With the 48-50 Washington Nationals currently in third place in the NL East, Davey Johnson's seemingly bold "World Series or Bust!" pronouncement from this winter has been brought up repeatedly as evidence of the sort of hubris that allowed the Nats to think that after the winning the division last year a return to the postseason was all-but guaranteed. The Nationals are, after all, the team that "arrogantly" shut Stephen Strasburg down because they believed they would have other opportunities to make a run at a World Series Championship, right?
Except, no. Sure the "World Series or Bust!" quote made for good headlines, but the Nationals' 70-year-old skipper, a veteran manager entering his 17th season on the bench, who had a history of saying such things, explained his headline-grabbing quote several times this year, as far back as Spring Training.
"I said last year, we were not quite a .500 club," Johnson told reporters when the "World Series or Bust!" line was brought up during his media availability early in spring training, "And I inherited a club in  that in mid-season [was] a little different than I would have put together. But I said if we play up to our potential we can win our division. And then, being as this is my last year, it wasn't any great, earth-shaking news, 'World Series or Bust!' because I think that we've already won [the division], we've been in the postseason and with that experience and with the talent level that's here, our goal should be higher."
"There's no sense in me romancing anybody," Johnson said, "and telling you that, 'Jeez, we'll be lucky if we win the division,' or be lucky if we go far in the playoffs. Maybe I'm just covering my [butt]. But my [butt] is going to be gone anyway. But, I think, I'm not telling these players anything that they don't believe themselves."
Johnson explained his thinking again in a recent interview on the MLB Network show "MLB Now":
"Before we won it last year, I said if guys just played to their potential, we could win our division. We certainly did that and then some. I think I feel the same way. I know I feel the same way this year. If we do all the things with the experience we had last year in the playoffs, even though it wasn’t a good one because we lost that Game Five to the Cardinals, I believe with that playoff experience, we can go a lot further."
Johnson reiterated this weekend that the problem this year was simply that players were not meeting the expectations the team had for them and playing up to what the team sees as their capabilities.
"There's all kinds of a multitude of things when you don't play up to your capabilities," Johnson said when asked what has wrong. "I mean, the bench wasn't productive. It was young. It's awfully hard to do that job. The bullpen was a little bent out. [Dan] Haren had some problems early. We had some injuries. I don't point to just one thing."
Johnson still wasn't ready to count his team out, however, even after they were swept by the surging LA Dodgers this weekend. No one ever said anything was going to be easy. "I thought with what we did last year," he reiterated, "getting into the playoffs and getting the early exit, I thought that was a good experience for us to take it a step further. But it's not easy. I mean, it's very competitive up here. Sometimes though, it's tough to have patience."
Hubris? No. Overly optimistic in some cases? It would seem so right now.