A Sports Commentary:
We're done with the rhetoric surrounding the Washington Nationals. We don't want to hear any more talk about building for the future as the team starts spring training. This is the season Nationals fans have been waiting for since the team moved here from Montreal in 2005. It's time for the supporters to get a return on their emotional investment.
Fans stuck with the team during those terrible 100-plus loss seasons of 2008 and 2009, when the organization promised better days after last-place finishes positioned them to draft Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. They fought through general manager Jim Bowden's ill-fated tenure to get to the Mike Rizzo's, who brought an abundance of talent.
Everything was going to be better in a few years, promised President Stan Kasten, who now runs the Los Angeles Dodgers. It's a good thing that nearly everyone from the early years is gone.
At last, the Nationals are serious World Series contenders. They certainly appeared to be last season when they tallied 98 victories and captured the NL East crown. But some teams require a step before they make it to the top. A bitter loss in last season's deciding game in the NL Division Series was that step.
Fans will no longer be satisfied with winning. They want a championship, a season to remember for a generation that patiently waited a generation for baseball to return to the District.
Manager Davey Johnson said he was coming back for one more season to win the World Series. The fan base is very happy to hear that.
This could be the year Harper and Strasburg reach their full potential. At age 20, Harper will get his first full season. This season, there's no innings limit for Strasburg, who may win 20 games and be available for the postseason after he was shut down late last season to avoid arm problems. And, the Nationals have even more young talent. Ross Detwiler, Jordan Zimmermann, and reliever Drew Storen should be improved.
Perhaps the key to the season is how the Nationals respond to being the hunted as opposed to being the hunter. The spotlight is on them. Atlanta will probably win 90-plus games, and Philadelphia could bounce back into contention. In all likelihood, the NL East will be a three-team race, and every opponent will bring their A-game against the Nationals.
So, it should be a fun season, but it won't be easy. Once again, Nationals' fans will provide great support, but they're expecting a World Series title in return.