Washington Nationals Believe They’re Ready to Compete For a Playoff Spot This Season

February 28, 2012 – 6:00 am by Eric Schmoldt

It seems pretty apparent that the Washington Nationals are moving in a direction where they’re about to be real contenders. They’ve got Stephen Strasburg coming back, one of MLB’s top up-and-comers in outfield Bryce Harper, a loaded bullpen and a powerful lineup if guys like Ryan Zimmerman, Mike Morse and Jayson Werth can stay healthy and effective.

Zimmerman insured himself that he’s going to be around for the good times after helping the Nationals through the bad, signing a $100 million contract that keeps him in Washington through 2019. That doesn’t mean he thinks he’ll have to wait much longer to reap some benefits, saying he’ll be disappointed if the Nationals aren’t in the playoff hunt this year.

Ryan Zimmerman joined ESPN 980 in Washington D.C. with The Sports Fix to discuss signing the new long-term deal, if he signed it because it’s close to home for him, how close the team is to being in contention and why that might come as early as this season.

How much of striking the new deal was wanting to be around now that the Nationals seem to be turning things around?:

“Yeah, absolutely. I don’t think I’ve made it any secret that I love playing here and I love this city. I’ve gone through I’d guess you could call them the dark times or whatever you want to call the past four or five years. Now we’re getting ready to turn that corner and be competitive year-in and year-out and I couldn’t be more excited to get this done and to know that I’m going to be here for a long time.”

Was the fact that Washington is close to home for you play a role in the decision?:

“Yeah, I think that was a main part of the decision. Obviously the years and the money and all those other things come into it a little bit, but the reason I wanted to do this and get it done is so they can kind of get it off their plate, we can worry about baseball and they can go into this offseason, next offseason, whatever and just go after people and know where we stand. I’m so happy to work with them. This organization has always been great with me and to me and I’m just so excited that I know I’m going to be here for awhile and be a part of an organization that’s really going to have a chance to do some damage here.”

How close do you think this team is to making the playoffs?:

“I think they’re very close. With the pitching depth we have and with a couple guys, including myself, coming back and being healthy this year, I think we can definitely compete and that’s all you can ask for. If you’re in the mix in September, anything can happen. That’s every teams goal is to put yourself in position so late in the season you can go on a run or win a few games and go ahead and make the playoffs. Once you get in there, anything can happen.”

Everyone already seems to be talking about what this team will look like in 2013, but do you think it’ll be a shock to be in the race this year?:

“I don’t think it would shock me at all. I think everyone down here expects that this year. We have a team that, obviously, we need to stay healthy and we need to continue to get better throughout the year. We’re still a fairly young team that has to learn how to win those games that get you into the playoffs, but we’re a very confident team. I think our pitching rotation can match up with anyone, our bullpen has been the best part of our team the last couple years and that only got better this offseason. And then, like I said, with LaRoche being healthy, myself being healthy, Michael Morse coming off his monster year and Jayson Werth having a year here and not having to bounce around and hit leadoff and second and fifth because me and LaRoche were hurt, I think you’re going to see an unbelievable year out of Jayson. Things are kind of starting to come together here and we think if we’re not in the thick of things in September that would be a disappointment.”

Listen to Ryan Zimmerman on ESPN 980 in Washington D.C. here

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