VIERA Fla. -- Nationals pitchers and catchers reported to Space Coast Stadium on Wednesday and to a different atmosphere than in years past. This season, they are favored to win their second National League East title.
Can the Nationals go far in the postseason? Maybe manager Davey Johnson said it best: "World Series or bust." The players don't feel any added pressure by Johnson's bold statement.
"The expectations are something we are all looking forward to," reliever Craig Stammen said. "And I think we are all very positive about how last season went. Hopefully, we can continue that into this season. We're going for the World Series. That's what every team should go for, and we are excited for that challenge."
Johnson's statement describes the goals of a Nationals team that boasts one of the best starting rotations in baseball, led by right-hander Stephen Strasburg.
The bullpen is expected to be just as good, after signing Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $28 million contract, and the Nationals have a balanced offense, after trading for Denard Span and re-signing Adam LaRoche.
"It looks good on paper right now," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "We have to come out and play good baseball. We understand the division changed a little bit with the Upton brothers going to [the Braves] and Ben Revere and Delmon Young going to the Phillies. By no means is this going to be a walk in the park. Just like last year, we are kind of prepared for the duration. This year will be the same."
After losing to the Cardinals in the National League Division Series, outfielder Roger Bernadina said the Nationals have unfinished business.
"We cannot look back; we have to move forward," Bernadina said. "But the way the team looks -- it looks good on paper, but we have to do it on the field."
When Tyler Clippard joined the Nationals in 2008, he found himself on one of the worst teams in baseball. Now, he is amazed by how far the team has come, in a turnaround that he began to notice in 2011.
"Looking back on it, it amazing to see the strides that were taken," Clippard said. "It probably started in the middle of the 2010 season and definitely in '11. You could probably see the transition happening. I'm just happy to be a part of that. I think a lot of guys have come and gone. I just want to see this thing through. I'm very excited to be on the other side of things now."
Stammen was a struggling starting pitcher when the Nationals struggled in 2009 and '10. But he worked hard and is now an integral part of the team.
"It had been really fun to kind of go along for the journey," Stammen said. "You see a lot of organizations try really hard to do what we have done, but for some reason, it doesn't work out. People get hurt, high Draft picks don't work out. The guys that we drafted, the guys that we signed as free agents pretty much worked out.
"It's kind of neat that we have been able to stay together as one unit and grow as a team. That's what makes us close and as good as what we are."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less