The Nationals And The Magic Number Of One


There is good news and bad news for the Washington Nationals right now. The good news is that their magic number is one. The bad news is that their magic number is one.

Tonight, John Lannan – the longest tenured starting pitcher on the Nationals, despite spending most of the year in AAA – has a chance to clinch the Nationals first division title. (Photo: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE)

Every team wants to have the chance to win and clinch a playoff spot. Your fate is in your hands and all you have to do is win. And sometimes, that is the problem. Last year both American and National League Wild Cards changed hands on the last day and the team that just had to win didn’t. This year, the team that had to win was the Atlanta Braves. This year, they play the role of the chaser and it is the Nationals who have one foot on the spot while their backs are simultaneously against the wall.

I am not saying that I would rather be in the Braves place right now – there’s no way – but there is something to playing with no pressure. Yesterday in golf’s Ryder Cup, the European team came from nowhere to beat the Americans who started the day way in front. The Braves play free and have made it very hard for the Nationals to clinch the NL East and for now, the magic number stayed at one.

Tonight, the Nationals can clinch and they can clinch at home and the two ugly losses to the St Louis Cardinals would be forgotten. Or, they could lose again. And the Braves could beat the Pirates. And then it would be a third day of a magic number of one. And suddenly the team that held the division lead for most of the season, often comfortably, would be stuck trying to win just one game.

Pressure is a funny thing. Some people thrive on it. Other people crumble. Most are able to do both and it depends on so many factors. That’s the funny thing about baseball. You can go out and win 96 of 159 games but when it comes down to one, things change.

Many see the magic number of one as just a formality. No team can have everything go exactly their way to come out of nowhere and steal a playoff spot or a division title. But that’s the thing about the magic number at one. It isn’t at zero. And if last year taught us anything, there is no comfort in the one. And ironically, the team that had everything go wrong for them just a year ago – Atlanta – is the one that can have everything go right this year.

Tonight, John Lannan and the Nationals can make sure that doesn’t happen.