Pitchers and catchers report to Nationals spring training in a little over a week, the 2015 regular season starts in just under two months, but Nationals fans are still eight months away from the only results that matter in evaluating the 2015 season.
Every year is the year you’re supposed to compete for a championship, but for the 2015 Washington Nationals that sentiment is more than chest-beating hyperbole. It is a fact. Since the end of the 2011 season, when the Nationals surprised baseball with a second half surge and finished only one game under .500, the Nationals have been playing a game of increasing expectations that will have finally caught up with them in 2015.
The 2012 season was a surprise, a maybe wild card team ended up with the most wins in baseball. An early exit in the playoffs could be excused as a bit of inexperience and bad luck. The 2013 season was a season of regression, injuries, and underperforming bench players. But they were still a winning team. Even the most disappointed fan could see the core of the 2012 Nats were still good players.
Despite the disappointing end to the 2014 season, the silver lining may be that the 2012 season wasn’t a fluke. The Nationals are a properly good team. An excellent team, really. Deep at nearly every position on the field, young talent on the rise, established veterans with defined skill sets. They weren’t a bad team: Cold bats, questionable bullpen managing, and running into the Giants in an even year added up to another quick exit for the team with the best record in the National League.
However you characterize the last few seasons and their ultimate demise, 2015 will be different for one very important reasons: There will be no excuses for this team if they don’t have a successful October. Not injury, not bad luck, not small sample size. Not young players that need to mature, or old players that are regressing, or if the pitchers pitch like aces or are still learning:
I would say that the Nats first job is to make the playoffs, but at this point that needs to be a foregone conclusion. They are light years better than the bottom half of the NL East, and much better than the two teams that might compete for a Wild Card. The only point of the 2015 season between now and October is to get to October and win it.
I hate putting it like that. I’m a big fan of the regular season, and the day to day how did a guy do, who’s the new guy, what are we all going to dress up as at the park today: I am. Lose today? Get ‘em tomorrow.
But 2015 isn’t like that. Players contracts are expiring. The team’s make up of personnel is at an all time high. They are better than nearly every other team that will take the field with them, and on par with the few that they aren’t. They are better than, or on par, with any other team that has won the World Series in the last five years. There is no talent gap that explains why the Nats can’t win it all.
They either will, or they won’t, and we won’t know until they do or they don’t. You thought other years were stressful?…
In the coming weeks we’ll be doing a variation on our usual spring training preview. You know most of the Nats, so our “Get to Know a Nat” series will be abbreviated so that you don’t spend a lot of time reading stuff you already know. We’ll also be posing questions for spring training and the regular season: Questions that will get at the few loose ends in and around the 2015 season that the Nats have.
But that’s just what they are: Loose ends. Whether the Nats keep Jordan Zimmermann all year or not, whether they find a second basement or not, whether Max Scherzer is the Opening Day starter or not: These are just jigsaw puzzles on a snowy day. A series of deck chairs to be rearranged on what will either be the Love Boat or the Titanic.
The wait is almost over. The wait is just beginning. Welcome back, Natstown.