- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2013

There is a theory in baseball circles when it comes to the playoffs.

Teams are built for the grind. Built to win over the course of 162 grueling games from April through September. It’s a schedule intended to weed out the lesser competitors, the teams without the depth to sustain injuries or the personnel that fits together just so.

But if you get to the playoffs, if you’re one of the elite teams that reaches that first checkpoint en route to the promised land, that is a different animal.

Then, the thinking goes, you must simply let the Fates play out.

“Once you’re in, all bets are off,” Washington Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth said.

“There’s no favorites, there’s no underdogs. It’s just who finds a way to win, who can get lucky.”

It is an interesting paradox, luck playing such an important role in deciding the outcome of a season that so much work has gone into. But baseball’s postseason is littered with moments that can hardly be explained otherwise.

A routine ground ball through the legs of a first baseman. A hobbled MVP with a pinch-hit home run. A final out that is inches away, yet refuses to come.

Each October seems to serve as another reminder to toss your expectations out the window. Because it’s not very often that the team that’s expected to win it all actually does.

“I don’t think the best team wins every year,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “I think the hottest team wins.”

What, then, does that mean for the 2013 Washington Nationals, a unit so balanced with talent that when Werth arrived at spring training he asked aloud if there had ever before been a team this complete on paper?

The expectations for what they can do — largely unchanged from the group that posted the best record in the majors in 2012 and with the gut-wrenching experience that a stunning playoff elimination can provide — are high.

With days to go before the 2013 season opens, the Nationals are 7-1 favorites to win the World Series, and 7-2 favorites to take the National League pennant, according to the online oddsmaker Bovada. Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine picked them to win the World Series.

Earlier this month, a website called predictionmachine.com ran the 2013 schedule through a simulator that played it 50,000 times. Ten percent of the time, the Nationals won the World Series. In the most common result, they lost in the Fall Classic to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

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