From BR Bullpen
Previously known as the Montreal Expos (1968-2004). also known as "Nats"
Post Season Record:
World Series Titles: 0
National League Pennants: 1 (1994)
Ballparks: Jarry Park (Apr. 14, 1969-Sept. 26, 1976) (28,456), Olympic Stadium (Apr. 15, 1977-Sept. 29, 2004) (43, 739), Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan, Puerto Rico (Apr. 11, 2003-Jul. 11, 2004) (19,000), Robert F. Kennedy Stadium (Apr. 14, 2005-Sept. 23, 2007) (45,016), Nationals Park (Mar. 30, 2008-) (41,888)
 Team History
Before the 2005 season, the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington, DC and became the Washington Nationals. They were the first team to play in the Nation's capital since the departure of the second Washington Senators for Texas after the 1971 season. In their first season in DC, they surprisingly led the NL East at the All-Star Break, but struggled in the second half of the season. They finished the year in last place in the division but did manage a .500 record. However, they were a success at the gate that first year, drawing more than 2.7 million fans to R.F.K. Stadium. The following years were not as successful: they finished last again with a record of 71-91 in 2006, then, under the leadership of Manny Acta, managed to avoid the cellar in 2007 when they improved by two games, but fell back down in 2008, when they posted the worst record in baseball at 59-102.
The Nationals were owned by Major League Baseball when they moved out of Montreal. MLB provided the team with its manager, Frank Robinson, and general manager Jim Bowden. In July 2006, they were bought by a group headed by Ted Lerner for $450 million. After playing their first three seasons in the re-furbished RFK Stadium, the team moved into the purpose-built Nationals Park for the 2008 season. However, the expected attendance boom did not happen, in large part because of the poor product on the field and the unfinished construction in and around the stadium. The aura of failure around the team got worse in spring training of 2009 when Bowden was fired for his implication in a scandal around the team's player development complex in the Dominican Republic run by Bowden's friend, former Reds pitcher Jose Rijo: the team's Dominican scouts were found to have faked the documents of prospect Esmailyn Gonzalez in order to extract a huge signing bonus. Things only got worse as the season advanced: pitching coach Randy St. Claire was fired in June as the Nats had some of the worst pitching numbers in the majors, then Acta followed him out the door after the All-Star break. The team's play improved under interim manager Jim Riggleman, and he was retained for 2010. Nonetheless, it was their second consecutive season of more than 100 losses. Riggleman had the team playing very well early in 2011 when he unexpectedly quit, apparently because of a contract dispute with General Manager Mike Rizzo. The Nationals then went out and recruited Davey Johnson, who had most famously managed the New York Mets to a World Championship in 1986 to take over.
Johnson managed to stabilize things, leading the Nationals to their first postseason appearance in 2012. The losing of the previous years had had a positive impact, in that it resulted in the Nats having the top pick in the amateur draft for two consecutive years, and selecting two blue chip prospects in P Stephen Strasburg and OF Bryce Harper. Both were major contributors by 2012, but in Strasburg's case, he was coming off Tommy John surgery. The Nationals' top brass made the controversial decision of shutting him down in September of that year in order to limit his innings, making him unavailable to play in the postseason. The Nationals had to give a key start in the NLDS to journeyman Edwin Jackson instead, and he lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. In the decisive fifth game of the series, the Nationals blew a late lead and went down to defeat. In 2013, the team started slowly, and while they played excellent baseball over the second half, it was too late to make up the lost ground, and they lost out to the Atlanta Braves for a postseason berth. Johnson retired after the season, to be replaced by Matt Williams. He guided the Nationals to the best record in the National League in 2014, but once again, the team sputtered in the postseason. Facing the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS, they lost an epic Game 2, 2-1, in 18 innings and only managed 9 runs in 4 games to bow out early once again.
The Nationals were huge favorites to repeat as NL East winners in 2015 and were tabbed many to win the NL pennant after they had signed ace pitcher Max Scherzer to a lavish free agent contract. Some compared their starting rotation to the vaunted "Big Three" of the Atlanta Braves in the 1990s. However, in spite of Scherzer pitching a pair of no-hitters during the season and Bryce Harper having a break-out season that saw him win the MVP Award, the Nats played poorly as a team and finished well back of the New York Mets, missing the postseason altogether. The last days of the year were marred by an ugly fight between Harper and newly acquired closer Jonathan Papelbon, who was suspended for the last few games. Manager Williams was blamed for the poor performance and the internal dissension and was fired. The Nationals wanted to replace him with Bud Black, but he declined their salary offer as being well below the market rate, and they had to settle with bringing Dusty Baker out of retirement to be the new skipper. They also lost pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister to off-season moves and traded former closer Drew Storen, confirming Papelbon in his role in spite of the tensions of the previous fall. At least, this turmoil had the benefit of lowering expectations to more realistic levels hading into 2016.
 Presidents Race
Inspired by the Milwaukee Brewers and their sausage race, the Nationals put on a race of Presidents at all of their home games. Originally known as the "Dollar Derby", the race was first an animated race on the scoreboard. In 2006, Dollar Derby was replaced by a Presidential Race. Originally only the Presidents featured on Mount Rushmore took part, represented by humans wearing huge cartoonish foam heads. They race from center field clockwise by the first base foul pole and down the foul line towards a finish line near the Nationals' dugout. The races are often peppered by various antics, such as Presidents tripping each-other or attempting wrestling moves to slow down their opponents. Until the last day of the 2012 season, Teddy Roosevelt had lost 525 straight races. The next season, the Nationals introduced a new character: William Howard Taft. In July 2015, Calvin Coolidge joined the race.
 Further Reading
- Frederic J. Frommer: You Gotta Have Heart: A History of Washington Baseball from 1859 to the 2012 National League East Champions, Taylor Trade Publishing, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD, 2013. ISBN 978-1589798434
- Ted Leavengood: The 2005 Washington Nationals : Major League baseball returns to the capital, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2006.
- Barry Svrluga; The Grind: Inside Baseball's Endless Season, Blue Rider Press, Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2015. ISBN 978-0399176289
- Peter Filichia: Green Cathedrals: The Ultimate Celebrations of All 273 Major League and Negro League Ballparks Past and Present, Addison Wesley Publishing Company, 1993
- John Thorn: Total Baseball, Total Sports Publishing, 1989, 1995
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