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Thom Loverro: These Nationals are unfazed by great expectations

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VIERA, Fla.

Even in a cell phone-internet connected world, there is a lot of distance between Viera, Fla., where the Washington Nationals play spring training games, and Washington, D.C., where an enthusiastic Nationals fan base awaits the start of the 2013 season.

Players will ask, "What are they talking about back home?" in part because some of them, like Ryan Zimmerman and others who were here in the dark ages, are glad people are talking about the Nationals in February.

When manager Davey Johnson asked me, I told him it's all about expectations -- the debate over whether or not his Nationals team is writing checks it can't cash.

The primary instigator in this is $18 million-a-year outfielder Jayson Werth, who upon arriving in camp asked reporters if there had ever been a team on paper better than the 2013 Nationals.

You'll have to forgive Werth, since he was born in 1979, long after the 1927 Yankees or even the 1976 Big Red Machine reported to spring training (though he was 7 years old when Johnson's 1986 Mets spoke of championship intentions before the season began).

Then, when Werth's former teammate in Philadelphia, 100-year-old Jimmy Rollins, declared that if his Phillies team was healthy last year the Nationals would have finished in second place in the National League East, Werth responded by saying if his Nationals were healthy last year, they might have won 120 games instead of the majors-leading 98 they did win.

Now that would have been history, since the most wins by a baseball team in one season is 116, by the 1906 Chicago Cubs and 2001 Seattle Mariners.

Remember six years ago, when the debate was whether the Nationals would lose 120 games in a season?

Werth is no dummy, and not ignorant of baseball history. His grandfather was major leaguer Ducky Schofield, and his uncle was another former major leaguer, Dick Schofield. He comes from a baseball family.

His point, though, is a simple one -- this is a very talented roster, as good as any other in baseball. If you were looking for one hole, it might be the apparent lack of a proven situational left-handed reliever.

That's like saying Cindy Crawford has a mole.

"Good, I'm glad they're talking about expectations," said Johnson, who arguably wrote the biggest check for this team when he declared World Series or bust in his final year as manager. "Why wouldn't I want my players to have great expectations?

"We'll find out soon enough if we're as good as we think we are," he said.

Stephen Strasburg knows a thing or two about expectations. Here's what he said about the talk back home:

"As far as comments about everybody thinking we're a lot better than we are, well, we did a great job last year and that really set the tone for this year."

They won 98 games last year. That's a heck of a tone-setter.

Examiner

columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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