Davey Johnson once led a young, talented team with a history of losing to 98 wins, only to come up short against the St. Louis Cardinals. The following year, his 1986 Mets won 108 regular season games and a World Series title. Over 25 years later, the confident Johnson hopes history repeats itself, as his Washington Nationals squad enters 2013 as a World Series favorite.
Despite their great 98 win season in 2012, the Nationals season ended in heartbreak in the NLDS. Closer Drew Storen could not get the final out in the decisive Game Five, yielding four runs with two outs in the ninth inning, sending the Cardinals to the NLCS.
GM Mike Rizzo’s offseason free agent signing of Rafael Soriano (42 saves/2.26 ERA) ensures that the Nationals have a closer with postseason experience. The signing will allow the Nationals to use Storen and Tyler Clippard, who both could close for a number of MLB teams, in setup roles.
The only major change to the lineup for 2013 is center fielder Denard Span. The addition of Span gives Washington a premier defender in centerfield. Just as important, it frees Bryce Harper (25 HR) from playing a premium defensive position, and allows him to transition into a slugging corner outfielder. Completing the athletic outfield is the hirsute Jayson Werth who batted .300 in 2012, though he missed significant time with injury. All three players run well, many fly balls deep in the gaps will die in their gloves.
The double play combo of 2B Danny Espinosa (17 HR/20 SB) and SS Ian Desmond (25 HR/21 SB) both possess rare power-speed combination for middle infielders. Corner men Ryan Zimmerman (25 HR/95 RBI) and Adam LaRoche (33 HR/100 RBI) are dependable producers who provide steady veteran leadership.
If the lineup goes through a dry spell, Johnson can rest easily, his starting rotation is equally deep. The righty-lefty duo of Stephen Strasburg (15-6/197 SO) and Gio Gonzalez (21-8/2.89 ERA) front the rotation and are followed by Jordan Zimmerman and Ross Detwiler. Veteran right hander Dan Haren was signed to a one year deal to be the fifth starter. Haren had a mediocre 2012, but returning to the National League could help him return to form.
One of the few concerns that the Washington Nationals will face entering this season is how they respond to playing as favorites. Davey Johnson is the perfect manager for that role. He has always employed an edgy style and excels at getting the most out of young and talented players. His bold assertion that this year is “World Series or Bust” serves to challenge and motivate his confident young bunch right out of the gate.
The Washington Nationals franchise has emerged from a deep slumber that began in Montreal. Their talent level and youth, combined with the financial resources of owner Ted Lerner should have this team comfortably in contending position for the foreseeable future. GM Mike Rizzo has constructed a team with an eight man deep lineup that can buzzsaw through the regular season and the starting pitching and bullpen depth necessary to win a closely fought postseason series.
And this year, Stephen Strasburg gets to take his rotation turn when October rolls around.