This season will be the five-year anniversary of the Washington Nationals winning the NL East. Heading into 2017, winning is now the norm in D.C
When the Washington Nationals became the Nats in 2005, the expectations were low in terms of winning. From 2005-2011, the franchise failed to finish above .500. But, thanks to a strong draft and two top picks (Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper) living up to expectations, the Nats found their way to success.
Since 2011, the Washington Nationals have won three division titles and have not had a season in which they have finished under .500. Last season, the team had another crushing defeat in a decisive game of a playoff series. Instead of feeling as though this team would get back to that spot, some might think this might be the last big chance they get.
If that is your way of thinking, the Washington Nationals have come a long way from being exciting about getting to the playoffs like they were in 2012. Before that season, the Nats made one big addition to help the rotation and that was trading for Gio Gonzalez.
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In his first season with the Nats, Gonzalez ended up winning 21 games and being the ace of a rotation that had young pitchers in Jordan Zimmermann and Strasburg. During that season, Davey Johnson’s squad got ten or more wins from all five pitchers in the starting rotation.
As for the offense, they had four players hit over 20 home runs, including a team high 33 home runs and 100 RBI’s from first baseman Adam LaRoche. Yes, Jayson Werth only played in 81 games that season, but you can make the case signing him before the 2011 season was the catalyst to changing the culture and expectations of this franchise.
The 2012 season didn’t end as everyone expected. The Washington Nationals ended up losing Game 5 to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS after blowing the lead in the late innings of the final game. Sound familiar? Of course, this season didn’t have the news story of Strasburg being shut down because of an innings limit.
As the fans have seen, success isn’t guaranteed just because you make the postseason one year. While the Washington Nationals have won three division titles, they failed to make the postseason twice (2013 and 2015) with high expectations going into those respective seasons.
While the Washington Nationals don’t have the pressure of winning like the New York Yankees did during the 2000’s, there is a level of having to meet the expectations of at least making the postseason on a yearly basis. Just ask Matt Williams what happens when you fail to live up to expectations.
Heading into 2017, the Washington Nationals still have one of the better lineups in baseball and a top of the rotations that many teams envy with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Tanner Roark at the top. Yes, the closer problem is still not solved, but think back to 2012 again for a second.
Before the 2012 season began, the team was without Drew Storen at closer and new signee Brad Lidge ended up going on the disabled list in the first month of the season. However, Tyler Clippard stepped in and did the job as he had 32 saves in 37 chances.
Right now, I think they have the perfect manager to handle the high expectations. Wherever Dusty Baker goes, winning seems to follow. In his 21 seasons as a manager, Baker’s teams have won 90+ games nine teams (95 wins last season). Plus, he had a stretch of three straight 90+ win seasons when he managed the San Francisco Giants from 2000-2002.
With the core of players that Mike Rizzo has put together as general manager and president of baseball operations, this franchise is set up for success. With that success comes the pressure to perform in October.
While no Washington D.C. team in the four major sports has made a conference final in 18 years, the Nats have still stayed consistent in reaching the postseason. Now, with winning being the norm that was set up by the 2012 team that won 98 games, just making the postseason doesn’t cut it anymore.