There is pressure to succeed each and every season, of course, but after making it to the postseason in four of the last six seasons, and losing in the Division Series in each campaign, the Washington Nationals head into 2018 with more pressure than usual.
“Our expectations have grown to the fact that winning a lot of regular season games and winning divisions are not enough,” Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters after announcing that the team made the decision to part ways with manager Dusty Baker after back-to-back NL East titles under the veteran skipper’s guidance.
“Our goal is to win a world championship,” Rizzo added, noting that to that end, the Nationals made the move on the bench.
When new manager Dave Martinez was introduced to the nation’s capital earlier this month, he was clear that he knew what the expectations were for the 2018 Nats.
“I think the one thing I have to say after talking with the Lerner family and [with] Mike [Rizzo], we definitely have something in common,” Martinez said, “and that’s the desire and passion to bring a World Championship here to Washington, and we’re going to get it done.”
With several players (Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy among them) potentially headed for free agency after the 2018 campaign, Rizzo currently signed through next season with no word of an extension thus far, and a few high-end pitchers currently in their prime (Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg), the window for this iteration of the Nationals’ core roster to win it all is closing.
“We’ve put ourselves in a great position after twelve short seasons of existence, and I couldn’t be prouder of the organization that we’ve built here,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies in a recent interview.
“We’ve talked about the most wins and all of that stuff,” Rizzo said, referring to the win totals the Nationals have put up during the recent run of regular season success.
“That’s a big part of it, and getting to the next level is a big part of it, and winning for the District is a big part of it.”
“It’s a performance business,” he added.
“I get it. Guys get fired and hired because you win games and win championships, and that’s what this thing is all about. I’ve been doing it for 35 years.
“But I’m proud of the team that we’ve assembled. I’m proud of the organization, and the franchise that it’s become. We’re the envy — believe it or not — from the outside looking in, we’re the envy of a lot of baseball teams and a lot of baseball owners, and I couldn’t be more proud of the team that we have. Not satisfied, but very proud.”
Martinez, who’ll face the pressure to win it all in his first season managing at any level of the game, following ten years as Joe Maddon’s bench coach both in Tampa Bay and Chicago, isn’t intimidated by the expectations in Washington, D.C.
“I don’t want to run away from them,” Martinez said in a recent MLB Network Radio interview.
“That’s what we’re all here for, that’s what it’s all about. My message is very clear: We need to finish the deal. On paper we’re good enough, no doubt about it. We have all the right players, pitching, bullpen, now we just need to finish the deal. For me, you embrace the target, you talk about it, let everybody know that it’s there, we’re going to go after it, we’re going to get after it, and then after that, how do we get there?
“For me, it’s to prepare everybody to compete every day at the highest level, and to stay engaged in each and every game.”
Chip Hale, who was hired as Martinez’s bench coach, talked in an MLB Network Radio interview about the turnover among major league managers in recent years and the pressure to win now motivating some of those moves.
“It’s a little disturbing at times,” Hale acknowledged, “... but you have to roll with the punches. The game is changing, we know that, we know the analytics have changed, and I think the voices, and the ability to motivate a clubhouse and all that stuff, I think the people up above get antsy and want to make those changes.
“It’s not like when we played and you knew those same coaches were going to be in those slots every year. You knew when you [went] to Spring Training the group that was going to be there whether it was your minor league staff or your big league staff, those things are changing.”
After a disappointing end to a 97-win campaign, the Nationals decided to make the big change on the bench, and the players, as Matt Wieters said in an MLB Network Radio in the last week, that the game is sometimes cruel and the pressure is there for everyone involved this season.
“Dusty, he was a fun manager to play for,” Wieters said. “I think we’re all disappointed in a lot things of how the season ended, but I think we all kind of know at a lot of our points in our career that with the talent that we have on that team, that we’re shooting for that World Series every year. And you’re going to have to have things go right in the playoffs to be able to do that, which is hard when you’re able to play 162 [games] and then kind of turn it into a sprint, but that’s the ultimate goal as far as playing careers, is being able to get to the World Series and win it.
“Dusty was great at getting us prepared and getting us [ready] for that playoff run,” Wieters added, “... it just didn’t happen, and it’s hard to say we have to look at a new manager because of one game, but it’s kind of the reality of baseball nowadays.”