It’s World Series Or Bust for Nationals, Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals might as well be looking into mirrors when they take the field for their three-game series this weekend.

The clubs with the top two records in the National League are in the final stretch of regular seasons that, while obviously impressive, do not mean too much to their fan bases. With so much talent in both dugouts, there are expectations for each team to not only make the World Series, but win it in 2017. This can be said for every good ballclub, but especially the Dodgers and Nationals.

Washington has made the postseason three times since 2012, but has failed to move past the divisional series each time. Los Angeles, meanwhile, has made the playoffs every season since 2013 — the longest current streak in the majors — but has failed to earn a World Series berth. Both squads have been set up to win now, but simply haven’t been able to get over the hump. It doesn’t help that L.A. has not reached the World Series since 1988 and Washington has never made it.

With each passing season, the level of urgency has increased for these squads, too.

Including this year, the Nationals may only have a two-year window to win it all with this group. Ace Max Scherzer is nearing the end of his prime at 33 years old. Catcher Matt Wieters can become a free-agent after this season. MVP candidate Bryce Harper is set to hit free-agency after the 2018 season, along with All-Star second baseman Daniel Murphy. Third baseman Anthony Rendon, who is hitting .301, will be a free-agent a year later. Harper, Murphy and Rendon have all finished in the top-five of MVP voting in the past few seasons and all will be seeking new deals that recognize this. The production Washington has been getting from these three — especially Harper — on short, cheaper deals has allowed it to boost its roster with talented vets like Wieters, but once those three are up for free-agency, all bets are off.

The Dodgers face a similar situation. Three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw can opt out of his contract following the 2018 season. 26-year-old starter Alex Wood, who is 14-3 this year, will be a free-agent this off-season. Fellow starter Hyun-jin Ryu and outfielder Yasiel Puig will hit the market in 2019. Young stars Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor, Corey Seager and Joc Pederson will also be seeking their first big contracts in a few years.

Building great teams is half the battle, but if you don’t win the war, it almost feels worse than never showing up at all. The troops from Los Angeles and Washington are in good position, but will both be forced to retreat?