Monday, February 11, 2013

Spring storylines: Expectations raised



With the countdown to spring training in its final stages, we're counting down the five biggest storylines facing the Nationals in Viera. We finish today with spring storyline No. 1: The expectations of another NL East title and possible trip to the World Series...

The Washington Nationals have never reported for spring training with anything close to resembling legitimate expectations hovering over them. For the first seven years of its existence, this franchise would have considered a winning record major progress, let alone winning its division or aspiring to reach the World Series.

Those days are no more. When Nationals pitchers and catchers officially report to Viera, Fla., tomorrow, they'll do so as the consensus "Best Team in Baseball" and the sport's most-popular pick to win the World Series.

Nobody's ignoring this franchise anymore. Nobody's setting the bar low. Everyone expects the Nationals to at worst repeat as NL East champions, at best hoist the Commissioner's Trophy on the final night of the season and a couple days later parade down Pennsylvania Ave.

Is there suddenly pressure on a team that has never experienced anything like that before? You bet.

"There's always a little bit of added pressure when you're expected to win," new rotation member Dan Haren said. "I think the biggest thing is just going out and playing the game, not really thinking about yesterday or thinking about tomorrow. Just play every game like it is. The season is so long, and think when it comes down to it, the cream usually rises to the top. ... Usually at the end, the teams that are supposed to be there, are there."

Haren is one of the few players on the Nationals' roster who have previous experience on clubs in this position. His Angels were widely expected to ride slugger Albert Pujols and a rock-solid rotation deep into October last season. Instead, they got off to a ragged start in April, couldn't recover in time and wound up missing the playoffs altogether.

Haren, though, thinks he can impart some of the wisdom he acquired through last year's experience in Anaheim to his new teammates. He won't be alone in that regard. Adam LaRoche played for back-to-back division winners in Atlanta early in his career. New closer Rafael Soriano just won the AL East title with the Yankees. And Jayson Werth played for a 2008 Phillies team coming off its first division crown in more than a decade, one with lofty expectations that proceeded to win the World Series.

If anyone on the Nationals' roster has a sense for what's in store this year, it's Werth.

"I think everybody will figure it out pretty quick," he said. "We'll notice the intensity on the road, opposing teams' fans will treat us different. But it'll be good. There won't be any meaningless games. That's OK. We've got the type of team that can overcome that."

One of the hallmarks of the 2012 Nationals was its ability not to get too high when things were going well or too low when things weren't going well. Despite their relative inexperience, they navigated their way through the season with the maturity of a veteran-laden squad.

That experience should help the Nationals as they embark on a 2013 season that will be closely watched and scrutinized throughout the baseball world. There will be more media in Viera this spring than any previous year. There will be more nationally televised games than in the past. Attendance will be up both at home and on the road. And anything less than another trip to the postseason -- and then victory come October -- will be treated as a disappointment.

What the players who gather in the Florida sun this week can't do, of course, is start thinking about October right now. There's far too much that must happen first, and the more this team can block out all the external pressure and attention, the more likely it will be to live up to the lofty expectations.

"I think it makes you hungrier," catcher Kurt Suzuki said. "I think all of us here are professional enough to know that the talk about being the team to beat, that's all cool and stuff, but we've still got work to do. We still have to go and work hard. We've got a long ways ahead of us."

62 comments:

sjm308 said...

I feel like I should thank Mark each time there is a new post. I hope his writing is never taken for granted. OK, suck up done.

We will not be sneaking up on anyone this year. Important to remember that as fans, no matter what kind of start we have, expectations are high.

How many teams picked to win actually do win? Certainly not the Giants in their last two Championships. Maybe the Tigers were one of the favorites in the East. My point is, this is a really really hard thing to accomplish. I know that many on here will not be happy until the WS trophy is resting somewhere in Nationals Park.

Of course that would be a wonderful situation. I am honestly happy with us winning 90+ games each year, making the playoffs and striving for the WS. Maybe after 10 years of that I will get frustrated (hell, in 10 years I doubt if I can find the ballpark), but for now I am just thrilled to know we have one of the best teams in Major League Baseball and I can be a big part of that fanbase.

I am all for the "World Series or Bust" campaign and feel it is the right way for the team to handle it. This is no time for the team to be humble. I am just saying as a fan that its a wonderful thing to be a part of this and no matter how far they go, it should be fun.

Rabbit34 said...

With so much optimism, I sure hope we don't start off something like 0-10 and get into a big hole. Please get everything working right off the bat! GO NATIONALS!!!

