Since outfielder Jayson Werth signed a seven-year, $126 million contract in December 2010, the Nationals have been a competitive team. The team won a National League East title in 2012, and has been considered a World Series contender at the beginning of each of the last two seasons.
MLB.com caught up with Werth on Sunday and Monday to talk about the Nationals.
MLB.com: What do you think of the Nationals' start? I think a lot of experts thought the team would be one of the best in baseball.
Jayson Werth: I would say it's not how you start, it's how you finish. I've always felt that way. It's always been my mantra. You can't really put too much weight on what happens in the first half [of the season], because what happens in the second half is where you make your season.
With that said, you have to give yourself a chance in the first half, and I think we are playing great. We are still a young team, so there is some learning aspects going on, but that's every year. I like the direction of the team, as a whole. We have a new manager, so that plays into it.
Overall, I'm happy with the start, the way we are playing. We have a lot of come-from-behind wins, which is good. As the season goes on, you can build on those things. Those are tangible assets. I don't know what people were expecting. I'm really focused on myself, talking care of my area, and just playing baseball. So far, I think we have succeeded.
MLB.com: I know you don't want the Braves to get too far ahead. They are 17-7, four games ahead of the Nationals. You want to win as much as possible.
Werth: It's too early to worry about them. They are a good team. What's that old saying? "There is more than one way to skin a cat." That's for sure.
MLB.com: Let's talk about Bryce Harper. The media has made a big deal about his play of late. Do you think we are going overboard? How do you feel about our coverage of him?
Werth: I haven't been paying attention. I know there are some people that disagree with the way [manager Matt Williams] handled it, I think. There was a situation two nights later that [Harper] could have been taken out of the game for not hustling again. If [Albert Pujols] doesn't throw that ball away, [Harper] is out at first for not hustling. That looks bad. It's not how you play the game. He is young, he is learning.
Usually, this stuff happens in Class A ball, when you are that age. He is learning at the big league level. At times, when I was taken out of the game in the South Atlantic League, nobody [cared], but since it's up here, it's so polarized. It's definitely taken out of context, and to the extreme. That's part of it. That's how managers get talented players to be motivated.
MLB.com: Harper is going to have thumb surgery on Tuesday, according to a report from ESPN.com. How much will his loss hurt the Nationals?
Werth: We're gonna have to overcome many obstacles over the course of the season, big and small, in our quest for a championship. Hopefully we can weather the storm here early, as we get healthier later in the season.
MLB.com: Do you realize the impact you have had on this team? A lot people believe the atmosphere changed once you arrived
Werth: A lot people say a lot of different things. I think it's too early to say what is and what isn't. I like to look at bodies of work, instead of speculate on things that aren't complete. When my time is done here, I'll be able to take a look back and see exactly what is and what isn't, but until then, I'm here to play baseball.
MLB.com: I understand what you are saying, but people look at this team differently, in a positive way. Are you proud of it?
Werth: Yeah, I would say so. There were some things that were said when I signed -- my motives, what I'm in it for. My motivation is to win -- year in and year out. I think the Nats have done a good job of giving us a chance since I've been here. I think that was part of the deal.
We have young, talented players that were not indicative of what the Nationals were up to at that point. It took a little foresight to see the vision, and you had to know the background of some of the players. Those were all things that were taken into account. Those are things that I knew when I signed here. What it looked like, I knew what I was getting myself into when I came here. The Nationals held their end of the bargain, for sure.
It's two years in a row we were picked to win the World Series. It's like Matt says about runners in scoring position: You continue to give yourself the opportunity. You have a chance to win. That's all you can ask for.
MLB.com: You think it's fair that everyone is picking this team win it all again?
Werth: I don't know. It's not for me to see to say. It is what it is. That's what happens when you have a team of talented players. The only problem with that for me is that speculation doesn't win anything. Being picked to win the World Series doesn't win you anything. It's not that it's a tough place to be, you still have to go there and play the games. You still have to go and play the game the right way. Play to win, do the little things. That's hard.
With all the talk, that's all it is. Talk is cheap for me. You have to go out there and play to win. If you don't, who cares where you were ranked at the beginning of the season? Like I said, it's not how you start, it's how you finish.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats.