7 biggest plays that got the Nationals to World Series

October 17, 2019

AP/Mark J. Terrill

What’s the single biggest play that got the Washington Nationals to the World Series?

You can make a solid argument for several of them at different points along the way this postseason. It’s certainly a subjective art to try to weigh how important any single play was in a series, given the implications beyond that one game.

There is one statistic that tries to answer these questions, though, called Win Probability Added, which has gained more widespread acceptance in the past few years. It’s designed to quantify the factor by which any individual outcome of a plate appearance affects its probable outcome. In other words, the list you’re about to see isn’t my opinion — it’s strictly by the numbers.

Below are the seven plays in the Nats playoff run, so far, that boosted their chances of winning the game they were in at the time. One play was left out: Juan Soto’s first inning home run off Hyun-Jin Ryu in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It had a WPA of 17 percent, but the Nats lost. This is a list exclusively from games they won.

Each event is listed with its Win Probability Added, followed by the Nats’ win expectancy.

7. NLDS Game 5: Howie Kendrick’s 10th-inning grand slam: 15% | 99%

This one probably comes as a surprise to many. Some might have expected it to be the top play on the list. But considering the circumstances — bases loaded, no outs, tie game — the Nats would be expected to score more than two runs anyway in that spot. The fact that it all but put away an entire playoff series is something that the numbers here don’t reflect.

6. NLCS Game 2: Adam Eaton’s 8th-inning 2-run double: 16% | 93%

Unsurprisingly, the National League Championship Series is ill-represented on this list, but Eaton’s big two-run double just inside the first-base bag stretched a one-run lead to 3-0, putting a big dent in what was perhaps St. Louis’ best chance to win any game in a series in which the Cardinals were dominated from start to finish.

5. NLDS Game 2: Daniel Hudson’s bases loaded, 9th-inning strikeout: 18% | 100%

The only event on the list that actually ended a game, Hudson’s huge Game 2 save got the Nats a needed split in Los Angeles and helped avoid the bullpen issues that plagued Washington all year. Hudson also saved his manager from some serious scrutiny, after Davey Martinez elected to intentionally walk the tying run aboard earlier in the inning.

4. NLDS Game 4: Ryan Zimmerman’s 5th-inning 3-run home run off Pedro Baez: 21% | 91%

Perhaps the most emotional moment of the playoff run to date, Zimmerman’s blast came with the Nationals already leading 2-1, but gave them a stranglehold over a win-or-go-home Game 4 at Nats Park. That home run had nearly double the WPA of the next closest play in that game, Anthony Rendon’s game-tying single earlier in the inning.

3. NLDS Game 5: Anthony Rendon’s 10th-inning ground-rule double: 24% | 82%

Yes, Rendon’s double that put runners at second and third with nobody out actually impacted the Nats’ chances more than Kendrick’s slam later in the inning, according to the numbers. That got the wheels turning, as Juan Soto was intentionally walked ahead of Kendrick. That may well have happened to most hitters in that spot, but you could be sure the Dodgers would put Soto on, considering his previous at-bat.

2. NLDS Game 5: Juan Soto’s 8th-inning game-tying home run: 25% | 50%

Coming on the heels of Rendon’s solo blast to lead off the top of the eighth (a 12% WPA event, by the way), Soto destroyed the very next Clayton Kershaw pitch deep into the Los Angeles night to pull the Nationals level. They haven’t trailed in 38 innings since.

WC Game: Juan Soto’s 8th-inning three-run single: 58% | 82%

Oh, that little guy? You didn’t forget about that little guy, did you? Soto was aided, of course, by a bad misplay from Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Trent Grisham. But the impact of three runs coming across all at once, instantly flipping a two-run deficit to a one-run lead with three outs to go, easily makes this the most impactful play of the Nats postseason so far.

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