The Washington Nationals are coming off of their most successful season since arriving from Montreal in 2005. Washington won its first NL East crown and led the MLB in victories with 98. For the first time in franchise history, expectations will be high going into spring training. The Nationals are young, talented and expected to be a contender for the next few years.
With all of the excitement surrounding their one year success, there is no guarantee that Washington will win a pennant or World Series in 2013 or any other year. Potential and expectations are not always fulfilled. The great thing about sports is that champions must prove themselves on the field year in and year out. Until the Nationals win a pennant and World Series, the harsh reality is that they are just another ball club.
The Braves are perennial NL East contenders. After going through a transitional period of restocking their roster, Atlanta has gotten younger and stronger. The Braves hope that they have a future ace in pitcher Kris Medlin and potential superstars in outfielder Jayson Heyward and first baseman Freddie Freeman. Atlanta also signed free agent outfielder B.J. Upton to a five year contract.
After five years of ruling the East, Philadelphia had a down year in 2012 finishing 81-81. Though they are getting up in age, shortstop Jimmy Rollins, second baseman Chase Utley and left handed pitcher Cole Hamels still have some good baseball left in them.
Outside of the division, Washington has to contend with the last two world champions in the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals. The Giants have won two of the last three World Series and do not look to be fading any time soon. St. Louis won the World Series in 2011 and defeated the Nationals in a hard fought NL Divisional Series last year. The Cardinals and Giants were once where Washington is now. Both know that the Nationals are trying to beat them and will do everything in their power to stay on top.
The Cincinnati Reds have built a solid team that has made two post season appearances in the last three years. Cincinnati finished with 97 wins last season and won the NL Central. They were defeated in the NLDS by the Giants. The Reds are led by pitcher Johnny Cueto and first baseman Joey Votto. Like Washington, Cincinnati is expected to contend for a while.
Lurking just below all of these contenders is the Los Angeles Dodgers. Though they had a disappointing 2012 season, Los Angeles is now under new ownership led by point man Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson. The Dodgers hope to land a huge TV deal which would allow them to sign high priced free agents. If they do, it could change the whole landscape of the NL.
The Nationals have put themselves in good position to contend for a championship. They have built a solid ball club that can compete with anyone. But Washington has its work cut out for them. There are some hurdles which stand in their way.
The fact that the Nationals have a team good enough to win it all by no means guarantees that they will. Washington will have to earn it on the field just like everyone else.