On August 18, 2012, the Washington Nationals were five games into what would be a season-best, eight-game win streak at 68-43 overall on the year. The Nats had won 15 of their last 20 game at that point and gone from a 2.0 game lead over the Atlanta Braves to a 4.0 game lead in the division. When they took two of three at home against the Braves two weeks later, the lead was up to 7.0 games.
The Nationals had been in first place in the division for 68 days, and a then-69-year-old Davey Johnson would eventually lead them to their first NL East crown and the first postseason appearance by a D.C.-based team in 79 years. A year later, following a sweep at the hands of the first-place Braves, the Nationals are 54-60, six games under .500 and 15.5 games behind Atlanta in a division that's all-but wrapped up.
In his weekly interview with 106.7 the FAN In D.C.'s The Sports Junkies before the third straight loss to the Braves on Wednesday night, the Nationals' now-70-year-old skipper talked about the difficulty he and his team have experienced in a season that started with high expectations. Johnson, in what he's still saying will be his last season, was 114 games into a campaign that started with an admission that it was "World Series or Bust!" for a team that had gotten a taste of postseason play and felt there was nowhere to go but up. One of the hosts asked Johnson if he considered coming back in 2014 and making one more run with a team he'd thought might take him out on top.
"No," Johnson said, "I feel a lot of times like I have a lot of energy I can lift up a team or lift up a player. When you lose, in my eyes and in a lot of people's eyes, it's the manager's fault. And I believe that. If you can't get guys to do things you know they're capable of doing then either you don't have the energy of you're an idiot at the top. And if the players play good, then you can be part of the success, but really the credit goes to the players."
The Nationals' struggles continue to confound the veteran of 17 seasons as a big league manager. "I still like the talent and I still like the make-up," he explained, "but we're just not -- the difference between winning and losing, boys, is a very small little margin and that's the ingredients where maybe I just don't have the energy to throw them on my shoulders and walk across the finish line, because I feel a little more drained than I usually feel."
"So are you thinking of stepping aside?" Johnson was asked.
"No," he said. "I don't usually have to worry about that," he joked, "usually somebody else will drop the hammer on that. But, you know what, you think of everything. What would be better? Do they need some young blood in here? Or whatever, you know." Johnson went on to say that everyone was still "engaged" and after last night's loss he said he and his team were eager to end the season on a good note. "There's still a lot of games left, shoot," he told reporters, "We've got a lot of ground to make up, but you never know what can happen in this game. If nothing else, get our pride back by playing better."
Johnson's still going to be part of the search for the next manager, as well, though he admitted he's not sure how much input he'll have. "I don't know," he said, "that's a good question. You need to ask somebody else -- I think [Mike] Rizzo and I think a lot alike. He's a smart man, he probably won't need a whole lot of input and he'll make the right choice."
As for whether they were looking for an in-house candidate or someone from outside the organization, Johnson said, it was a discussion, "... for a later date."
CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman threw one potential candidate's name out there this afternoon:
In the article, the CBSSports.com reporter writes that, "The Nats are planning to conduct a search after this season, and [Matt] Williams' name is said to be among those who will be considered, according to sources." Williams, who is currently serving as the third base coach under D-Backs' skipper Kirk Gibson, interviewed for the Colorado Rockies' job Mr. Heyman notes and managed in the Arizona Fall League, where he oversaw several Nationals' prospects last fall. Mr. Heyman adds that Nats' GM Mike Rizzo, "... has an extensive history with Williams, who from 1998-2003 played in Arizona, where Rizzo served as the scouting director in the early 2000s. But Williams' reputation as a serious team player is well-known in baseball circles."
When the search for the next Nats' manager was brought up last month after Randy Knorr filled in for an ejected Davey Johnson and made a tough decision to pull Rafael Soriano from the mound when he didn't look sharp, Johnson was asked what he thought about Knorr, who's managed at High-A Potomac and Triple-A Syracuse and now serves as the Nationals' bench coach, as a potential candidate for the next manager in the nation's capital.
"I think he's managed at Triple-A," Johnson said. "My requirements, and I got in trouble for voicing them with a couple of my other managers around the league, was somebody asked me, 'What is the criteria for a big league manager?' I said, 'The ideal is to manage in your system, so you know the talent in your system.' And that's the criteria. Having managed. And some guys that were coaches and never managed took offense to what I said. But I was talking about the ideal guy."
Last time he helped the Nationals find the "ideal" manager, he decided he was the man for the job. Can Johnson help the Nats find a manager who can get them back to where they think they should be next season... ? That is, assuming there's not a run left in the 70-year-old manager's team this year.