WASHINGTON -- The Nationals have been here before, on the eve of the National League Division Series for the fourth time in six seasons, although the previous three occasions have ended in heartbreak. But they have reason to believe this year is different.These Nationals are talented, a roster built without
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals have been here before, on the eve of the National League Division Series for the fourth time in six seasons, although the previous three occasions have ended in heartbreak. But they have reason to believe this year is different.
These Nationals are talented, a roster built without obvious flaws. They are battle-tested, with experiences gained from past postseasons. And they're hungry as they enter the start of the NLDS presented by T-Mobile tonight against the Cubs, searching not only for their first postseason series victory, but much more.
• NLDS Game 1: Tonight, 7:30 p.m. ET on TBS
:: NLDS schedule and coverage ::
"We need to win," outfielder Jayson Werth said. "I keep saying, 'We need to win.' We're poised. This team has grown up since I've come here. I'm proud of these guys and who they've become. We've got a lot of hard work ahead of us and a lot of tough games.
"But of all the years I've been here, this is the year where we have the best chance, we're in the best shape, to keep playing and play as long as we can."
That this is the most talented Nationals team in history and one well-equipped to make a deep playoff run is a common sentiment that members of the team have shared during the past few weeks. Werth, who in many ways represents the conscience of the players, first mentioned it amid the celebration after they clinched the National League East.
The Nats won the second-most games in franchise history. They enter the postseason with one of the deepest lineups in baseball, one that scored the third-most runs in the NL. Their starting pitchers posted the third-lowest ERA in the NL. The back end of their bullpen became a strength after they revamped it near the non-waiver Trade Deadline. They have a few injury concerns -- notably Bryce Harper (knee) and Max Scherzer (hamstring) -- but both players are expected to play this series.
"I think it's as talented [a team] as we've had," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "I think it is the most balanced roster we've had in my years here. It's a team that has the most playoff experience. It's a team that is really focused on winning."
They have a manager in Dusty Baker who is also focused on capturing his first elusive championship. He feels confident this is the team to do it.
"I know there's a championship coming," Baker said. "I know it's already written. All you've got to do is believe it and then act on it."
Still, the postseason is known for its unpredictability. Washington has had formidable teams in the past that did not make it over the hump.
Werth understands the best team does not always win. He won a World Series with the Phillies in 2008, although he admits that was not their best team.
"The teams after that got better, and they didn't win," Werth said. "You want to have weapons. I think this team is equipped with the most weapons we've had going into October since I've been here.
"I always say: 'The only games to play in are in October.' So I'm grateful for that. I'm grateful for the opportunity we have. And I love our chances."
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.