When listening to Davey Johnson speak at the winter meetings in December, one would never sense that the 70-year old manager of Washington Nationals had suffered a devastating Game 5 NLDS collapse against the St. Louis Cardinals to end his season. That is because he has moved on. Johnson, is far from it and has moved far away from the bitter loss in October that ended a dream season for Washington. There, in front of the media in Nashville that night in December, brimming with confidence to the point where it could be confused with cockiness, Johnson probably coined the slogan for the 2013 Nationals: "World Series or bust". December? Yeah, December. This is Davey Johnson's last year as manager of this Nationals team, announcing his eminent retirement at the end of last season. Johnson's confidence stems from his feeling that this team can send his career off on a championship note.
"I think we're in a perfect position to show the world that we're a pretty good ball club, and we can go farther into the postseason, and I want to be a part of that," Johnson said. "I still have a love of the game, and I have a love of this organization. 'World Series or bust,' that's probably the slogan this year. But I'm comfortable with that," Johnson crowed in front of media at the winter meetings.
The fact of the matter is that Johnson should be comfortable with that. The Nationals kick off the 2013 campaign this week at their Spring Training facility in Viera, Florida with huge expectations. The 2012 NL East Champions are favored again to win their division and are favored by many to not just win the National League pennant, but to win the World Series.
Johnson doesn't shy away from the lofty expectations of his team, he embraces them. Johnson knows he has one of the best rotations in baseball, led by stud ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg who will pitch his first full season in the majors after his 160 innings limit was lifted. Johnson knows he may have the best defensive outfield in the game after trading for Twins center fielder Denard Span to man the middle, to compliment Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper in the corners. Johnson also possesses a wealth of riches in the bullpen after signing Yankee closer fill-in Rafael Soriano to work the ninth with two other former closers setting him up. Mix in a solid lineup that scores runs in bunches and a deep, versatile bench ideal for National league baseball, Johnson knows the team he has hitting the field in 2013.
However, the season is a long journey and the road from Spring training to October baseball can be bumpy. Johnson has some challenges ahead of him for sure. Maintaining team chemistry will be important as the Nationals have parted ways with some familiar faces. Team and fan favorite Michael Morse was traded in a 3-team deal to Seattle. There was nowhere for Morse to play once Adam LaRoche re-signed. Edwin Jackson, Mark DeRosa, Sean Burnett, and Tom Gorzelanny all have gone elsewhere. Making sure Span and newcomers starter Dan Haren, and closer Rafael Soriano blend right into the teams great chemistry will fall on Johnson.
All-Star pitcher Gio Gonzalez is being looked into by MLB investigators for his involvement with a clinic in Miami linked to PEDs. How will Johnson handle the rotation if Gonzalez is suspended by Major League Baseball? What effect will it have on the team?
Ryan Zimmerman has a shoulder issue. So does second baseman Danny Espinosa. The Nationals signed Dan Haren to fill the hole left by Edwin Jackson, however, Haren has had back and hip issues. And of course there's Strasburg and the elbow of the franchise. Injuries always pop up during a season and Johnson must weather that storm as well.
Bumps in the road always happen to every team. The Nationals have an experienced baseball lifer in his last season as their manager. It will be a season that Johnson looks at as a beautiful opportunity, in his last season of his career, to ride off into the championship sunset.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jordan Elise Suskind
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