The Washington Nationals began play in 2014 as a favorite in the National League to make the playoffs. The Nats know, however, that a spot in the postseason will be determined on the field, not on paper.
To make the playoffs the Nationals do not need to win their division. But with the recently added extra wild-card, Washington does not want to find themselves in a one game do-or-die scenario. To win the division, the Nationals must improve their performance against the Atlanta Braves.
The Braves have seemed to have the Nationals’ number over the past year, and part of the Nationals’ struggles is psychological. As cliche as it may sound, to beat an opponent, you must believe you can beat that opponent. The Nationals need to believe they can win close games against the best of opponents, a feeling they must regain from 2012.
The Nationals are a quality team without Wilson Ramos, but to be a playoff team and World Series contender, they will need him to be healthy for the majority of the season. Ramos has dealt with a few freak injuries over the years but has proven to be a great young catcher when on the field. With Ramos on the field, the Nationals’ lineup does not provide an easy out outside of the pitcher.
Washington’s bullpen did not live up to expectations in 2013, and will need to hold late game leads to reach the playoffs once again. This job is primarily handled by set up men Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, and closer Rafael Soriano. The Braves, the Nats’ primary opponent in contention, hold onto almost every lead they take into the 8th inning or later. The Nationals must learn to do the same.
As Nationals’ owner Mark Lerner said this past week regarding winning the division, “you must have a lot of luck to do it”. Unfortunately, skill sometimes isn’t enough in the game of baseball. With bloop hits, hard hit outs, and human discretion all as part of the game, oftentimes the better team does not win.
But as Ernest Hemingway once said, “you create your own luck”. Hopefully the Nationals can create their own luck in 2014.