News & Politics

Why the Nationals Won’t Win the World Series

Expectations are high—but Nats fans may be setting themselves up for disappointment.

Are Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg going to take the Nationals to the World Series? Photograph courtesy of Flickr user Scott Ableman.

First Washington Nationals outfielder
Bryce Harper appeared on the cover of
Sports Illustrated
on February 25. He was pictured standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, bat
over his shoulders, US Capitol in the background. 

This week pitching phenom
Stephen Strasburg stares from SI’s regional cover with the headline “Mr. October” and this subhead:
“The Nationals Will Break Through and Win the World Series.”

Expectations are high!

Fans are pumped!

Opening day on April 1 has been sold out for weeks.

But I fear the Nationals are doomed—headed into a season of mishaps, mediocrity, and
dashed expectations. Predictions too often foretell frustration. Worse, showing up
on the cover of
Sports Illustrated is often the kiss of death.

They call it the SI jinx.

Albert Pujols. Last year at this time, the slugger gazed menacingly from SI’s baseball preview
cover. The caption read: “The game’s greatest slugger starts over with the Angels.”
Pujols then failed to hit a home run for the first 28 games of the season. He went
on to hit 30 home runs, which is more than respectable, but his .285 batting average
was the lowest of his career.

In the middle of last season, the Dodgers were the hottest team in the majors.
Sports Illustrated put outfielder
Matt Kemp and part-owner
Magic Johnson on the May 23 cover. The Dodgers lost their next three series and 8 of the next 11
games. Kemp’s minor injury hampered him through the season, though he racked up impressive

To preview last year’s World Series,
Sports Illustrated featured Detroit Tigers slugger
Miguel Cabrera with the bold headline: “Fear His Awesomeness.” Cabrera went 3 for 13 at the plate
during the fall classic. The San Francisco Giants swept the Tigers in four games.

And these are examples of the SI jinx in baseball alone.

You can dismiss the
Sports Illustrated cover downer as the stuff of lore. To be sure, there are plenty of stars depicted
on the cover who went on to greater feats.

What worries me more about the run-up to the 2013 season is the drumbeat of predictions
that the Washington major league club is the best in baseball and headed to the World
Series. No doubt
Davey Johnson is an extraordinary manager. Without question the Nats have a young and talented
squad. They had the best record in baseball last season.

But that means nothing after
Stephen Strasburg hurls his first pitch on April Fool’s Day. Players get injured. Arms wear out. The
162 games can grind spring expectations into late-summer dust. Check the past few
seasons: You will find that teams that finish well in the fall prevail over the ones
that are expected to win it all and have the best records.

Meanwhile, we can enjoy watching a competitive team play in the nation’s capital,
and that’s a gift.

As for the SI cover and its raised expectations, I prefer the lower expectations for
my team, the Philadelphia Phillies. No one predicts them to have a decent season.
They have nowhere to go but up.