WASHINGTON – It’s been a breakout season for Craig Stammen and the Washington Nationals, who are heading to the postseason for the first time in the Versailles alumnus’ career.
The Nationals had the best record in baseball during the 2012 season to win the National League East. It’s the first time the franchise has ever won its division (excluding the team’s first place finish in the strike shortened 1994 season), including the team’s days as the Montreal Expos. And with the divisional championship, the Nationals are getting their first taste of the playoffs since 1981 when they were known as the Expos.
“It’s pretty amazing how far we’ve come in the last couple years,” said Stammen, who was born in 1984.
The success of the Nationals has followed a similar arch to Stammen’s success.
Before this year, Stammen essentially had spent two seasons in the majors. He had a 5.11 ERA in 2009 and a 5.13 ERA in 2010 as a starting pitcher.
Last year the North Star product spent most of the season in Triple-A, but this year he earned a spot in the Washington bullpen and posted a 2.34 ERA, which was the best of any National pitcher who threw at least 15 innings.
“It’s been a complete blessing to have the season I’ve had along with the season the team has had,” Stammen said. “It couldn’t have happened at a better time for me in my career.”
As a middle reliever and long reliever, Stammen helped the Nationals post the best team ERA in the National League at 3.33. Only Tampa Bay from the American League had a better staff ERA at 3.19.
While Stammen was a starter for most of his life, he’s enjoyed the bullpen mentality of having to be prepared to pitch every day. He’s also happy with the amount of innings he pitched, having thrown 88.1 innings in relief this year.
“I’ve taken to the role and really enjoy it,” he said.
While Stammen is pleased with his success and Washington’s league-leading 98 regular season wins, he and his teammates aren’t satisfied yet.
Midway through the season the team set winning the World Series as a goal, Stammen said, and now anything less would be a disappointment.
“I think it’s our only goal right now,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to be satisfied if we only win the division series or win the NLCS.”
As the National League’s top-seeded team, Washington has the advantage of playing the winner of the wild card game in a series beginning today. This is the first year Major League Baseball has added a second wild card to each league, which resulted in the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals matching up in the National League for a one-game series.
“They’re both really good teams,” Stammen said following the Nationals’ regular season finale Wednesday. “Either one of them is going to be a really tough match up for us.”
If the Nationals would win their divisional series, they would advance to the National League Championship Series against either the Cincinnati Reds or the San Francisco Giants.
“Can’t say it hasn’t crossed my mind,” Stammen said about potentially playing the Reds, his favorite team while growing up.
Stammen said it’s surreal to be in the playoffs. The Nationals have played in some big playoff-like series late in the season, he said, but he’ll be even more amped up for the playoffs.
“It’s really exciting,” Stammen said. “We got a little bit of a taste of it in St. Louis and here at home against the Phillies. The atmosphere was definitely playoff like.”
And the city of Washington is getting behind the team and showing a lot of support, Stammen said. It’s the first time since 1933 when the Washington Senators lost in the World Series that a team from the city has made the playoffs, and it’s special to be a part of that, he said.
“I think they’re pretty pumped up,” said Stammen, who was drafted by the Nationals in 2005, the same year the franchise moved to Washington from Montreal. “You see a lot of people wearing Nationals gear in the city. Even non-baseball fans are wanting a Nationals shirt or hat to wear.”