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Johnson sets the tone for Nats

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Johnson sets the tone for Nats

When the 2012 Nationals began their season, manager Davey Johnson was tasked with taking a team that had won 80 games the previous season to the next level, to make them a playoff team. He had to take a team overflowing with talent and help them realize their potential as a contender in the National League. But at 69-years-old and the leagues oldest manager, it was a road he had traveled many times before.

Johnson took over as manager of the New York Mets before the 1984 season and saw them improve by 22 wins. In 1996 with the Orioles he helped them climb by 17 victories and make the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. And now, after Washingtons 4-1 win over the Dodgers, Johnson has his team in the playoffs and with 11 more wins than they won the previous year.

At 91 wins and counting, Johnson has played a central role in yet another dramatic franchise turnaround. His been there presence and experience is something not lost among his players.

Theres a lot of people around here that you can point fingers at that had a lot to do with the change in direction and everything that goes into that in the ballclub and the organization, but none any bigger than Davey, Jayson Werth said.

When I got here last here, this place was a mess. It was upside down. We had a lot of work to do. At times it felt like we would never get to play in October. Then Davey took over in the middle of the season and kind of did things his own way, went about business the way Davey goes about business and he was the guy that he is. You could start to sense and see that the shape was starting to turn around.

Johnson took over as manager with 83 games left to go in the 2011 season, but was just getting to know his team by the time the year was over. Coming in to 2012 he had a roster built for his style of coaching. He has a deep bench with powerful bats and an A and B bullpen, as he likes to say. But with all the players that make up the Washington Nationals, Johnson has somehow found a way to make them collectively play as the best team in baseball.

One method of coaching that his players say has worked, has to do with downplaying praise aimed towards him and instead keeping focus on the team.

I think that says a lot about it right there, that he downplays everything. He doesnt want the praise going in his direction. He has been phenomenal all year, and not just the things you guys see on the field and the moves he makes, Adam LaRoche said.

The way he handles the young guys and the older guys in here when media and other people arent around, hes a first class guy. He cares about his players and hes made that known, he shows it. He is a great manager.

Second baseman Danny Espinosa describes a sort of hands-off approach by Johnson, something that seems to give his players confidence.

He let us be ourselves. I dont think he ever over-managed any of us. He never tried to control us and say, youre this type of player or youre that type of player. He just allowed us to go out there and prepare the way we prepare and let us play good ball.

With a World Series ring as the skipper of the 1986 Mets, and a baseball life lined with accomplishments, Johnson has handled situations like Thursday night before. As to how he conducted the moments after the game in the locker room, just minutes after the first clinching the first playoff berth for a D.C. baseball team since 1933?

Well we had a little champagne and I guess they wanted me to say something. I said, 'What's this? We ain't done yet.' Something like that. They all had the same feeling. That this was just a baby step to get to the playoffs. But we want to win the division, Johnson said.

You know Davey, hes not going to give a 20 minute speech. He had some brief words, kind of the same thing, congratulations but lets go, we got a big game tomorrow and keep working. He gets it, he knows it is big deal for the organization and the city. But for us, this wasnt the goal coming out of spring, LaRoche said.

The Nationals will be in the playoffs, this they know. But the magic number to clinch the National League East and ensure at least a five-game series remains at eight. Having their season come down to just one game is something Davey and the Nationals know they want nothing to do with. Johnson is making his first appearance in the postseason since 1997 with Baltimore, a span of 15 years, and he wants to make it count.

So as they move forward, with just 13 games left, Johnson must keep his team on the same level they have been all season. Though the Nationals have undoubtedly come far, the transformation isnt quite yet complete.

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Craig Kimbrel could help any NL East contender solve a division-wide problem

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Craig Kimbrel could help any NL East contender solve a division-wide problem

WASHINGTON --  Progressively, the lines of desperation and declined price will have to intersect.

At least it would seem. Craig Kimbrel’s demands reportedly are receding during his extended unemployment. The needs of contenders in the National League East’s rock fight continue to increase day by day. The sides should be on a path to merge. Right?

Take this week. 

Atlanta announced closer Arodys Vizcaino underwent right shoulder surgery. He’s out for the season. This the day after his would-be replacement, A.J. Minter, gave up three earned runs in ⅔ of an inning. Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos acknowledged he heard the chants from Braves fans Tuesday night demanding he sign Kimbrel.

