Davey Johnson walks back ‘World Series or Bust’

September 11, 2013

(Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press)

There would be no prediction from Davey Johnson on Wednesday. With the Nationals having elbowed their way back to the periphery of the wild card race, a reporter ask the Johnson if he was ready to predict the Nationals would make the playoffs. Johnson did say, “I still think we can make the playoffs,” but there was no “Second Wild Card Or Bust” declaration.

Johnson provided something more interesting. He examined why his infamous “World Series or Bust” slogan never would have happened if he knew how the Nationals’ roster would ultimately come together.

“You can’t have any cracks in the dam,” Johnson said. “Because the opponent has a way of attacking that.”

And Johnson saw the biggest crack as the Nationals’ lack of a left-handed reliever and a misconfigured bench. Johnson wanted the Nationals to re-sign lefty Tom Gorzelanny, and at the winter meetings in December, when he uttered “World Series or Bust,” Johnson believed the Nationals would replace him. Instead, they made converted starter Zach Duke their only left-handed reliever.

“I said shortly after that, ‘World Series or Bust,’ because I knew it was going to be my last year,” Johnson said. “But we lost a few key players over the offseason and changed the dynamics of the bullpen. We had pretty much a set lineup and had a different configuration on the bench. We still have a few little things to fix, so the next guy coming in can say, ‘We’re going to win the World Series.’ There’s a few things. Starting pitching needs to be squared away. The bullpen is not nearly as efficient and effective as it was last year. And the bench has not been as productive. I still like the talent, but we lack some experience, as I talked about. I usually like to have my stacked hand before I make those predictions.

“We had some injuries. We didn’t have a lot of depth in pitching. I wouldn’t have been as cocky coming out and saying we’re going to dominate and win the World Series if all those things I knew weren’t set in place. We had fallback positions.”

The Nationals eventually added left-handed relievers in Ian Krol and Fernando Abad. But Johnson never felt as comfortable with them as he did with Gorzelanny, Sean Burnett and Michael Gonzalez a year ago. He was asked if the Nationals could rely on the duo next year, or if they needed to find alternatives outside the organization.

“Well, a lot of them are young and haven’t passed the test under the pressure,” Johnson said. “There’ve been signs they could do it. And then there’s been signs they don’t have the command. I like some of the talent we have out there. But they haven’t done enough for me right now to bring them in with a one-run lead in the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded to face a lefty. We’re going to be giving them that opportunity the rest of the way. Because you have to have both sides in the pen if you want to win and win a lot.”

The Nationals’ playoff odds have already taken a hit today. The Reds beat the Cubs today, which put the Nationals’ deficit at 6 1/2 games.

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.
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Adam Kilgore · September 11, 2013

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