Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki congratulates outfielder Tyler Moore after both scored during the fifth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies (Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)
The following is the latest edition of WUSA 9 Sports Anchor Dave Owens' weekly column about a sports issue.
(WUSA9) -- Fifty or so games into the season and the Nationals still linger near level par. Defense has been woefully inconsistent, relief pitching has provided little relief, and a lineup that was supposed to mash has been surprisingly impotent in critical situations. Add all that up and you've got a conundrum that makes your eyebrows furl.
The Nationals were supposed to be better than this. They have admitted that themselves. Currently, they reside in Atlanta's rear view mirror and it's the Braves who look like the more well-rounded, confident team.
The reporter in me loves to listen to postgame comments because if you read between the lines enough, you can often get a sense of a team's room temperature. What I often hear from the Nationals clubhouse can be summed up in a few phrases: There's a long way to go; no panic here; we're a very confident group. All things you would expect professional athletes to say.
Analyzing what ills the Nationals have between the lines is relatively easy. The aforementioned problems with relief pitching, situational hitting and defense leap out like a 3-D movie. What's more difficult to discern is what's going on between the ears of these guys, and the collective team.
There's a stark difference between success when no one expects it and winning when all eyes are on you. How players approach the latter often determines how high they fly, so to speak. Washington's 98 wins a year ago vaulted them from also-ran to national spotlight, and it also set the bar high for this season.
When that happens, opponents look at you differently and you have to play at a higher level to win consistently. Thus far, the Nats haven't done that.
A long standing sports lesson seems to be manifesting itself once again. Starting out on top of the mountain and staying there requires a different sense of urgency than initially climbing the mountain and getting to the top.
I'm not sure Nationals players get that yet. During spring training I repeatedly asked veterans like Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmermann whether they felt the team had the right temperament to deal with the weight of the upcoming season. Each replied "yes." Do they?
To date, I'd say they don't. I often get the impression they think they can flip the switch, turn it on, and all will be right in Nats Town. That's a risky way of thinking if you ask me.
In truth, athletes don't always want what comes with the kind of season the Nats produced in 2012. It puts the bullseye on their backs. Flourishing in the face of lofty expectations requires embracing them. The Yankees, Lebron, Kobe, Sidney Crosby (apologies to Caps fans), Alabama football are just few examples of individuals or teams that have mastered it at one point or another. A-type sports personalities to a certain degree. It's a pressure-packed cauldron where championships, not division titles, are celebrated.
Not everyone wants to live in that rarefied air however. The burden is too heavy. Instead, they'd rather put in hard work, have fun doing it and see what happens. Nothing wrong with that type of thinking, it's just a different mentality.
What kind of players do the Nats have in their clubhouse? It's unfair for me to suggest that I know but I don't have to. Time will tell. Eventually, 50 games will turn into 100, into 150 and finally 162. Then we will know definitively the answer to that question.