.500 finishes. (The first? The 1948 Baltimore Bullets, who had six consecutive losing seasons before disbanding in the 1954-55 campaign)

Speaking of takedowns, remember the 1997 Florida Marlins? Assembled and disassembled with a speed that even Connie Mack would have enjoyed (his Philadelphia Athletics won three championships from 1910-1913 and fell in the World Series in 1914 before going 43-109 in 1915 to start a decade of losing seasons), the Marlins went from champions in 1997 to losing 108 in 1998. The Marlins did not have another winning season until their next championship season in 2003.

To some degree, the Nationals’ run deserves a Blue Jays-like asterisk. The Nationals went 26-34 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, which was only one game worse than their 60-game record in 2019 before mounting one of the great in-season comebacks in history. to win the franchise’s first World Series. A full 2020 season could have yielded an entirely different result, or at least not a last place finish, under the 0.500 mark.

Even going 65-97 last season isn’t as damning as it seems. The Nationals were 40-38 and just 2 1/2 games out of first place in the NL East on June 30 before a July 8-18 lead to a fire sale in which impending free agents and Championship stalwarts Max Scherzer, Yan Gomes and Daniel Hudson have been traded with 20-year-old superstar Trea Turner, who is not eligible for free agency until this winter.

But even though we’re graduating on a curve here, the Nationals almost surely won their championship just as the window closed. Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon, who each hit free agency after the 2019 World Series, have struggled with injuries since the championship season. Strasburg re-signed with the Nationals but only made XX starts while battling thoracic outlet syndrome while Rendon was limited to XXX games with the Angels.

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