- - Tuesday, February 13, 2018


Good news for Washington Nationals owner Ted Lerner. When he gets to West Palm Beach for spring training, he’ll find the World Series trophy there.

Granted, it will be on the Houston Astros‘ side of the training facility they share with the Nationals, but at least he can get close to it — maybe reach out and touch it.

After all, you may not hear any organization in baseball talk more about the goal of winning a World Series this spring than the Nationals.

It was the theme repeated over and over when the Nationals, with Ted Lerner just a few feet away, introduced new manager Dave Martinez in November. “The object is to win as many games as possible,” Martinez told reporters. “We’re not just here to win a playoff game. We’re here to win a World Series.”

The Houston Astros had the same goal. They wanted to win more than just a playoff game the 11 times they went to the postseason. They were there to win a World Series.

It took them 55 years to do so.

You can’t talk your way into a World Series championship, but you can bet the Nationals will try this year, because that is what the 91-year-old boss of the team wants to hear. And he wants Martinez to give it to him.

When pitchers and catchers report to West Palm Beach Wednesday, the clock will start on Martinez, who will be carrying the burden of Dusty Baker, Matt Williams and Davey Johnson on his shoulders — previous managers who failed to will the Nationals to a World Series title.

If that isn’t enough pressure on Martinez, the clock will be ticking loudly as the season goes on and Bryce Harper draws closer to free agency and his likely departure from Washington.

The only significant difference on this year’s Nationals squad and the one that lost in five games to the Chicago Cubs in the National League Division Series last fall is Martinez. It’s the same team, more or less, the same starting rotation, the same bullpen, the same starting nine, and perhaps an improved bench.

But Baker, the three-time NL Manager of the Year who won 192 games in two seasons in Washington and two NL East division titles, is gone, replaced by Martinez, a long-time coach with no major league managing experience. He is the Nationals’ seventh manager under the Lerner family.

World Series champion manager A.J. Hinch is the Houston Astros‘ 23rd manager in 55 years.

Martinez will likely get the chance that Baker, Williams and Johnson had — an easy path to the playoffs. This Nationals team appears to be a wind-up 90-plus win unit in a still weak NL East. They have one of the strongest starting rotations in baseball, led by arguably the greatest pitcher in baseball in Max Scherzer, coming off a Cy Young winning season. They have a lineup that should be stronger with the addition of outfielder Adam Eaton, coming back from reconstructive knee surgery, and the subtraction of Jayson Werth, an influential clubhouse presence but a burden for the team to carry offensively and defensively.

Eaton batting leadoff, with Trea Turner second, should make the Nationals offense more productive. And Eaton, along with Michael Taylor and Harper, should make Washington’s outfield one of the best defensively in baseball and save some runs for that standout starting staff on the mound.

Let’s get to $500 million question — Harper’s future.

Harper’s impending free agency will hang over Martinez and this team for the entire season, unless the Lerners, caught up in their own World Series title demands, convince Harper to somehow give up testing the market and stay here in Washington. That’s not likely to happen, so Martinez will carry that burden as well — the fast-closing Nationals‘ window for re-signing Harper.

Personally, I think there is life in Washington after Harper. But that’s not the only contract that hangs over the quest for a World Series title this year.

The more significant unfinished business is a new deal for general manager Mike Rizzo, who has put together rosters with three different managers that have at least had a chance to play for a shot at the World Series. His contract is up at the end of this year as well. I don’t feel so confident about life for the Washington Nationals after Rizzo.

If that happens, Lerner better take a selfie with the Astros‘ World Series trophy in West Palm Beach. It will be the only evidence he ever got his hands on one.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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