The Nats may stumble, despite the best start by a Washington team since 1951. But fans should also be aware of the opposite possibility; the Nats’ 1.99 team ERA is the kind of core strength that generates winning streaks. Every facet of a team doesn’t have to work simultaneously to get to 10 games over .500, the kind of cushion that softens blows for months.
This is what opportunity looks like: The 106-loss Astros come to D.C. for four games with the Strasburg-Gonzalez-Zimmermann rotation primed to greet them. Next come the Marlins, also in some disarray.
The Nats, meanwhile, are in the opposite of disarray: They’re in working order. “Spring training was more relaxed with Davey. He wasn’t forcing our hand and overworking us,” Clippard said. “We’ve come in with a good mind-set and good spirits.”
“Some of us have never had a manager who treats us like big leaguers. He has the track record to do it,” said another Nat, requesting anonymity.
Johnson’s view of spring training is antithetical to the intensity of many managers. “It’s the best time of year for a manager. It’s fun,” he said. “That’s when trust and respect is built up — both ways, player to manager and manager to player. The roles of all 25 men are earned and figured out.
“You can’t be a one-way manager. Each team has it’s own character; so, identify their style. Your thought process has to parallel the players. They are smart. You can’t underrate or overrate ’em,” added Johnson. “When I got here, I thought we had the talent and makeup to have a good team. I sensed the players felt the same. So I told ’em what they already knew — we can make the playoffs this year. We have that potential. But the pressure is on me because if we don’t do it, I have failed to bring out that talent.”
The value of a 7-3 start is clear on days like Sunday when a tough loss simply means, “We’re still in first place.”
The Nats left their park late and still annoyed: No six-game winning streak this time. Washington has no familiarity with baseball teams that feel such emotions. Johnson does. “Chemistry wins ballgames,” he said. That and having Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann and Jackson all lined up.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, see washingtonpost.com/