Philadelphia placed reliever David Robertson on the 10-day injured list because of a flexor strain (initially labeled elbow soreness). It used Hector Neris to close Wednesday afternoon. He entered with two runners on base. Neris struck out the first batter, gave up a soft single, hit Wilson Ramos to load the bases, then struck Keon Broxton to end the game. That’s an interesting path to the end.

The Mets are living similar to the Nationals. They have a closer -- Edwin Diaz -- who can be relied on. It’s getting to him which has been such a challenge. Seth Lugo (5.06 ERA), Jeurys Familia (6.48) and Robert Gsellman (3.48) are often dispatched to drag New York to the ninth inning.

All five members of the National League East are in the bottom half of bullpen ERA entering play Friday. Philadelphia is 15th, Atlanta is 22nd, Miami is 24th, New York is 27th and Washington remains last by a wide margin -- almost a run-and-a-half worse than 29th-ranked Baltimore.

The Nationals’ bullpen toiling around with the have nots is endangering the team’s season as a whole, the $190 million payroll investment, the demands of the Lerner family to be better than first-round playoff exits. But, few paths are available to fix it without relinquishing a commodity -- whether human or financial.

Multiple reports claim Kimbrel’s asking price has come down in both years and cash. It may never reach a point of intersection with the Nationals if team ownership remains steadfast against surpassing the competitive balance tax threshold for the third consecutive year. Passing the $206 million roster mark would result in a 50 percent tax on every dollar spent from there on. 

Kimbrel would also cost the Nationals a compensation draft pick and international draft money because he declined a qualifying off from Boston. In all, four layers of cost exist around Kimbrel: salary, luxury tax, a draft pick and international money.

Financial stances can change when circumstances do. Though, the Nationals’ leverage with Kimbrel has evaporated. Owning the league’s worst bullpen is not a promising negotiation point for a team preferring to restrict this final portion of spending. Imagine their pitch: “We’re desperate for your services, but don’t want to spend much.” 

Whichever lagging bullpen signs Kimbrel still needs to subsist until he is ready. In Washington’s case, it continues to hunt for solutions ahead of a six-game road trip which starts Friday in Miami. Trevor Rosenthal’s lost early season, a better way to match up with left-handed hitters, help in the middle and a way to use closer Sean Doolittle less -- he’s on pace for 86 appearances -- are all on the docket. 

“Things haven’t gone the way we envisioned them coming out of camp,” Doolittle said this week. “Part of being a reliever -- you don’t get to this level without having taken some lumps; without having taken some punches. So guys, they might be in the jungle a little bit right now, but they know how to get through this. We’re working on it. Guys are talking to each other about things they can do, whether it’s pitch selection or mechanics or straight up execution to try to get things smoothed out. 

“We’re in it as a group. As a reliever, you can’t have an ego. You have to be ready for whatever the team needs, whatever the group needs and be ready to pick your teammate up.”

Doolittle’s words could have come from the leader of any NL East bullpen. Four contenders with the same problem populate the division. One big name looms. Day by day, the tussle for a fix and leverage goes on. 

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3 things to watch as the Nationals head to Miami for the first time in 2019

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3 things to watch as the Nationals head to Miami for the first time in 2019

The Washington Nationals wrapped up their series with the San Francisco Giants by winning the final two contests to take the series. Now their sights turn back toward their division and the Miami Marlins for a three-game tilt. Here are three things to watch for:

  1. Negotiations between Anthony Rendon and the Nationals opened back up this week in their six-game homestand. How will the Nats third baseman take the added noise? He was 3-for-11, both hits being singles, in the two games following. Before the Giants series started he was batting .400 with a 1.333 OPS.
  2. From the lead-off spot Adam Eaton has been doing damage to opposing pitchers in a short amount of time. While still early, he's at .319 on the year and getting base knocks in the opening innings. Five of his 22 hits are from the first at-bat of the game to go with three walks. Getting the young pitchers rattled early in Miami will allow them to jump out to early leads. 
  3. This year's Marlins are putting up the 2018 Baltimore Orioles numbers. Through 19 games they have four wins. Two in their past 15. They've scored the fewest runs (48) in MLB. They're bad and a couple of innings pitched against the Marlins might just be what the Nats bullpen needs.  

 The game broadcast will be at 7:10 PM ET on 106.7 the Fan and MASN2. 

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