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Rizzo: Nationals ready to take on National League

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Rizzo: Nationals ready to take on National League play video for Rizzo: Nationals ready to take on National League

VIERA, Fla. -- A night after President Barack Obama's State of the Union was delivered back in Washington, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo delivered his own version of such an address at the team's Spring Training camp in Florida.

For the first time in franchise history, the Nationals enter the season as prohibitive favorites in the National League East and perhaps to reach the World Series.

So, does it feel any different?

"Any different feel from '06? Yes, there's a big difference," Rizzo mused.

"There's a different feel. We started feeling it a couple years back -- there was a different atmosphere here. Our plan was to change the culture of the team, and I think we've succeeded with that with a lot of the players we've brought in. But, yeah, the feel here is we've got a good team, we're proud of ourselves and we're ready to take on the National League."

Truthfully, the state of the Nationals has probably never been better. Davey Johnson said this is the best defensive team he's ever managed, with as good of a starting rotation, bullpen and bench as he's ever had.

"It's one thing trying to climb the hill. It's another thing when you've got that 'X' on your back," Johnson said. "But it just makes it more fun."

So the new additions -- Dan Haren, Denard Span, Rafael Soriano and the imminent return of catcher Wilson Ramos -- coupled with the success the incumbent group had last season, places an unprecedented level of expectations on this team.

"The expectations have risen," Rizzo said. "The players see that. They understand where we're at, what type of team we have. This is a players' league. We feel that ownership and the front office and the coaching staff, we've done our part, but it's all about the players. The players drive this thing and it's their job to perform, and we feel if guys perform up to their capabilities, we'll have a good team."

Rizzo, admitting he's always looking to try to improve the ballclub, said any future "big-time trade or a big-time free-agent acquisition" would have to be something that was set off by any unforeseen circumstances at camp.

"But with that said, we're always looking to get ourselves better and deeper," Rizzo said. "If there's something to be done that makes sense for us, we'll certainly do it."

Rizzo also added that he's open-minded about any potential long-term deals that may arise -- shortstop Ian Desmond is the most viable candidate, while the team is still trying to avoid arbitration with Jordan Zimmermann before his Feb. 19 date -- though the front office doesn't feel compelled to rush to do so.

"We haven't started any of that up," Rizzo said. "But I'm open-minded with it, yes. ... With the few guys that we're thinking about extending, I don't think there's any deadline. There's not a vital deadline that has to be met."

Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak.‬ This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"event":["spring_training" ] }
{"event":["spring_training" ] }
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