'Where's my ring?'
By ADAM CURTIS
College Contributor Network
Entering the 2013 Major League Baseball season, then manager Davey Johnson proclaimed, "World Series or bust." Johnson had every reason to feel confident about his club. The Nats were coming off their first winning season, not only winning the NL East, but also racking up the most victories in the entire league with 98. Outfielder Bryce Harper won the Rookie of the Year award and Johnson won the Manager of the Year award. In their first postseason appearance, the Nats lost in gut-wrenching fashion to the St. Louis Cardinals, blowing a two-run lead in the ninth inning to get knocked out of the National League Division Series.
The Nationals gained playoff "experience," giving the franchise optimism heading into the 2013 season. However, the Nationals didn't even make the playoffs in 2013, their so-called "World Series or bust" season. Turns out they weren't able to cash in on their "playoff experience." As we enter the 2015 baseball season, in the words of Yogi Berra, "It's like déjà vu all over again." The Nationals are once again in a "World Series or bust" situation, except this time, they are coming off an uninspiring loss to the San Francisco Giants, three games to one, in the 2014 Division Series.
The Nationals have learned the hard way that, come playoff time, anything can happen, no matter how many talented players you have on your roster. Although I don't see them having any difficulty making the playoffs, they shouldn't take even that for granted. But having said all that, here's why the Nationals likely will have postseason success this year: Max Scherzer.
Sure, Scherzer is in for a huge payday, and yeah, the Nats may regret giving him his contract down the line, but for at least this season, they can forget about that and focus on winning now. They have a one-year window to win the World Series, and it all starts with their historic rotation. The Nats already had one of the best, if not the best, rotations in the league. The addition of Scherzer makes Tanner Roark the odd man out. Roark, an unsung part of the Nationals' starting rotation last season, boasted a dazzling 2.85 ERA. The rotation, besides Scherzer, is made up of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Gio Gonzalez. That's not even fair. If only the Nats' pitchers could go nine innings every game.
With an already shaky bullpen, the Nats traded their best relief pitcher, set-up man Tyler Clippard, to the Oakland Athletics in return for infielder Yunel Escobar. The Nats needed an infielder after second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera left in free agency, but even so, general manager Mike Rizzo took a lot of flak for this move. The Nats might have the best starting rotation in the history of the sport, but with a sub-par bullpen, it could all be for naught.
Already down by one game in the 2014 division series against the Giants, manager Matt Williams pulled starter Jordan Zimmerman in the ninth inning, two outs from a complete game shutout, in favor of closer Drew Storen, who ended up blowing the save and putting the Nats in an all-but-impossible 2-0 deficit for the series. By the way, this is the same closer who blew the Nationals' lead against the Cardinals in the NLDS in 2012, and for what it's worth, he is the probable closer for the Nats this season.
In terms of offense, the Nationals have plenty of it, with outfielder Harper, third baseman Anthony Rendon, and shortstop Ian Desmond hitting for power and average. (When Harper learned that the Nats had acquired Scherzer, he excitedly joked, "Where's my ring?")
The acquisition of relief pitcher Casey Janssen certainly helped the club and as well as Rizzo's reputation. The fact that Janssen has closing experience is good in that it puts pressure on Storen to perform, and also makes him a safety net just in case Storen collapses again. With an above-average offense and historic starting pitching, the Nats are gunning for a deep playoff run, but as managers Johnson and Williams can attest, relief pitching is just as important. For the Nats to have a realistic shot at winning the World Series, their bullpen must exceed expectations.
Adam Curtis is a freshman at American University. Growing up, he played soccer and tennis and is a die-hard D.C. sports fan. Follow him on Twitter: @actennis96