Revisiting a couple of criticized spring predictions

Before the start of the 2012 season, a late-August series between the Nationals and Phillies at Citizens Bank Park might have sounded like a highly dramatic divisional clash.

Instead, this upcoming three-game series in the City of Brotherly Love will pit a first-place team against one which sits 19 1/2 games back in the National League East.

Given the Phillies’ issues this season and the tear the Nats have been on, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a good amount of Curly Ws in the stands over the next three days.

The Nats head into Philly having won two straight series against division opponents. They’ll look to keep the NL East mojo going against a Phillies squad which has started playing slightly better ball of late, winning 12 of their 22 games this month.

Many people in the Philadelphia area might have rolled their eyes this spring when Nats manager Davey Johnson made a couple semi-controversial statements which got some heavy attention.

One of those statements directly involved the Phillies. Johnson said that he would take his starting staff over any in the league and that he felt his top three starters - Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann - match up evenly, in terms of stuff, with the Phillies’ top three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.

Some called Johnson an idiot. Others rolled their eyes.

For what it’s worth, here’s how the 2012 numbers match up as of today:

Strasburg, Gonzalez and Zimmerman have combined to go 40-18 with a 2.87 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP and a 3.5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 75 starts and 454 1/3 innings.

Halladay, Lee and Hamels have posted a combined record of 23-20 with a 3.51 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP and a 4.69-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 65 starts and 450 1/3 innings.

Take what you want out of those stats, but it’d be hard for anyone to realistically argue against Johnson’s point that his top three is in the discussion with Halladay, Lee and Hamels for best trio in the game.

johnson happy sidebar.jpgJohnson also caused a bit of a fuss back in spring when he went out on a limb by saying that the Nationals’ brass could fire him if the Nats didn’t make the playoffs this season.

Again, some people might have laughed off Johnson’s comments, saying it was merely a case of a veteran manager trying to light a spark under his team or show the guys in the clubhouse that he has faith in them.

Fast forward to Aug. 24 and the Nationals have now held at least a share of the NL East lead after 114 of their 124 games played this season. They currently have the best record in baseball and barring a major collapse, will allow Washington to host a postseason game for the first time since 1933.

Two controversial statements by a man who believed in his ballclub. Two statements which were considered silly by many in the baseball world.

Two statements which show, yet again, why Davey Johnson is smarter than the rest of us.

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