But they also have the confluence of two other powerful motivational factors that can supercharge their season if things work out well, or seem twice as demoralizing if they don’t. They arrive here after one of the worst season-ending losses ever; and their respected, popular manager, Davey Johnson, 70, is retiring. If momentum builds during the season, atonement for the Nats and the fondest possible farewell for Johnson will drive them. If things go south, Oct. 12, 2012, looms larger and hell, Davey is leaving, too.
“Eyes on the prize,” shortstop Ian Desmond said Saturday. “Davey says, ‘World Series or bust.’ I’m all-in with that.”
“Has there ever been a team that’s this complete on paper?” said Jayson Werth, exaggerating, but emphasizing the last word. “We’re really good. We’ve got six months to prove it and one month to bring it home. Time will tell.”
If the Nats overcompensate a bit in their shows of confidence, it is both a team-wide commitment to “Natitude” and a coping mechanism for misery.
You seldom prosper in the future unless you have understood the past. A bitter memory still stood in front of the Nats as they arrived in spring this week. Their 9-7 loss to St. Louis, blowing a two-run ninth-inning lead, couldn’t be more vivid if it were replayed endlessly on their clubhouse TV.
Four months of digestion has only left the Nats hungrier.
“All winter I thought about the last game and how close we really were,” said Jordan Zimmermann, leaving unsaid the obvious words “to the World Series.” “I’ve never seen anything like that before. Everybody [in Nationals Park] was going absolutely crazy. And then you could hear a pin drop.
“It will definitely motivate us for this year.”
The question for this Washington season is whether that blown six-run lead in Game 5 of their NL Division Series, the worst such deciding-game squander ever, will demoralize and haunt them or rededicate them to an incandescent and driven season.
“I’ll never be over it. That may drive me till I die,” said Werth, who arrived in camp on Saturday. “. . . But in the offseason you wake up in the morning and you’re pissed off enough to go hit the weights. This reminds me of spring training in ’08 with the Phils. We were fresh off a first-round bounce [out of the playoffs] by the Rockies. They were hot and swept us. We thought we were good enough to go all the way and we didn’t.
“The next year we were hungry and we won it all.”
Tyler Clippard, who fanned the side in the eighth inning of a Game 4 win and gave up a solo homer in Game 5, kept replaying those division series games more than the whole 98-win regular season. “That playoff series was the most fun in my life — nervous but confident,” he said.