"The way to win a title is to reach the playoffs as often as you can and hope everything breaks right one time."
But is that really true? Let's look at a healthy selection of the last decade of World Series winners:
2005 White Sox
These were teams that didn't make the playoffs consistently before winning a championship.
And that's just the last decade. Before that, if you take away the Yankees dynasty -- which was a function of institutional (and non-replicable) financial advantage as much as anything else -- the reality is that the way to win a title is pretty clear, particularly in the Wild Card Era: Get into the playoffs when you are having one of Those Years.
Kepner's model described above didn't work for the mid-90s Braves. It didn't work for the early-90s A's. Those two would-be dynasties collected division title after division title... and combined to win as many World Series titles as the one-year-wonder, title-or-bust Marlins ('97 and '03).
"Hope" is not a strategy. The two staples of October -- luck and the variance of small sample sizes -- almost always beat the best-laid organizational plans.
Flags fly forever. The history of baseball -- of any pro sport, really -- is that if you have the very unique and viable chance to win a championship, you do whatever you can to win it that year. Because there are no guarantees the next year, no matter how good your roster looks.
If the Nationals' window really is "five years," I would rather win a title this year and miss the playoffs the next four than make the playoffs this year and each of the next four but without winning a championship, with nothing to show for the run but a "Division Champ!" or "Wild-Card Earner!" t-shirt. Nobody wears a "Made the Playoffs" ring.
Kepner quipped: "With apologies to The Social Network, one playoff appearance isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Five playoff appearances"
Actually, making the playoffs a lot isn't cool.
You know what's cool? Winning a World Series.
UPDATE: Loyal reader Steve S. emailed me to take issue with my analysis of the Yankees: "I feel that you unfairly wrote off their dynasty run as a result of a huge financial advantage.
"This link shows the payroll for every MLB club from 1994 to 2006. If you review it you will see that from 1994 to 2001 (using the loss in the 2001 World Series as the end of the dynasty) you will see that the Yankees had the highest payroll 6 of the 8 years, but that most years the number two spender was just a little behind them.
"In fact the numbers don't really start going crazy until 1999, which was a result of re-signing Bernie Williams and trading for Roger Clemens more than anything else. Also, the Braves were in the top 5 every year from 1995 to 2000, further weakening the argument that the success was due to a financial advantage.
"The Yankees core was made up of wisely chosen players, some homegrown. Jeter, Posada, Brosius, O'Neill, Knoblauch, etc. Since 2001 the Yank's financial strength has actually hurt them since they now chase big names, not big producers."
(Still, S.S. says: "Anyway, your larger point about going all in when you have the chance is right. Nothing is guaranteed. When you have a hot hand going, ride it.")