The Lesson of One Run Losses
After the Nats last two losses to the Atlanta Braves by the scores of 2-1 and 5-4 the Nats are 27-20 in one run games. That is a good record and is a product of a good team. The New York Yankees are the only division leaders with a losing record in one run games, but there is a lesson here, and it has nothing to do with luck or the entropy of baseball. It is instead about what can happen in the playoffs and how the Nationals could lose early on even if they end up with the best record in baseball.
The national media will let everyone know that the reason the Nationals lost in the playoffs will be because they shutdown Strasburg, but look at the last two losses to the Braves. The Nationals lost the first game due to a relief pitcher who is quickly pitching himself off the playoff roster and an error, and the Nats lost the second game because of a blown call at first base. Consider how much had to happen in order for the Nationals to lose those games, and then imagine if those game were played 100 times.
The regular season is more of the latter scenario whereas the playoffs are the former. A playoff game happens once and while the nature of series play does somewhat limit the impact that luck can have on a playoff series it doesn't eliminate it the way the regular season does. Over the course of 162 games the best team is the team with the best record, but in the playoffs the winning team is often the hottest team or the team that has the most BABIP or umpire calls go their way.
There is little doubt that the Texas Rangers were a better team than the St. Louis Cardinals. They had a better record over the course of the season and won their division, but in game six a ball went over Nelson Cruz's head and this helped to lead to the Cardinals winning the series. It is hard to imagine the Cardinals being able to keep pace with the Rangers over an entire season, but by the nature of the playoffs they were able to be crowned champions.
Let these last two losses be a lesson. Remember them when post-season time comes and no matter what happens be happy with the season the Nationals had. They were the best team in baseball for much of the season, and could still end up with the best record in baseball. The playoffs are far different than the regular season. Losses like these last two will be attributed to some type of ability of grit or heart, but it is much less that and more of the circumstances of chance.