The Washington Nationals are the most recent World Series champions (2019), beating Houston in an exciting 7 game series a year ago. Their history is actually more interesting than most, as this franchise was originally the Montreal Expos and has only been the Nationals for the last fifteen years.
The Expos came into existence in 1969 and were the first Major League team in Canada, followed by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1977. They had been a minor league city for a while, made famous because of Jackie Robinson’s short stint with the Montreal Royals, as well as a host of other Dodger greats who made their way through the AAA franchise.
Ultimately, the Expos really struggled financially, due to the value of the Canadian Dollar, waning interest in the team, and being in one of the worst stadiums in MLB history in the Olympic Stadium, used during the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. Eventually, these factors facilitated the move to Washington, a city that had seen several franchises come and go over the years. The current iteration of the Nationals is the eighth Major League franchise that has called the city home.
While in Montreal, the Expos did not have much success, only making one postseason appearance, in 1981. Sadly, their most successful season in franchise history (in Montreal) was the 1994 strike-shortened year, when they had the best record in baseball before the season was scuttled. The franchise never really recovered from that, and Montreal fans still wonder if the success that year might have saved the team.
Throughout the 1980s, they had some of the biggest stars in the game in catcher Gary Carter and outfielders Tim Raines and Andre Dawson but consistently finished in second place in their division, in an era where the Wild Card did not yet exist. All three of those players were enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame as Expos. It was a fun group that was so close to getting it done but could never quite climb the mountain.
Since moving to Washington (2005) and getting new ownership, the team has been very successful, culminating in last season’s title. Since 2012, they had made the playoffs five times. Each one of those times, prior to last year, they had lost in the division series, often as heavy favorites.
Last year, the Nats finally broke through to win it all, though early in the season they were really struggling. At one point, it looked like they might even fire their manager. The pressure to win in Washington is not like it is in New York or Boston, but it had been building for some time after years of postseason disappointments.
In the end, it was a pretty good thing they didn’t make a big managerial move. Behind an electrifying 1-2 pitching punch in Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer, a near-MVP season from Anthony Rendon, the emergence of young stud Juan Soto and timely hitting from veterans Howie Kendrick and Adam Eaton, the Nats finished their storybook season with the ultimate prize.
The Nationals are currently led by president and GM Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Martinez, The team plays at Nationals Park, a relatively new stadium that was built after the team made the move. The team is owned by Lerner Enterprises and they have been happy to invest in the team, though they did not offer as much as Philadelphia to keep the face of the franchise Bryce Harper a couple of offseasons ago, or Anthony Rendon this past offseason. They won without Harper last year, but this year has been a bit tougher following the loss of Rendon.
In 2020, they are having a difficult time defending their World Series title. They are currently last in National League East and it would take a miracle for them to return to the playoffs. Washington does have one of the most exciting young players in the game in Soto though and they are poised to be competitive next season if they are healthy, thanks to a trio of veteran pitchers that helped them win a title last year. Scherzer, a multiple Cy Young award winner, Patrick Corbin, a strong lefty acquired as a free agent, and Strasburg, last year’s World Series MVP, should be able to bring the Nats back to prominence.