Thursday, April 19, 2012
10-3 start validates Nats' confidence
If you read or heard anything that came out of the Nationals' clubhouse this spring, you know this team wasn't lacking in confidence entering the season.
Davey Johnson insisted there was more potential on this roster than his Mets clubs of the mid-1980s. Brad Lidge (who pitched for three pennant winners) insisted this was the most talented team he'd ever been on. Others openly said this club should be good enough to make the playoffs.
All of which would've looked quite foolish, of course, if the Nationals came stumbling out of the gates as they so often have during their eight seasons in the District. That, as surely you know, hasn't happened. And if you check the standings this morning, you'll see there's only one team in the National League with 10 wins right now. (Is it too early to talk about home-field advantage in the playoffs?)
OK, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. There are still 149 games to be played, and who knows what those 5 1/2 months will have in store for the Nationals. But this red-hot start has done an important thing for Johnson's club: It has validated all that confidence they had in themselves back in Viera.
"Going into the start of the year, I wasn't worried about the confidence level, because the ballclub knew I expected us to be a heck of a ballclub and to contend," the manager said. "This is just, they're just reinforcing what we all believe by playing tough in close ballgames and winning close ballgames. There's still a lot of battles to go. We haven't won nothing. But we've proven we can play with anybody we go up against, at least so far."
The confidence level certainly hasn't waned inside the Nationals' clubhouse. Perhaps it's even grown.
"We believe in ourselves," outfielder Jayson Werth said. "We're a good club. I think as the season goes on we'll continue to prove it."
You won't, however, find anyone in uniform boasting, bragging or otherwise unnecessarily celebrating this 10-3 start. Yes, everyone's happy after winning these games, and the music is cranked up pretty loud. But there's also a real understanding that nothing has been accomplished yet, and it doesn't do any good to get overly excited on April 19.
"I think the best thing we have going is we understand it's early," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We're not really taking this, I don't know, over the top, I guess you could say. We understand we're going to go through some times where we don't play this well. And we understand we're going to have some more times when we play this well.
"For a young team, I think we're very mature. And we have some older guys like [Mark] DeRosa and even Werth that have been around and say: 'Hey, keep playing like we're playing, but don't get carried away. Keep doing what you're doing and working hard. Don't get complacent.'"
It's easy to forget just how much losing Zimmerman has experienced since the Nationals drafted him in June 2005. When he made his big-league debut that Sept. 1, the team sat at 5 games over .500 but was in the midst of a major tailspin and finished that season 81-81. He hasn't experienced a winning season since.
With the Nationals now a healthy seven games over .500 for the first time since Aug. 18, 2005, Zimmerman and his teammates have every right to gloat about their current standing. Instead, they continue to go about their business, acting like they've been here before.
Even though they haven't.
"For how young we are, a lot of us are lucky enough and fortunate enough to have been in the big leagues for a long time," Zimmerman said. "If you weren't with an organization like this was the last four or five years, you might not have had the chance to get the experience that we've had. So I think we're well above our years as far as maturity and knowing the game. I think that helps out. But we have some guys that just in case will make sure that doesn't get carried away."
Posted by Mark Zuckerman at 10:14 AM