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For Rays fans, Nationals should be your new favorite team

They’re easy to like, familiar-looking and also connected to Montreal. Most importantly, they’re not the Astros or Yankees.

From the Rays’ perspective, the AL Championship Series has been a bit tough to watch.

Pre-/post-game radio host Neil Solondz made his thoughts known, tweeting that he preferred a streaming feed of the Arizona Fall League all-star game to Saturday’s ALCS opener, and he wasn’t the only one who couldn’t bear to tune in.

There’s the Astros, the team that beat the Rays in the division series and sent them home for the winter.

And there’s the Yankees, the team that beat the Rays out for the AL East title, after beating them 12 times during the season to make their life tougher.

But fret no more.

You now have a clear choice on what team to root for in the World Series — the Nationals.

Go all in on the Curly W — hint: that’s the description of their logo they talk about a lot — and you don’t have to sweat out the next couple nights of the ALCS, deciding which team you dislike the least, and just look ahead to Tuesday’s Series opener.

Here’s five reasons why:

Washington Nationals' Juan Soto watches his home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the eighth inning in Game 5 of a baseball National League Division Series on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) [MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ | AP]

They’re easy to like

They’ve got some familiar faces, led by manager Davey Martinez, which we’ll get back to in a minute. They were written off after a slow start, 19-31 through May 23 and with a 0.1 chance of winning the pennant. They, like the Rays, got into the playoffs as a wild-card, and shocked the top-seeded Dodgers. They staged some dramatic comebacks, trailing the Brewers by two in the eighth inning of the wild-card game and the Dodgers by two in the eighth of NLDS Game 5. They do things differently (and certainly different than the Rays) by riding a stable of veteran starting pitchers as deep as they can into games. They have Max Scherzer and his unmatched intensity. They exorcised past postseason failures. They’re fresh faces in the October spotlight, including the freshest, 20-year-old Juan Soto, known as Childish Bambino.

Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder, center rear, restrains Rays' Avisail Garcia, second from right, as benches and bullpens cleared during a dispute between Garcia and New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia during the sixth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, July 16, 2019, in New York. Yankees manager Aaron Boone is fourth from right. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens) [KATHY WILLENS | AP]

They’re not the Yankees

Rays backers have all kinds of reasons why they don’t like the Yankees, including how their fans invade the Trop three times a year and treat it like their home. (Which is to say loudly and rude.) Also, CC Sabathia, and his anti-Rays antics. How some in Tampa latch on to being the spring training/player development base enough to consider it a Yankees town. Also, Derek Jeter. How they flaunt their history of 27 World Series championships (though none since 2009). Also, A-Rod. How the baseball world, and the ESPN TV schedule, seems to revolve around them. Also, Sabathia. How often over the years they seem to be bullying the Rays over rainouts or rescheduling, even their response to the 2008 Elliot Johnson spring play. Also, Sabathia. How they’ve lost to the Yankees more than any other team (230 times in 22 seasons). Also, Sabathia.

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow (20) reacts after giving up a hit to Houston Astros center fielder George Springer (4) in the first inning in Game 5 of the American League Division Series Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 in Houston. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

They’re not the Astros

The Rays’ history isn’t as long, nor the animus as deep, with the Astros, but the sting is more recent, and the ringing in their ears from Minute Maid Park just now fading. (And there is something with Texas teams and the Rays in the division series.) It wasn’t just losing to the Astros, but how it happened, with the Game 5 pitch-tipping issue. Sure, Rays starter Tyler Glasnow was at fault for how he placed his hands differently for fastballs and curves. But the videos that have come out showing the Astros talking openly about it during the first-inning ambush, subsequent stories from the Yankees’ side suggesting the Astros use a camera and whistles to relay signs and signals at home, and a long-standing narrative that the Astros do something to get an edge adds a conspiratorial feeling to the bitter-enough Game 5 loss. Plus the Astros won it all in 2017, felt they deserved to last year, and act like they’re entitled to again this year. While manager A.J. Hinch is a class act, there’s a certain smugness among some Astros, starting with Justin Verlander.

Pitcher Max Scherzer liked wearing the Expos uniform during a Nationals throwback day on Saturday; he's not as keen on the Rays plan to play games there. [NICK WASS | Associated Press] [NICK WASS]

They’re Montreal’s team, too

We know a lot of Rays fans aren’t going to like this segment, but the reality is that team ownership is still interested in splitting future seasons between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal. And the Nats are the former Expos, relocated by MLB to Washington in 2005. There are plenty of ties, on the field, including Davey Martinez, who played for the Expos, and among the TV talkers, including TBS/MLB Network analyst Pedro Martinez, another ex-Expo. Expect to hear about Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Vlad Guerrero, Tim Raines and how the 1994 strike killed not only the Expos playoff hopes but eventually baseball in Montreal, for now. If you’re not willing to embrace the history, you might want to at least make yourself aware. Au cas ou (just in case).

Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez watches from the dugout during the fourth inning of Game 1 of the baseball National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) [MARK HUMPHREY | AP]

They’re familiar-looking

Davey Martinez is a big part of Rays history going back to the beginning, a member of the inaugural 1998 team who logged the first-ever hit and walk. He returned as a spring instructor in 2006-07, then became bench coach in 2008 and was there for all the good times, leaving when he wasn’t chosen to replace Joe Maddon after the 2014 season. Among other Rays-Nats connection: Radio man Charlie Slowes called the first seven Devil Rays seasons, then went to the Nats booth and has been there ever since. Reliever Fernando Rodney spent 2012-13 with the Rays, infielder Asdrubal Cabrera played for them in 2015 and reliever Daniel Hudson was in their 2018 spring training camp and released. Inactive pitchers Jeremy Hellickson and Jonny Venters are also former Rays. First-base coach Tim Bogar was on the Rays staff in 2008, assistant hitting coach Joe Dillon played for them in 2009. Special assistant Dan Jennings was the Rays scouting director from 1995-2002, Mike Cubbage a Rays scout from 2006-14. TV reporter Alex (Corddry) Chappell worked Rays games in 2017.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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