MicheleS said...

It's fine to have confidence - which the Nats (and the fans) should have. We have the most balanced and best team going into the season.

I just don't want over confidence. Like Mark sited, last year the Angels were supposed to run away with the AL West, didn't happen. The games still need to be played.

The key for the Nats is health. The team must not go through the season with the same amount of injuries as they did last year. The pitching staff is key as it was last year.

April will be a good test with Cinci(twice), Chi Sox, STL (blech) and ATL at the end.

Faraz Shaikh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MicheleS said...

A couple of DVR alerts:

ESPN BBTN will be on today (I think at 2:30 or 3). Buster Olney is in Nats Camp.

MASN, new Nats Classic on tonight at 7 pm.

natsfan1a said...

That would be swell, Faraz. :-)

I'm not worried about overconfidence with our guys, as they seem to say all the right things. I'm also with sjm on having fun as a fan.

Faraz Shaikh said...

what I meant is we need to sweep STL comprehensively.

natsfan1a said...

Either way, it would be cool with me. :-)

natsfan1a said...

I'm confused, as per the ESPN site, it looks like today's BBTN broadcast has SFO scheduled, with the Nats slated for March 5.

Section 222 said...

What 308 said.

It's going to be a lot of fun this year. I'm keeping that in mind, whatever happens.

MicheleS said...

1A. That's the bus tour with Timmy K. Olney is tweeting out photos from Space Coast. So hopefully we will see some news today.


Olney's Picture

Laddie Blah Blah said...

Character and make-up are the hallmarks of a Mike Rizzo team, even before pitching and defense. They will be focused and determined and tough as all hell to beat. Those guys are good. Win or lose, they will bring it every night. Can't wait.

natsfan1a said...

Thanks, Michele. Evidently the sight of Space Coast bowled Olney over. :-) I believe that Mark is due to arrive there today as well. Yay!

Section 222 said...

Ok, so when do Ps&Cs actually report. The NIDO spreadsheet says today, Mark's clock says tomorrow, Ladson's most recent article says Wednesday, and The Sporting News says Thursday.

Is the confusion the difference between a reporting date and the date of the first workout? Please advise. NatsJack?

Candide said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Seamhead said...

Nice piece, Mark. Great post, sjm308.

As to the upcoming year, I think the Nats are going to have a very tough time winning the division, but will do it. I'm not sold on Atlanta really being an improved team, but they will be very tough again. They're going to seriously miss the leadership of Chipper and Prado. They have a great looking OF, a rather middlin' IF, great bullpen, good, but not great starters, and potentially some serious issues at catcher. But putting the Braves aside,though the Phillies are not likely to be in the running for the NL East, neither are we going to go 18-0 against them, or the Mets, for that matter.All three of them will put up a tough fight in every series we play them.
I see winning the East to be the toughest obstacle. Once that feat is accomplished I really see this Nats team as a team that has been put together to win playoff baseball.GYFNG!!!

SCNatsFan said...

All the confidence in the world is worth zero games in the standings; these guys are professionals and they know that. Sure there will be times they need to have their hands slapped and reminded of that but that is Davey's job. And it is true, some teams will be gunning for us, but the opposite is true too; some teams will be expecting to lose to us because, on paper, we are better. While it will make the fall much worse if the team does not live up to expectations this is still much better than hoping we sign some journeyman we can flip for a prospect at the deadline.

NatsLady said...

Amanda is at Viera and so is James Wagner (WaPo) and both are tweeting with Nats sightings. Werth showed up in his truck with teammates, Danny still has his beard. Desi, Storen and various others have been spotted.

MicheleS said...

Looks like Channel 9 is jumping on the bandwagon too.


http://www.masnsports.com/nationals_pastime/2013/02/masn-partnering-with-wusa-9-to-simulcast-20-games-in-2013.html

Snivius said...

"World Series or Bust" is silly.

Smart GM's (and fans) know that the playoffs are a crapshoot. The difference between a stunned and demoralized dugout and moving on to the NLCS last year was a 1-inch break of a Drew Storen pitch. They know that there's only a few milliseconds of difference between a loud strike two and a three-run double that bounces on the chalk line. People frame a 100-win team losing to a 91-win team as an "upset". No, it's variance.

Manage a pipeline and a roster that wins 92+ games a year for the next several and let the chips fall where they may when the games happen to occur after October 1st. The 2012 team was a success.

