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The 2012 Nationals: A Very Forensic Autopsy

I did not know five minutes ago — but probably should have, owing to how I’ve watched Law and Order at least once in my life — that, per U.S. law, all deaths are classified as one of five sorts. These sorts, in fact:

• Natural
• Accidental
• Homicide
• Suicide
• Undetermined

Another thing I didn’t know five minutes ago, but have realized is likely not the worst idea, is that a way to discuss the Nationals’ (now deceased) 2012 season — and, in particular, their playoff-series defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals — is via the language of forensic science, a very basic understanding of which I’ve just acquired from Wikipedia, and which I will now dispense haphazardly throughout what follows.

“What was the cause of the death of the Nationals’ 2012 season?” we ask.

Here are cases for all five of the legally recognized types:

Type of Death: Natural

Real Definition: Death by illness or malfunction of the body.

Baseball Definition: All humans die. All baseball teams but one (i.e. the World Series winners) are eliminated. Most human deaths are natural. Most baseball teams, just by virtue of the season/playoff format, are unlikely to win a championship in a given season.

Relevance to Nats: The Nationals were a good baseball team this year, posting the best Pythagorean record in the National League. That said, the Cardinals were also a good baseball team, one which posted the second-best Pythagorean record in the National League. Over the course of 162 games, the Nationals would probably have beaten the Cardinals, like, 82 times. Logic dictates then that, over the course of a playoff series — a short, five-game series, especially — each team probably had about a 50% chance of winning.


Type of Death: Accidental

Real Definition: Death by unforeseen and/or otherwise preventable circumstances.

Baseball Definition: An accidental baseball death is perhaps one in which a team is made weaker by chance — by injury, most likely, but maybe for another reason I can’t think of.

Relevance to Nats: For the most part, the Nationals were healthy entering the NLDS. They lost their starting catcher, Wilson Ramos, in May, although his replacements were good enough to see the team to an NL-best record. Kurt Suzuki, in a five-game series, was likely not a downgrade of any sort. Stephen Strasburg‘s torn UCL from 2010 — which ultimately caused him to be handled carefully in, and shut down at the end of, 2012 — might be considered an element of the Nats’ “accidental” death.


Type of Death: Homicide

Real Definition: The act of one human killing another.

Baseball Definition: To suggest that one team has “killed” another might indicate that the first (i.e. the murdering team) has imposed its will upon, or overwhelmed, the second (i.e. the victim team).

Relevance to Nats: It is difficult to think of the 2012 Cardinals without also thinking of the 2011 championship Cardinals — a team that, down to its last strike in Game Six of the 2011 World Series, went on to win that World Series in seven games. With the Cardinals’ come-from-behind victory in Game Five of the NLDS — a game in which they (i.e. St. Louis) were down to their last strike five times — they have certainly provided the raw material for a narrative concerning their ability to overcome great obstacles. Did the Cardinals impose their will upon (or, in legal parlance, “murder”) the Nationals? “Perhaps,” is the only responsible answer.


Type of Death: Suicide

Real Definition: The act of killing oneself.

Baseball Definition: A case in which a team creates the conditions for its own failure — by poor management or by uncharacteristically and untimely poor play.

Relevance to Nats: If we are going to invoke the shutdown of Stephen Strasburg, this is the place to do it, probably — however, as I concluded in a recent piece, replacing Strasburg with Ross Detwiler (who pitched very well) in the playoff rotation, likely cost the Nationals no more than half a run over the five-game series. Also notable, perhaps, is Washington manager Davey Johnson‘s decision to pitch to Pete Kozma in the ninth inning of Game Five — even with two out, the game tied, first base open, Jason Motte due up next, and no pinch-hitting options only Tony Cruz remaining on the bench. The choice to pitch to Kozma (who proceeded to hit a two-run single) might have been a “suicide” of sorts.


Type of Death: Undetermined

Real Definition: Cause of death is unclear and/or no remains of the deceased are found.

Baseball Definition: An undetermined baseball death is one that’s due to Intrigue!, with a capital-I and an exclamation point.

Relevance to Nats: It is possible, although not likely, that Washington right-hander Drew Storen was bound and gagged before the ninth inning of Game Five and replaced with a very similar-looking actor or robot — which would explain why the normally proficient closer (30.1 IP, 90 xFIP-, 12 SD, 3 MD) conceded four runs in a single inning.