Nationals fans — wary from past failures, plus injuries to key contributors like Stephen Strasburg and Wilson Ramos — have modest expectations for this postseason. The Dodgers are betting favorites to top the Nats in the NLDS. There isn’t the frenzy of a first playoff trip in decades, nor of a second. Many key Nats contributors are now playoff veterans, and this team has already exceeded its preseason projections.
Those are all good reasons the Nats could be loose entering the playoffs. Here’s another: their manager.
“How much has he made this team relaxed?” MLB.com’s Bill Ladson asked Jayson Werth in a recent podcast. “There’s no panic in him.”
“No, none at all, and you can’t say enough about him,” Werth agreed. “I mean, we’ve gone from one end of the spectrum to the other in a short period of time. When you walk into spring training, that first day of spring training, you could tell just how relaxed the atmosphere was in the clubhouse. And that’s held true throughout the whole season, and I think all that credit goes to Dusty. He had a vision, and what he wanted to do with this team, and he started that day one of spring training and has kept that going all the way here until the end of the season.
“I know we’ll get a pretty cool speech from him before the postseason starts; I’m looking forward to that,” Werth went on. “You know, he’s just a pillar. He comes in every day with the same attitude. I’ve always said, players reflect their manager, and obviously we’ve reflected him in that regard. We’ve been ready to play, but relaxed; having a good time, and ready to win.”
Werth also credited Baker for sticking with him during his slow start to the season, for having “the trust and the vision to know that I was gonna be there for him as the season went on.” Werth said he still feels like he has “a lot of good seasons left,” whether in Washington or elsewhere, but that he’s just focused on winning here and that “there’s no better time than now to make that happen.” He said the Nationals “have as good a chance as anybody this season,” and that his team is “playoff tested and we’re hungry and we’re ready.”
It’s striking, listening to Werth, to realize just how rarely we actually hear his voice, other than those often amazing postgame interviews with MASN’s Dan Kolko. For a player as popular with the fan base as Werth is, he’s virtually never on local radio, and rarely on television. So I’ll go ahead and print his full answer when asked about his decision to come to Washington.
“Jayson, the reason I call you ‘the King’ is because you’re the person that brought winning to D.C., to the Nationals,” Ladson said. “And I was wondering why did you pick this team, why did you believe in them from day one?”
“That’ a good question,” Werth said. “I’ve always liked a challenge. I’ve kind of always been the underdog, and I looked at this situation as a very unique situation. Obviously they were coming off a couple 100-loss seasons, and when I made my decision to come to Washington it was maybe one of the most unpopular decisions in baseball at the time — from both sides, from the Nats standpoint and from my standpoint. I think the word ‘career suicide’ was thrown out there for what I did, and if you look at where we’re at now I think it would be the exact opposite.
“You know, we’ve had one of the best records in baseball since 2012. And signing here, I knew 2011 was going to be tough. It was a transitional year and we were getting ready really for ’12-’17, so I look at it as a success as far as that goes. But the one thing that really stood out to me was the talent. This organization was poised to make a run with the type of talent and the commitment of the ownership, what they were willing to do. So although unpopular and all that, I feel like it was the right choice. I couldn’t have made a better choice, looking back.”