SonnyG10 said...

Great opening post, sjm. You expressed exactly how I feel.

MicheleS, thanks for the DVR alerts. I appreciate them very much.

NatsLady, thanks for the Nats sightings.

Thanks for the nice post, Mark. Are you in FL already?

It's great to see the countdown clock register zero days and only a few more hours to go. Baseball is back!!!!

SonnyG10 said...

Snivius said...
"World Series or Bust" is silly.


Sometimes its fun to be silly. :)

sjm308 said...

Back from the gym:

WS or Bust might be silly if it was said by some 25 year old player or someone who has years left in an organization. For a baseball man who has spend probably 45+ years in his sport, has been to and won World Series and has just one season left to do what he obviously loves it is not silly at all. It lets his players know exactly how he feels. I think for Davey it is absolutely the opposite of silly, it is brilliant.

The Retired Journalist said...

Don't forget -- if any one day's final score doesn't mean "another curly W is in the books", remember: even the best teams in baseball history only won about two-thirds of the games they played.

NatsLady said...

It's a long season. If players can visualize themselves with that trophy in their hands (as Clip said) it gets them through a lot of heat, exhaustion, discouragement, pain, squabbling, slumps, etc. "You have to have a dream, or how you going to have a dream come true?" (South Pacific).

bowdenball said...

I agree with both Snivius and sjm.

"World Series or bust" is a terrible way to look at the game when you consider the crapshoot of the playoffs. Every GM knows the best way to win a WS is to build a team that wins consistently and hope that one year in the playoffs your number comes up. Most fans should know that too.

But for an old baseball manager who says he's retiring at the end of the season, why not?

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

sjm308 said...
We will not be sneaking up on anyone this year.


The bulk of the national media has set the bar at the highest wrung. The Nats are no longer a well-kept secret and it happened a year ahead of schedule.

For his part Rizzo adds 3 key pieces in Dan Haren, Denard Span and Rafael Soriano while not retaining Michael Morse and Edwin Jackson and a 2nd lefty in the bullpen.

Even if Rizzo retained Morse and Jackson and did nothing else all the parts are here.

The one unknown is "HEALTHY". The 3 question marks going into Spring Training are on health issues:

1. Dan Haren
2. Danny Espinosa
3. Wilson Ramos

I don't even consider Gio's link to Biogenesis to be an issue just a pesty inconvenience.

Stay healthy my friends.

JD said...


Bowdenball, Snivius and SJM,

Add me to your team. Anyone who thinks that the Giants were the best team in Baseball in either of their WS years hasn't been paying attention. Anyone who can predict a Marco Scutaro type of WS is just making s*it up.

The best you can do is get to the dance and with as many home advantage situations as possible. If you keep going to the playoffs year after year the numbers say you will win a trophy at some point.

waddu eye no said...

nats lady -

another cockeyed optimist

Navy Nats Fan said...

Or, to continue the reference,

Talk, talk, talk, talk happy talk...

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

JD, not only Scutaro in the NLCS, they got clutch performances from Zito as a starter and Lincecum and Romo as relievers.

It just defies logic but I guess that is the Baseball Gods.

NatsLady said...

Interesting "strategy" by the Rays. They went way over their pool money for international signings....

international signings

http://ht.ly/hC6l2

NatsLady said...

Not sure that was the right link on the Rays. Here is what I got from Twitter.

Baseball America ‏@BaseballAmerica
The #Rays became the 1st team to face significant penalties after they exceeded their 2012 bonus pool. http://ht.ly/hC6l2

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

ZERO!!!

The bar is set at the Zero Rung. We're under 24 hours.

Presumably the clock will reset to Opening Day?

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

the best version of Happy Talk

sorry about the ad in front

NatsLady said...

The #Nats have agreed to terms with LHP Will Ohman on a minor-league contract with invite to Major League Spring Training.

Not bad as a lefty-specialist when he isn't hurt. His OPS+ vs. lefties is 80, whereas vs. righties it's 119 (100 = average, below 100 is good).

NatsLady said...

Sofa, nice. Was able to skip the ad after 5 seconds, so I don't even know what was advertised (always my goal on YouTube).

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

The one unknown is "HEALTHY". The 3 question marks going into Spring Training are on health issues:
1. Dan Haren
2. Danny Espinosa
3. Wilson Ramos


You wouldn't include Zim? He's arguably the one who'd be hardest to replace of the four. But of course, the other question is "Who else is going to get hurt?" Because it's odds-on someone else will.

