The Upside Of Losing (Or, Why Today Is Just The Beginning)


I didn’t think that I would be writing this today. I had my sights set on an NLCS Preview. While I was watching the vampire Cardinals come back from the dead just to kill the Nationals in front of children and women, I realized something. Every good young championship team loses before it wins.

Oct 12, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals fans react after the St. Louis Cardinals took a 9 – 7 lead during the ninth inning of game five of the 2012 NLDS at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

In fact, the Cardinals weren’t always an unkillable group of vampires. They were a team that was disappointed. Twice. Prior to their 2006 World Series, they were unable to get over the hump.

2000 NLCS : Lost 4-1
2001 NLDS: Lost 3-2
2002 NLCS: Lost 4-1
2003: Did not Qualify
2004 World Series: Lost 4-0
2005 NLCS: Lost 4-2

That’s a lot of heartbreak before finally making it over the hump. And it didn’t end there for the Cardinals, either.

2007: Did not Qualify
2008: Did not Qualify
2009 NLDS: Lost 3-0
2010: Did not Qualify
2011 Won World Series

To recap: That is 2 NLDS losses, 3 NLCS losses, a World Series loss and four seasons of missing the playoffs for two World Series titles. Every year, only one team wins the title. Other teams need to bide their time. The Nationals intend on being back in the post season. They have a young core mixed with able veterans. Most of them haven’t won before. Next year they will, ideally, come back stronger. But the Cardinals aren’t the only team that had to go through this.

The New York Yankees went through 4 ALDS losses, 1 ALCS loss, a World Series loss and a year of not qualifying for the playoffs before their 2009 World Series win. Even a team that has won before needs to learn how to win together.

Going to another sport, the Pittsburgh Penguins had a good mix of youth and veterans due to great drafting and a little bit of luck and rode through the regular season with one of the best records in the league (sound familiar?). Only, they couldn’t win in the playoffs. They lost in the first round their first time in the playoffs. The next year, they lost in the Stanley Cup finals. The year after that? Won the whole thing.

This was a long winded post to basically say these Nationals are following the exact same route as the St Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees in the 2000s and the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins from 2006-2009. Sure, the philosophy and roster construction wasn’t exactly the same but all of those teams had a similar cycle. Regular season success, playoff failures and finally a championship.

The title of this post says the upside of losing. It always comes in patterns. The upside of losing in the regular season brought Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper to Washington. The upside of losing in the playoffs brings experience and humility. That ultimately brings championships. Teams need both to succeed.

Waking up this morning and having to wait four months for baseball is cruel. But think of the Nationals players. They wake up this morning hungry. They wake up this morning wiser. They wake up never wanting to feel like this again. They wake up motivated.