Can Nats make it back to playoffs?

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Can Nats make it back to playoffs?

The mantra was repeated over and over and over by just about everyone in the Nationals organization: This is a ballclub that expects to be good for a long time and expects to make many trips to the postseason.

And that belief was repeated late Friday night in the aftermath of their soul-crushing National League Division Series loss to the Cardinals.

"We've come a long, long way in a fairly short period of time," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "Like I said all along, we like where we're at. We like the core players on this team. And we're going to be excited to ratchet it up in the spring."

The belief this team just entered a long-term window for success was among the guiding principles behind Stephen Strasburg's shutdown, with Rizzo insisting he wanted the right-hander around for future postseason runs. It's among the reasons nearly every roster move he's made has been to acquire players who could not only help this team win now but in the future as well.

And the Nationals should have every reason to believe they'll be back in the postseason again in 2013 and for several years to come. But they also should have every reason to understand there are no guarantees they'll find themselves in this situation again.

There are plenty of recent examples that seem to support the Nationals' chances of a long, sustained run of excellence, maybe none as comparable as the Phillies of the last half-decade.

After winning their first NL East title in 2007, they immediately were swept in the NLDS by a red-hot Rockies team that went on one of the greatest September/October rolls in history. How did the Phillies respond? They won the World Series in 2008, then returned to the Fall Classic in 2009, the NLCS in 2010 and the NLDS in 2011.

Another potential comparison: In 1995, the Yankees reached the postseason for the first time in 14 years, then lost to the Mariners in a Division Series Game 5 finish every bit as dramatic as what the Nationals and Cardinals just experienced. How did New York respond? By winning four World Series titles in the next five years: 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

More examples:

-- The Rangers reached the postseason for the first time in a decade in 2010, reached the World Series two straight years and were poised to win another AL West title this fall before a stunning collapse left them in the Wild Card Game.

-- The Rays came out of nowhere to qualify for the postseason in 2008 and went all the way to the World Series. They didn't get to experience October baseball in 2009 but returned to appear in the ALDS in both 2010 and 2011.

None of those franchises is a perfect comparison for the Nationals, but it does underscore the ability of well-constructed franchises to become regular postseason participants.

There are, on the other hand, examples of teams getting knocked out of the playoffs one year, believing they'd return in future years and failing to do so.

The Detroit Tigers, who went 19 years between playoff appearances, reached the World Series in 2006 and appeared to be built for a long and sustained run. They missed the postseason the next four years, not returning until 2011.

Then there's this sobering stat: Eight of the last 11 World Series winners didn't even qualify for the postseason the previous year. The overwhelming majority of franchises in the Wild Card Era have gone from watching baseball on TV one October to winning it all the next fall.

What does any of that mean for the 2013 Nationals? We won't know for some time.

Yes, they are as well-positioned as any franchise in the majors to make it back to the postseason and become October regulars.

But it's one thing to position yourselves well. It's quite another to actually get the job done.

Podcast: 'Baseball in the District' - Projecting Harper's USA super team

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Podcast: 'Baseball in the District' - Projecting Harper's USA super team

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

DOWNLOAD THE SHOW ON iTUNES

On this week's episode of 'Baseball in the District,' we examined the Nats' resurgence in the Midwest, Bryce Harper's surprising struggles and how the suspension of Dee Gordon could affect the NL East. We also projected what Harper's idea of a U.S.A. super team for the World Baseball Classic would like.

This week's episode also featured a very special guest: D.C. Washington, the national anthem extraordinnaire that has become a fan favorite around town. How did he get his name? How did he get his start singing anthems? Does he still get nervous before them? D.C. answered those questions and more in what turned out to be a very fun interview.

You can listen to the show on ESPN 980's website or download the show on iTunes.

Nats look to win fifth straight at Kansas City Royals

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Nats look to win fifth straight at Kansas City Royals

Nats (18-7) vs. Royals (13-12) at Kauffman Stadium

After yet another impressive victory on Monday for the Nationals, who have all of a sudden found their groove against baseball's best teams, Washington aims for their fifth straight win on Tuesday night at the Kansas City Royals.

Tanner Roark (2-2, 2.03) will make his sixth start of the season. He's coming off to consecutive outings of seven scoreless innings. This is the second time Roark has faced the Royals in his career. He went 4 2/3 innings without allowing a run at Kauffman Stadium back in August of 2013.

Pitching for Kansas City will be former Nats minor leaguer Chris Young (1-4, 6.12). He and Roark were teammates on the 2013 Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs.

First pitch: 8:15 p.m.
TV: MASN2
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Tanner Roark vs. Royals - Chris Young

NATS

CF Michael Taylor
3B Anthony Rendon
RF Bryce Harper
1B Ryan Zimmerman
2B Daniel Murphy
DH Jayson Werth
C Wilson Ramos
SS Danny Espinosa
LF Chris Heisey
(RHP Tanner Roark)

ROYALS

SS Alcides Escobar
CF Lorenzo Cain
1B Eric Hosmer
DH Kendrys Morales
LF Alex Gordon
C Salvador Perez
2B Omar Infante
3B Christian Colon
RF Jarrod Dyson
(RHP Chris Young)

Follow along with GameView here.

NL East: Phillies manager Mackanin believes his team's solid start is for real

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NL East: Phillies manager Mackanin believes his team's solid start is for real

Making sweeping judgments just one month into the Major League Baseball season is always a risky proposition. After all, we're talking about a small sample size — not even one-fifth of the 162-game slate — so it's hard to tell exactly which early-surprise teams will be out of the running down the road. 

But at 15-11, the Philadelphia Phillies so far are showing that they're not laying down just because they were widely expected to struggle in 2016.

Just ask the Nationals. The suddenly youthful Phillies' three-game sweep of the NL-East leaders last week felt like a head-scratcher for Nats fans, but it was a series that showed that Pete Mackanin's club might no longer stuck in the seemingly perpetual quagmire of a rebuild. 

"Every time we play somebody, I get the same question, but it's a good question because of course we [believe in ourselves]," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said via MLB.com. "We played the Mets, we played them well. We just got done sweeping the Nationals and that was one of those teams where we wanted to gauge how good we were."

Of course, the Phils had already been hard a work trying to retool the roster under the direction of new President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail. Once known for a core featuring stars like Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, Philly's now getting major contributions from the likes of Vince Velasquez, Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera and Aaron Nola — not exactly household names, but potential building blocks that are all under 25. 

So, can this last? Are the Phillies ahead of schedule?

Well, though they're winning, the Phillies certainly aren't exactly dominating any one area of the game. Their better-than-expected pitching staff owns a so-so 3.93 ERA, which is helping to keep this team afloat. The staff will need to keep this up, because the offense is currently ranked 29th in the majors in on-base percentage (.289) and 28th in OPS (.651), which explains why this team can have a winning record despite a minus-23 run differential. 

As the Phillies fight to show that they aren't a mirage, the one thing that does seem real for the team and its fans is that there might finally be light at the end of the tunnel. The rebuilding plan appears to be paying dividends early on, and perhaps sometime soon, this club could pose as a serious threat to the Nats and the rest of the NL East for the division crown. 

"The players should feel proud of what they've done so far this season, no matter what happens down the road," Mackanin said. "The biggest thing for me was how we reacted after going 0-4 at the beginning of the season. What have we gone, 15-6 since then? It's a good feeling."