Don’t look now, but the Washington Nationals are the favorites to win the World Series. Their manager knows it. Even sports book think it. It makes sense – the Nationals did end up with the best record in all of baseball last year – but it still sounds weird to hear, say and type those words.
Dec 4, 2012; Nashville, TN, USA; Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson answers questions from the media during the Major League Baseball winter meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. Mandatory credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports
Dan Haren wanted to sign with this team because they have the best chance of winning less than two years after former teammate Zack Greinke refused a trade and extension with Washington. You could argue that this is the first time in franchise history that they are the favorite before the season starts. There were some years in the 1980’s where they were in the conversation for sure, but they never lived up to the hype. That’s the problem.
They say if you have low expectations you will never be disappointed. I’m sure Marlins fans thought about that. Same thing with Angels fans. Rangers fans were left stunned after two straight AL pennants turned into a loss in the first ever AL Wild Card game. Washington will be the hunted next year and that opens the door up to disappointment. The team, while very good, lacks some depth and they are a couple of big injuries away from limping to a third place finish in the National League East.
There are a lot of positive signs for the Nationals. They have all of their key players back (with the exception of one of Adam LaRoche or Mike Morse) and have filled holes with guys like Span and Haren. They still have work to do, but having a core stick together is one of the best parts of a good team. The Angels last year changed too much and took time to get rolling. In the end, it cost them. The Nationals have no such problem.
Davey Johnson also is very good at leading a team. He is the one that said “World Series or bust”. He has won before, he has led good teams before. He will know how to get this team to not worry about the end result but go out and let their talent do the work. I have faith in Johnson but good managers have let high expectations lead to their downfall before in all sports.
Like I have already said, the Nationals were remarkably healthy on the pitching side of things. Sure, injuries to Morse and Jayson Werth happened but those will happen to any team. No team is healthy for 162 games. The issue is who will get those replacement innings. That’s an issue as possible depth pitchers don’t want to be behind Washington’s five starters with no chance of winning a spot in Spring Training except for an injury. It will be interesting to see who they end up with.
Of course, there is the issue of the franchise history. The Expos of the 1980’s had Tim Raines, Tim Wallach, Gary Carter, Warren Cromartie, Andre Dawson, Jeff Reardon and Bill Gullickson all 28 or younger. They had Steve Rogers and Al Oliver at their peaks and they still didn’t make one playoff appearance after 1981. These teams obviously had other issues – they slid head first for a reason – but just because the writing is on the wall for a lot of success doesn’t mean it will end up happening. But it doesn’t mean it won’t either.
This Nationals team doesn’t have to worry about their past. They don’t have to worry about how the 2012 season ended in Game 5. All they have to worry about is doing their jobs in 2013. The future is in front of them, and Mike Rizzo put them in a position to succeed. It is now up to Johnson and the players to live up to them and hope their talent isn’t demolished by bad luck.