Werth, the second-oldest player on the Nats’ roster, played in two World Series in Philadelphia (winning one in 2008) and is a seasoned leader of this young team. Was there anything he could tell teammates about succeeding in the team’s first playoff run?
“I don’t think there’s really anything you can say to prepare these guys for that,” Werth told On Tap after thinking for a moment. “They have to prepare themselves and learn through experiences. That’s what the season is for. But I like where we’re at, I like how things are shaping up and I like our chances.”
Werth isn’t the only one who likes the Nationals' chances. The team’s storybook eighth season – following seven years of frustration since arriving in the nation’s capital – has some baseball experts predicting success deep into the playoffs and some even mentioning a possible World Series appearance.
Some individuals in the organization are making a strong case for awards of their own, regardless of post-season success. Gio Gonzalez, acquired from Oakland last year, is a legitimate contender for the Cy Young Award given to the best pitcher in baseball. Near the end of September, Gonzalez had posted a 20-8 record with a 2.84 earned run average. Gonzalez’s towering success has helped to blunt the pain of losing star pitcher Stephen Strasburg for the season in September after management benched him as part of his ongoing rehabilitation from elbow surgery.
First baseman Adam LaRoche – with 32 home runs, 98 RBIs, 276 total bases and near-flawless defensive play – is worthy of league MVP honors, although he’s got some strong competition from other all-stars.
Meanwhile, Manager Davey Johnson might have already locked down MLB’s Manager of the Year Award by taking a team that had never posted a winning season and putting them squarely in the World Series hunt. Like Werth, Johnson told On Tap he liked his team’s chances heading into the post-season, even if some of the teams rounding out the Nats’ regular season schedule will be gunning for playoff spots of their own.
“Everybody we’re playing has got a shot to get in,” Johnson said. “They’re going to put their best foot forward and that’s fine with me. Our guys feel the same way – come after us.”
Gonzalez said talk of individual accolades is nice, but everyone in the Nats clubhouse is focused primarily on the team’s success.
“It’s an honor to be mentioned but it’s not there yet,” Gonzalez said. “These (other) guys are still pitching great games. I don’t even really want to try to think about it right now because it’s too much to handle. “We’re in the playoffs but now we want to win the division.”
Gonzalez explained how the Nationals finally found a baseball post-season that has eluded DC since 1933.
“I think the success started off right at spring training these guys had great chemistry – it was really fun from the beginning,” Gonzalez said. “We were playing with the mentality of having nothing to lose and …going out and just trying to showcase our abilities.”
Ryan Zimmerman, the team’s stalwart third baseman and a consistent home run hitter, finds the Nats’ newfound success particularly satisfying. Zimmerman played through a lot of lean years, having been drafted by the team in their inaugural season in DC.
“After 4-5 years [of losing] it wears on you,” Zimmerman explained. “It makes it hard to come to the park in August when you’re already 25 games out [of first place]. To switch it up and have meaningful games in September and have great crowds it makes it a little sweeter for a lot of us who went through those bad times to get to these times.”
Zimmerman, who was batting .286 with 24 home runs heading into October, said he senses from the growing and enthusiastic Nationals crowds at home games that DC knows it is witnessing a team with a “chance to do something special.”
“We have some great fans and I’m just as happy for them that we have a team that obviously has done well this year. but I also think we’re built to be a good team for a long time. The fans deserve it more than anyone.”
Michael Morse, a first baseman and big hitter known to Nats fans as “The Beast,” sat out the first six weeks of the season with a back injury. Since his return in June, Morse has returned to form, batting .288 with 14 home runs in his abbreviated season.
“It feels good to be on a really good team that never missed a beat,” Morse told On Tap. “The way this team was playing I really got to make sure I was healthy before I came back, which was good.”
Morse said the Nats’ success this year is due to enhanced experience and a hunger to win. He said it also helps to have hometown fans who take increasing delight in each win the team chalks up.
“I think [the] guys got a little seasoning, but the team is still young and we’re focused on winning,” he explained. “Seeing the attendance at the games rise is exciting. Seeing the fans getting into the games and getting excited, it makes me think this city needed this. We’re going to try our best to give them what they want.”
The last regular season game is October 3 against the Phillies. The playoffs start the weeekend of October 6. www.nationals.com.