Since they are such a young and still rapidly improving team, the assumption within the sport is that such powerful disappointment will generate a furnace of desire. The Nats are now 4-to-1 in some books to win the NL pennant, behind only the Dodgers in chilly Las Vegas hearts at 7-to-2.
“You guys are 8-to-1 to win the Series,” I mentioned to Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen this week. “That means you have about the same chance as [weak-hitting ex-Nat] John Lannan does of getting a base hit.”
After they picked up their jaws, Clippard chirped, “John can swing it.” Storen added, grinning, “I have all the confidence in John’s hitting.”
Right now, you can’t deflate the Nats, not even with the truth. No matter how good they may be in regular season, they still must survive postseason, when small data samples produce exciting flukes.
“Baseball is not like [pro] basketball. The best teams don’t always win in the playoffs. It’s who’s playing best and who gets hot,” Danny Espinosa said. “You don’t just ‘throw for 400 yards.’ You can face a pitcher and he might have the best stuff of his life that day and you may not touch him.”
The Nats may not want to admit it, but in a sport where fragile confidence is so vital, they may have the game’s best confidence-building manager (for the last time) in Johnson. As a player, he was on Orioles teams that won 108 and 109 games. As a manager, his Mets won 108 and 100. This is not a man — at various times a pilot, cowboy, mathematician, scuba instructor, scratch golfer and 43-home-run hitter — who suffers from altitude sickness. He likes the air as rarified as he can get it. Davey even enjoyed his recent septuagenarian safari. “I like Africa,” he said. “I didn’t get eaten.”
Johnson’s “World Series or bust” proclamation may mean less that it seems; as Werth says, “What the hell else would your goal be?”
But for these Nats, that bravado, especially after last year’s deflating ending, is probably the proper tone-setter.
“If you don’t think you’re going to win, you’ve got no chance,” Johnson said. “I’m going to take the heat if we don’t play well. And they can have all the trophies when they do play well. I have high expectations and I know everybody in that room does. Nothing wrong with that.
“It’s a great feeling.”
And coming soon.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/