There are just two days standing between pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training in Viera. This means we have come to number two on my countdown.
#2 – Veteran Leadership
Clubhouse leaders are an essential component to any successful team. They are players who take it upon themselves to guide inexperienced teammates. They know the value of having a mentor show them the ropes in order to become a better player. The value veteran baseball players have for the team is an intangible aspect of the game which often times goes un-recognized. However, even though there is no award for Best Leader, any knowledgeable player knows the importance of having an experienced core of talent in a locker room.
The Nationals are not low on numbers in this area. Seasoned veterans such as Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth, Denard Span, Adam LaRoche, and especially Ryan Zimmerman are part of an essential make up of a contending team. They take the younger players such as Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg under their wing when times get rough. In return, it is necessary that the younger players absorb what they are told. When the team works together and helps those who are struggling, they roll along like a well-oiled machine.
While it is important that the veterans convey verbal leadership, leading by example is also beneficial.When the rest of the team sees the vets stepping up and producing, it often rubs off on the other players. When the Nats hit a rough patch, it is important the veterans step up and take command in re-directing the team back onto the right track.
Worst Case Scenario:
The worst case scenario for veterans is a tough one. It is easy, yes, to simply say that they won’t perform well. However, that doesn’t provide much insight besides something we all could have thought of on our own. I think what would be the worst case scenario in this situation is that the veterans don’t come up big in clutch situations. This will be a key in this upcoming season; to be able to win games in late inning contests when either side could steal a victory. It will be these defining moments which characterize the season for the Nats.
Best Case Scenario:
This scenario is not as difficult to contemplate. The vets take the rookies under their wing and the team becomes a unit. Everyone feeds off each other and wins come from the positive attitude as well as on-field performances. Rookies learn from how the more experienced members of the team act in stressful times, and this enables the rookies to become reliable contributors by the end of the season. I may not be stellar in math, but it’s a pretty simple equation here: if the veterans play well and lead by example, the rest of the team will follow suit and it will be one amazing season.
It will be interesting to see where the Nationals get the majority of their contributions from this season. Will it be the veterans who take charge? Or will it be the younger players who step up when their team needs them? Only time will tell.
What will be number one?! Be sure to find out tomorrow!
Only two more days…
Countdown to #Natitude: 2 days
With only five (yes, 5!!!) days remaining until the Nationals’ pitchers and catchers report to Viera, Florida for Spring Training, I thought it would be beneficial to count down what I believe to be the five biggest things to look forward to in the upcoming season. Today, we start with number five:
5. Their start
There are many baseball fans who do not appreciate the first two months of the regular season. They seem to think a day game at the end of April is not nearly as significant as a night game against a division rival on the final day of the season. However, a win is a win, and the date/opponent does not appear in the standings; only wins and losses do. No team proved this better than the Atlanta Braves last season who started off on 12-1 run only to play a majority of the rest of the season at a near .500 pace. While they did finish with a 96-66 record, it was their fast start which propelled them through the summer.
The Nationals on the other hand got off to somewhat of a lackluster start compared to many people’s expectations. They swept their opening series against the Marlins before playing the rest of the season struggling to hold a winning record. It was not until late August when the Nationals started playing the type of baseball everyone had expected from Opening Day. By that point though, it was too little too late and they missed the playoffs after winning the NL East and finishing with the majors’ best record the previous season.
So the question remains, how will the Nationals start their season? Will they play lackluster baseball through April and kick it into gear as June rolls around? Or will new manager Matt Williams and a reminder of last season give them the needed motivation to produce a quick start?
Worst Case Scenario:
We don’t like to think about the worst case scenario, but as last season showed us, it’s always a possibility. Here’s how it could go wrong this year:
The Nats have a slow Spring Training and these effects carry over into the beginning of the season. Pitching is sub-par and the Fister deal doesn’t prove as effective as everyone believes. New manager Matt Williams isn’t flat on his feet and makes some risky in-game decisions which cost the team some valuable early-season wins. From there, the Nats spend the summer playing catch-up and have to make a late season run following the All-Star break.
Best Case Scenario:
I shouldn’t even call this the best case scenario. I should call this the realistic scenario; the one which, barring unforeseen injuries or other problems, is most likely to happen:
As has been apparent from his video interviews this winter, manager Matt Williams comes into Spring Training as a man with a plan. He burns a work ethic into the Nationals players and they have a hard working, productive spring. These successes roll over to Opening Day, where the Nationals rack up win after win as they march through April (see what I did there?). GM Mike Rizzo shows his executive prowess once again as the acquisition of Doug Fister proves to be the biggest steal of the winter. Batters see the ball like beach balls and knock it around the park, leading the team to win after win. They go into the All-Star break with a determined attitude and as a National League contender.
I do believe my best case scenario will be closest to the truth. While it may take some time to adjust to the new managing style of Williams, they are Major League Baseball players who are trained to adjust in between every pitch. I think they will realize the importance of a strong start and the importance of emerging from April as one of the strongest teams in the league.
So when you’re sitting there watching the game in late April or early May, and the Nationals make a bad mistake in the 6th inning of what seems to be an unimportant game, or they walk-off in an improbable fashion, who knows; maybe that mid-game decision can come back in October to mean all the difference.
For now, we just have to wait and see.
Countdown to #Natitude: 5 days