"I read something the other day -- found some notes or whatever," Jayson Werth told reporters gathered in the Washington Nationals' clubhouse this past August. "It was before I signed here -- and I had written some stuff down about the different teams I was going to potentially play for and I was just kind of reading over the stuff for the Nats. And one of the things it said was they would be -- 'we' would be -- good towards the end of my contract. So it kind of put things in perspective."
The Nationals were coming off a three-game sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Braves, which dropped the Nats to 54-60 overall on the year and made the idea of a second-straight postseason berth seem far-fetched at best.
"With the success last year and really where we're at now with the guys and we're still in a building-type phase, if you will," Werth said. "I know with all the expectations it doesn't really seem like that, but we've got a lot of young players and the direction is still good, I think we've got a lot of talent and there's a lot of things to look forward to here in Washington."
The Nationals went on a five-game win streak after being swept by the Braves and went 32-16 over the final 48 games of the season to finish at 86-76. They fell short of their goal of bringing postseason baseball back to D.C. for the second straight season, but as Werth explained this past weekend at NatsFest, which was held in the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, MD, they finally played like one of the best teams in baseball over the last two months of the 2013 campaign, giving reasons for hope about what lies ahead in 2014.
"You look at last year," Werth said when asked about concerns and expectations for the upcoming season. "You look at the way we played in the second-half and down the stretch. If we play like that all year, it's a done deal. I'm really looking forward to it. I have no expectations, nothing negative, I'm just looking forward to a good season."
Werth wasn't done.
Soft-spoken as usual even while surrounded by 10-15 reporters, their outstretched arms and all their iPhones, microphones and cameras, he was so quiet he was almost drowned out by the din of of the 8,400 fans who turned up for NatsFest and milled about the convention center. With the 2013 season behind him and Spring Training a month away, Werth said he still wasn't quite sure what went wrong last year.
"It would be tough to put your finger on it," he said. "I've thought about it a lot. It wasn't just one thing. It was the perfect storm of events just led to us being too far back coming down the stretch."
"I always knew that we were going to make a run," Werth said. "It just took us a little too long to get there. All in all, you look at the way we played coming down the stretch, and if we get into the postseason -- which we only missed by a couple games even though as bad as we played in the first-half -- if we get in, I think we're the best team in baseball at the time and I think it was ours to lose."
The Nationals didn't get there though, and Werth said in the end it was just too difficult to come back from the 48-47 first half of the season."You can't have a first-half like that," he said. "But I think just the mentality going into the season might not have been in the right spot. Coming through what we went through the year before and the age of some of the guys and the inexperience, I think this year we're kind of further along and down the road from all that so hopefully we can start good and put all that stuff behind us and have the season I think we're capable of having."
Asked whether or not the hot streak in the second half could carry over to 2014, Werth said he thought it could and he was looking forward to finding out.
"I think you can build on that," he said. "Every season, everyone is 0-0 at the start of the year, so all bets are off. I think we learned a lot last year about ourselves."
"I definitely think we can build on what we did coming down the stretch and in the second-half," Werth continued. "Even what happened in the first-half, I think's that's something you can learn from and in the end, we weren't that far off."
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