That feel-good club from a year ago — the lifer in the dugout (Johnson), sending the best teenager in baseball since Ken Griffey Jr., up to bat (Bryce Harper), while the loyal company man (Ryan Zimmerman) finally gets his bonus — is now officially the “It” team, which everybody in baseball wants to knock off because they are worried the Nationals’ swelling heads will explode.
It’s not just Johnson’s usual bravado. Don’t forget Harper’s crotch-grab after striking out in Game 5 against St. Louis, a gesture the Cardinals could not stop talking about afterward.
Logic says the pitching is too good, that Werth and Harper will be on base often, Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond and Zimmerman will hit for power and average, and Harper, Werth, Desmond and Span will take many extra bases.
But the little things give pause. Like, if Drew Storen doesn’t blow the save against the Cardinals in Game 5, does Mike Rizzo still go out and get Soriano or decide he already has a reliable closer? What does becoming the setup guy again do to Storen psychologically, given what it took for him to come back last season?
Is Gio Gonzalez’s relationship with Biogenesis nonexistent like he says, or might that cost the Cy Young candidate some games?
LaRoche had a big year in 2012 after two subpar seasons. Which guy in his 30s will show up this season? The same goes for Ross Detwiler and Desmond. Are their career years a harbinger of good things to come or an aberration?
The great hope is the Nationals can scale this very high bar they just incredibly re-raised on themselves. The worry for the organization is it’s now impossible to take a step back.
When you finish with baseball’s best record and knock the Phillies off the NL East perch, anything less than 98 wins and another division title won’t do. The Nationals can’t merely make the playoffs, they have to win the playoffs for any real gratification.
No playing with house money anymore. No baby steps, no middle ground.
Davey was right — for better or worse, World Series or bust.
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.