MLB playoffs: Nationals confident that this year will be different

Time and time again, the Washington Nationals have fallen shortwhen it matteredmost.In three playoff appearances over the past five seasons, the Nats have faltered and disappointed, and come out on the losing end each time. To change that Corey Seager Jersey trend and make the NLCS for the first time since 1981, when the franchise was in Montreal, Washington must defeat the red-hot defending champion Chicago Cubs in the NLDS, starting Friday.It’s not the easiest task, but Nationals players believe the team iswell-equipped to finally make a deep postseason run, starting with their chemistry and clubhouse camaraderie.Guys look comfortable, guys look happy, which is always a good thing, said veteran starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who donned «Game Of Thrones» gear with his teammates after a recentwin over the Mets in New York. That bond that we bring out of each other, we’ve had that in the past, but it just feels a little stronger this year.MORE: Every MLB team’s worst postseason memory, revisitedThis team, like others that stumbled in the playoffs before it, was great in the regular season, winning 97 games. Washington led the NL in slugging percentage, finished second in OPS and third in runs and hits, led by a now-healthy Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and a finally healthy Ryan Zimmerman. The pitching staff, led by rotation anchors Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gonzalez, finished third in the league in ERA and tops in the circuit with 13 shutouts.Scherzer was dominant in his penultimate regular season start in New York, striking out at least 10 batters in a game for the 15th time this season, but strained his hamstring during last Saturday’s start against Pittsburgh, putting his status for the NLDS in doubt.That makes Strasburg’s presence even more important. He mi sed last year’s postseason after he tore a tendon in his throwing arm in September, and Gonzalez can’t wait to see him on the mound against Chicago.That’s a huge reason why we feel a little more comfortable, a little more excited, Gonzalez said. That’s not putting all the pre sure on Stras, it’s just us saying that it helps out a lot for us. He takes pre sure off of us. MORE: Bryce Harper has become a multifaceted Statcast starAnother reason this team feels more confident is its upgraded bullpen. After having the worst relief corps in the NL during the first half of the season, Washington acquired Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from Oakland in July. After the All-Star break, only St. Louis and Milwaukee had a better bullpen ERA than the Nationals.It’s good to have so many interchangable parts like that, manager Dusty Baker said of his relievers. That’s what the playoffs are gonna be all about. Low-scoring, one-run games a lot of times.Outfielder Jayson Werth, 38, is now in his seventh year with the Nationals and is in the postseason for the ninth time in his career. He knows a contender when he sees one, and he said the balance and depth on this team is what sets it apart.Our organization did a good job of improving our weakne ses from years past, he said.Even after offseason acquisition Adam Eaton was lost to a season-ending injury in April, Werth credited the front office for deepening their offense and improving their bench by signing Adam Lind in February and acquiring Howie Kendrick in July.We have a good balance of veterans and younger players, good balance of pitching and defense, [and the] lineup is balanced, Werth said.MORE: Harper gives wife custom crystal jacket for playoffsWhile Washington likes its chances, Zimmerman and Madson noted that every team that’s made it this far has a similar level of depth and balance. So situational baseball becomes magnified especially during a best-of-five series and you never know which moment in a gamecan swing the outcome.My moment or the bullpen’s moment is just one piece of the whole game, Madson said, but every piece needs to be solid to win games in the playoffs.Zimmerman said that taking advantage ofopportunities, such asmoving a runner over or driving in runners in scoring position, is monumentally important in the playoffs. But multiple Nats players said that once you get in the postseason, anything can happen.Obviously we have more experience from those early exits, Zimmerman said, but Mike Piazza Jersey I think what we’ve all learned is you just have to get in.Even if one team appears better on paper, Madson said, that becomes irrelevant the second the teams step onto the field.I don’t think one team has a huge advantage, he said. «Baseball is just a game that needs to be played.