Nats know October changes everything
Not even Scherzer's addition can guarantee postseason success
With the Nationals' acquisition of Max Scherzer, it has become fashionable, if not mandatory, to say that Washington is favored to win the 2015 World Series.
Could we offer up just a small amendment? Try this: The Nats are favored to once again have the best regular-season record in the National League, maybe in both leagues.
That would be fair. The Nationals already had a terrific rotation and led the NL with 96 wins last season, two shy of the Angels for tops in the Majors. Now, Washington's rotation is even better. Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister -- that's a rotation for the ages. Or as Mike Rizzo, the Nats' president of baseball operations and general manager, put it Wednesday: "We strengthened a strength."
With this most fundamental element of baseball success completely covered, we can make the Nationals the favorites in any category -- until we get to October. The Nats, who had the best regular-season record in baseball in 2012 before leading the Senior Circuit last year, know that as well as anyone.
After all of those victories, after all that success, the number of postseason series the Nationals have won is zero. It's a different game in October. It sometimes seems to be governed by a three-word view of the universe: You never know.
Maybe the Cardinals stun you with an improbable ninth-inning comeback in the deciding game of an NL Division Series. Maybe you're playing the Giants in an even-numbered year when they just don't lose any postseason series. Maybe your manager takes out Zimmermann, who is one out away from victory in the best 2014 postseason start made by anybody not named Madison Bumgarner. Maybe your club loses that game in 18 agonizing innings.
You never know. The regular season goes on for six months, and it is much easier to figure out than a few short series in October. This is why it is safe to say that the Nationals are even more predictable April through September winners than they were before they made the Max Investment -- a seven-year deal worth $210 million to lure the 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner.
And at Scherzer's formal introduction to the District of Columbia on Wednesday, Rizzo made it clear that the commitment to Scherzer did not mean that the Nationals were going to cut corners elsewhere. There had been speculation that with the Scherzer signing, the Nats might deal one or more of their prominent players who will become eligible for free agency after next season.
"They've given us all the ammunition that we need to put together a quality team," Rizzo said of the Nationals' ownership. "Nothing has changed in regards to any other player on the roster. We make good baseball decisions based on baseball evaluations, and money does not come into play. We love the team that we have right now. We feel that it's a really good, capable ballclub, and we're looking to better ourselves each and every day."
And Scherzer, Rizzo said, was exactly what the Nats were looking for, as a dominant starting pitcher, as a teammate, as an individual.
"Whenever you can acquire a player of Max Scherzer's ability level, character and toughness on the mound, those opportunities are few and far between," Rizzo said. "We saw a player that we were extremely interested in. He fits all the criteria we're looking for in a Washington Nationals-type of player. He's good between the lines. He's a tough guy. He takes the ball. He gets after it. He attacks hitters. And then in the clubhouse -- magnificent teammate. In the community -- does nothing but impress everybody he touches. You can't ask for more. He's the type of guy we're looking for."
The symmetry turned out to be total. When Scherzer was asked for the reasons he chose the Nats, he replied: "It's pretty easy and it's one: winning. I think this team is capable of winning and winning a lot. When you look at it near-term and long-term, this is an organization you want to be a part of. ... I want to win, and that's why I'm here."
It is good to see that even in uncertain times, $210 million can bring people together, united, pulling as one toward a common goal. Yes, of course, the Nationals were very good before, but perhaps now they are closer to splendid with Scherzer, and they ought to be favored to be the very best team the NL will have over 162 games.
But before we schedule the World Series coronation, you'd like to see them maybe win an NLDS.