VIERA, Fla. - The Washington Nationals finished 17 games ahead of the Mets in the National League East last season and dominated their division rivals to the tune of 15 wins in 19 meetings.
Then the Nationals signed American League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer to a $210-million contract to join their already loaded rotation.
Former big-league outfielder Eric Byrnes, now an MLB Network analyst, recently said of the Nationals: "It will be a complete, colossal failure if they do not win the World Series this year."
So the Mets should just give up now, right?
Well, there's one team that doesn't think the Nationals are a lock to win the World Series.
"World Series or bust, that's one of the hardest things to label a team with," lefthander Gio Gonzalez said Monday at Space Coast Stadium. "To me, it's almost borderline disrespectful for the fact that you can't do that to a team. Just let them have fun. Just play the game.
"For me, that World Series or bust, you can throw that out the window already. We don't want to hear that in here. It's pointless to even be doing that again and again and again. It's not football. We have 162 games and postseason."
The first three of the Nationals' 162 games will come against the Mets, beginning on April 6 in Washington.
"The Mets are going to be good," righthander Jordan Zimmermann said. "They do have the young pitching and [Matt] Harvey's coming back. The young pitchers they have, they all have good stuff and throw really, really hard. So they're going to be good and we have to play our best to beat them. Everyone's got us in first in the division, but we've still got to go out and play the games."
Said Gonzalez: "Don't take anything away from them. They've got great arms, they've got great position players, great offense. I see a great group of guys. A young, talented team. That rotation is going to be very impressive with Harvey coming back. They're still putting pieces together. It just shows you the Mets are in it, too. They want to go out there and compete. Like I said, you can't just say, 'We've got a great team and that's it. We're in the World Series.' "
There's a good chance that Gonzalez -- a 21-game winner in 2012 -- will not start in the season-opening series.
That's because the Nationals also have Scherzer, Zimmermann, former phenom Stephen Strasburg and 16-game winner Doug Fister in their rotation. Plus 15-game winner Tanner Roark on the outside looking in.
"It's exciting," said Scherzer, who signed his megadeal on Jan. 22. "It wasn't until the middle of January that we got the call that they were interested. Obviously, a team of this caliber, I was all ears.
"Free agency, when you've got a chance to win, that's what it's about. To potentially win the whole thing . . . I felt very confident that if this team stays healthy and plays to their capabilities, we have a chance to get to the playoffs and go deep in the playoffs."
Scherzer declined to comment on the Mets and their potentially loaded rotation, saying, "I've seen them, but I haven't gotten to see them up close and personal to really know them."
Soon he will.