Cliches are trite, but true. One of the truest is that for players, media, and fans an 162-game season is a marathon not a sprint.
To make it to the finish line free from exhaustion and emotional scars (and an in-tact marriage or relationship with your “significant other”) requires foresight and planning. With that in mind, I offer the following cliche-ridden 4-step process:
Step 1. “Don’t get too high or too low”
Every club, from the eventual World Series winner to the absolute worst has moments during the season of unexpected joy and inexplicable meltdowns. Prepare for them now.
Take the Nationals, for example. Last season, after Wilson Ramos‘ home run to complete the Nationals’ comeback from a 5-1 deficit with 2-out in the bottom of the 9th inning, I thought they might never lose again. But they did.
The night Washington blew an 8-0 lead at home against the Chicago Cubs, I thought they’d lose their next 25 games. But they didn’t.
Sure, enjoy the thrills and curse the collapses, but don’t wallow in either. Chances are, there’s another game tomorrow. And here’s another trusty cliche — “Momentum in baseball is only as good as today’s starting pitcher.”
Step 2. “No one ever won a pennant in June”
Resist the urge to judge too quickly. As Thomas Boswell wrote in “The Heart of the Order”: ”In baseball, judge slowly. No, even more slowly than that.”
Last April, many Nationals’ fans wrote off Michael Morse as a bust. By season’s end, he was D.C.’s best hitter, with one of the National League’s top slugging percentages. He even grabbed a few Most Valuable Player votes.
Try not to pass judgment after 5, 10, 15, 20 or even 30 games. Last year, I forced myself to not draw any conclusions about the Nationals until 40 games had passed. I figured that was long enough to see trends and smooth out winning and losing streaks.
So, how did the Nationals fare in my 40-40-40-41 evaluation plan? They went 19-21; 21-19 (40-40 overall); 18-22 (58-62 overall) and 22-19 (80-81 final record). Not every season will be quite as symmetrical as Washington’s 2011, but the 40-game plan worked well for me and my sanity.
Step 3. “On any given day one team can beat another”
Forget trying to forecast wins or losses based on whether a series is at home or on the road or how good or bad the opponent is. Sure, over the long term, home teams win more often and good teams beat bad ones, but that doesn’t always hold true. Take the Nationals’ 2011 season. The club went 10-8 against the mighty Phillies, who had one of the best regular seasons in baseball in a long time; yet they only managed a 3-3 record against the worst team in baseball last year, the Houston Astros.
Each game, each series is unique and darn near impossible to forecast. Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to predict when the Nats will go on winning streaks or losing streaks. Both come when you least expect them. Who thought Davey Johnson would lead his men to a 14-4 record to end the season last year?
Sure, as longtime D.C. sports radio host Ken Beatrice used to say,”In the end, the talent will show out,” but, in baseball, that’s a long term proposition.
Step 4. “See the forest for the trees.”
Just looking at their improved talent, the 2012 Washington Nationals look like a team destined for a good season, maybe a winning season, perhaps a season where they slip in as the new 5th play-off team. But let’s face it. No one really knows how the year will unfold. Other teams improved as well, especially division rival Miami, who also has the twin motivations of crazy Ozzie Guillen as manager and a beautiful new retractable roof ballpark. The Nationals have to play the powerhouse A.L. East in interleague play. Injuries are the great unknown for all 30 teams.
A single season can come together or unravel in ways no one could ever imagine — just ask the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves. The bigger question to ask yourself is: As a knowledgable baseball fan, do I assess that the Nationals, as an organization, are moving in the right direction.
No matter what their record this season, with a vastly improved starting pitching staff, a stronger bench, high-potential youngsters in the minors like Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Matt Purke, Alex Meyer, Brian Goodwin, Eury Perez and others, a manageable payroll, a likely to increase (perhaps by a huge amount) in television rights, a probable bump in attendance, and Ryan Zimmerman signed to a reasonable contract through 2018, it is difficult to come to any answer other than, “Definitely.”
Try to let that happy thought and my four helpful cliches allow you to relax and enjoy the 2012 baseball season — no matter what happens.