Nationals GM still expects to win NL East

Chris Lingebach
May 15, 2019 - 4:04 pm

The Nationals are eight games back in the NL East and have the fourth-worst record in the Major leagues after 41 games.

Still, GM Mike Rizzo remains steadfast that his ball club will climb back, win the division and go on a deep postseason run.

"In Washington, D.C., we've built something here that expectations are high," Rizzo told The Sports Junkies during his weekly 106.7 The Fan appearance, presented by Burke & Herbert Bank.

"I'm not settling on lowering my expectations," he said. "My expectations are still: Win this division, the National League East, which is a tough division. It's gonna be nip-and-tuck the whole way. And go deep in the playoffs. And I think we have the roster, when healthy, to do so, and I think that we have the personnel to be a really competitive team in the National League.

"That's my expectations. That's my thought process. And obviously we have to play a lot better baseball than we are right now to achieve that."

"I'm not going to insult the intelligence of everybody listening, the fanbase and everybody else, and say, 'Hey, things are rosy and things are great right now,'" Rizzo said. "No, they're not. They're terrible. It's the worst we've played probably since coming off an expansion-type of a roster."

Beyond just playing better baseball, Rizzo says the Nats need to "get back to learning how to win."

"We walk in that ballpark every day, I always say – you guys heard me say it a million times – we put a guy on the mound that gives us a chance to win each and every day," he said. "Over the last seven years, we're one of three teams that have had a .500 or better record. That's hard to believe, but that's true.

"We're one of three teams in the last seven years that have been .500 or better. We average 91 or 92 wins over the last seven seasons. We've won division titles. We expect to win each and every day when we walk in that ballpark. I certainly do. I know the staff does and I know the players in the clubhouse do. We've got to get back to that attitude and that mindset, because when you go in here, you need to expect to win in the big leagues."

"You can't play not to lose," he continued. "You can't play tight. You can't play tentative. This is the big leagues. And I don't care if you're a utility player playing every day, we throw you into roles that you're not comfortable with – double plays gotta be double plays, cut-off men gotta be hit, baserunning's gotta be clean, you've got to put together good at-bats.

"Until you do that and until you get that mindset that you expect to win each and every day, you're going to continue to struggle, no matter who is on the roster. Now it helps to have your good players, your All-Star caliber players in the lineup, because that's how we built this team and we're slowly getting that back into fruition."

Rizzo continued on his self-assessment warpath, pointing out his club has "made a lot of mistakes on the bases" while failing to be "offensive efficient" enough. They need to get back into the mindset of "expecting to win each and every game," he says, and "playing with the intelligence and the attitude that we're a championship caliber organization."

"We certainly are in a situation where there's urgency to win games," Rizzo continued. "We do have 122 games left, but we're eight games out, so I'm certainly not going to say that it's early, because it's not early. We've got to start playing better. But when I look at the teams we're chasing in the Phillies and the Braves and the Mets, we're certainly capable of playing with them and beating them."

As Rizzo continued ratting off stats top of mind, you can get a sense of greatly the Nationals have underperformed by their own standards.

"Over the last seven years, we're 82-59 against the Phillies and 84-54 against the Mets, so we're certainly capable of beating those guys," he said. "We've been beating them for seven years. We hope to continue to beat them when we get a lot of our guys back. We just have to play with that mindset and that attitude that we're the better team and we're expected to win." 

Beleaguered veteran reliever Trevor Rosenthal has begun his reclamation project, pitching two scoreless innings across two outings at Double-A Harrisburg.

"He threw an inning last night," Rizzo said. "His velocity was up. He got through his inning and he walked two, I think struck out two and didn't give up a run. He's starting to improve his mechanics. That's his second outing there. We've got a plan in place for him to go multiple innings and then some back-to-backs, and see if we can get him on track to help us in the big leagues soon."

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