The three guys you mentioned, Rizzo has a credible backup for, but add one other injury to a starter not on the list, and maybe throw in a slow start or prolonged slump from somebody else, and it gets interesting.

MicheleS said...

Mark just got to Viera! YEA!!!

NatsLady said...

According to the Boston Globe,

Javier Vazquez, RHP, free agent — The Nationals and others continue to monitor Vazquez, who is recovering from minor knee surgery.

Not sure exactly what "continuing to monitor" means, and there's no source for this info, but it's not surprising.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

NIDO spreadsheet, Viera schedule, corrected date to tomorrow.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Sec3, I'm including the banged up guys. RZim is healthy.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Bray and Ohman become 2 to watch as lefties for the pen.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

Refresh my memory, Vazquez is pitching in the WBC, or no?

NatsLady said...

James Wagner ‏@JamesWagnerWP
Roger Bernadina leaves for Taiwan to play for the Netherlands in the WBC, his first one, on Feb. 24. Will wear his new No. 33 there, too.


This makes me suspect Gio won't spend a lot of time in Viera being a "distraction" either. I expect he'll ship himself off to the USA WBC camp (wherever that is) as soon as possible.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

teh Google Answered my own question, yes.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

I'm including the banged up guys. RZim is healthy.

Then I'm confused. Haren says he's 100%, and did pitch well at the end of last season, I understand.

NatsLady said...

Sofa, last I know, he planned to before the knee thing. Now it's up in the air.

Puerto Rico’s pitching staff might also suffer a loss. Javier Vasquez, who didn’t pitch in 2012 and who is contemplating to return to Major League Baseball, is getting his right meniscus repaired on Wednesday by a Miami Marlins physician. After the procedure he is expected to resume throwing after two to three weeks. If this is enough to be in shape to pitch for Team PR in the first round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic remains to be seen. They will face Spain, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela in the first round in San Juan.

---from the WBC site

NatsLady said...

Strasburg talking to Buster Olney.

200+ innings a goal for me

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=8936215

MicheleS said...

NatsLady. US WBC games are in Phoenix, first one is on 3/8.

NatsLady said...

MicheleS, right. But presumably players and coaches will get together before that in some sort of camp.

NatsLady said...

Verlander not pitching in the WBC. Apparently he is behind schedule in his readiness for the season--but he had time to play in the Pro-Am Golf Tournament. Hmmmm...

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

NL, thanks for the Vazquez update.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

One other point that occurs to me, watching Mark's video--Yes, they have veterans who've been on teams with high expectations, and that helps. But they also have Harper, who doesn't know anything else BUT over-the-moon expectations, and Strasburg, who could probably stand to dial it back a bit.

I think they'll be fine. This is why Davey gets the big bucks.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Sec3, you're right, Haren says he's 100%. I also look forward to when Werth says his wrist is 100%

SCNatsFan said...

NatsLady in Verlander's defense playing in the pro am at Pebble Beach would rank pretty high on lifetime awesome events if you were a golfer.

Section 222 said...

Thanks for the WBC link Sofa. Carlos Rivera is playing for Puerto Rico. Venezuela is stacked, even without Ramos. King Felix, Annibal Sachez, Miguel Cabrera, Sandoval, CarGo, Prado. Yikes.

But Shawn Hill is playing for Canada. So is Pete Orr. So there's that.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

As I understand it, Werth is just rebuilding his strength in the wrist, just a matter of time, yes? Like Zimm's hamate surgery, it takes a while to get back, but it's not as if he'll re-break the wrist. Although he might be rehabbing tendons, too--I forget what the injury included, now. So there's reason for optimism.

And then there's this from Grantland. Werth is #4, but balance that against all the ones listed here the Nats didn't sign.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Sec3, yes on Werth's wrist.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Sec222, I think King Felix pulled out of the WBC

peric said...

Given Werth's age and multiple serious injuries to that wrist you can't expect him to produce for power for the remainder of his career. If he even approaches 20 homers with 20+ doubles that'll be a bonus ... gravy.

The guy you depend on for power production at this point is named Tyler Moore, the Magnolia Muscle. He's the guy who is expected to replace Morse's bat. Brown has some power that might find its way into the lineup. Hopefully, Zim can avoid injury and produce along with Harper. And Desmond will now produce at a consistent pace like last year.

But I believe it will end up hinging on Moore and the continual progression of Bryce Harper in the heart of the order.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

NEW POST

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