“World Series or bust,” Davey Johnson said before the 2013 season. “That’s probably the slogan this year. But I’m comfortable with that.”
Nats fans remember these comments all too well — and the listless mediocrity that followed in 2013. And then there’s Bryce Harper’s ill-advised “where’s my ring” comments ahead of the ‘15 campaign, and we all know how catastrophic ‘15 was. No need to revisit either year, thank you very much.
In sum, the Nationals don’t have a great track record when it comes to pre-season comments mirroring post-season promise. Maybe Davey Martinez, the proverbial “new guy,” didn’t know. Maybe he didn’t care. Whatever the case, he sat there in the clubhouse, on Day One of his tenure, and made his view clear: the Nationals can and should win a World Series, not after a three-year program, but in 2018. Right now, in baseball time.
“Why not us,” Dave Martinez said.
Martinez later explained that we shouldn’t forget how difficult and fortunate it was for his former team, the Chicago Cubs, to advance. He spoke about across-the-board talent already present on the Nationals roster. He spoke about how electrifying a place he found Nationals Park to be during the Divisional Series.
Maybe laying stakes in the ground like this is ill-advised. Maybe it’s a sign of hubris and delusional optimism. I would counter: what other stakes are there to be laid?
I can think of another standard to run with, because I’ve used it before myself. I call it the “let’s make the tournament and get lucky” view.
There’s nothing wrong about this argument, objectively speaking. It’s far more accurate, as a matter of math, than the other. It is demonstrably true that no amount of smart decision-making can outweigh baseballs-finding-a-hole, though it is also demonstrable that decision-making can impact the ability of baseballs to find said holes. But yes, in the end, baseballs are always going to baseball; they’re gonna take crooked spins and make weird hops and take awkward bounces off bases some guys will over-perform for whatever reason and some other guys will under-perform, and pitchers will make great pitches that get laced, and terrible pitches will turn into routine outs.
These sentences are descriptions of the nature of the game — but the nature of the game is not the objective of the game; the objective of the game is to be the last team standing. There is absolutely no reason for this team, now, with this roster as-built, to run away from stating that it is a World Series-grade team. It is not macho nonsense or trolling to say this; it is a measurable, objective truth. This team is good — and can be, and ought to be, great. It’s also impossible to get peak performance out of human beings by waving statistical probabilities and “let’s get lucky” as the flag. Hoping for better bounces is not an aspiration or an ambition; it is an analytic concession, a sad nod toward reality. It’s not leadership.
In 2016, Joe Maddon addressed that now-classic Cubs squad with a simple phrase: “embrace the target.” It is high time for the Nationals to follow suit. In other words, the 2018 season will be impossibly difficult; nothing will be given away; and, also, good. How else should it be? Bring it on.
In Dave/y Martinez’s opening salvo as Nationals manager, I heard not a brag, not a swagger, not chest-thumping grandiosity, but intense discipline — a process and a principle. A club wins the World Series daily. High leverage work is encountered from opening day through November. Games 163 through 170-whatever are the same three outs per side per inning as Game 55 and Game 2. It all requires intense preparation and skill and equally deep positivity and faith and trust — in oneself, in one’s teammates, in the body daily work that is produced over a summer.
Way down in the bowels of our comment section, the phrase, World Series and Trust came about, as an obvious play on the more notorious version. But I love it and think it encapsulates well what Martinez meant when he laid out his vision: Love the work and trust the experience that accrues from it.
If this is the message that our “new guy” is bringing, and I clearly think it is, then it’s a message that cannot be repeated often enough, and will help this team reap major rewards in the coming years.