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For some Nats, the road has been much longer

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For some Nats, the road has been much longer

When the Washington Nationals begin their five game playoff series this weekend, it will mark the first postseason game for almost every player on the teams young roster. Most have never played meaningful games in October, but for a choice few who have seen the franchise at its lowest points the dream perhaps seemed even further away.

Ryan Zimmerman was the franchises first draft pick when they moved to Washington, D.C. and through years of losing twice signed contract extensions to stay with the club. He opted to stay loyal at times he could have jumped ship and instead trusted the vision and future of the team around him.

The odds were in my favor that I was going to win here at some point. I love this town. They gave me a chance, took a chance on me at a young age, and put me right in the middle of it, he said.

For the team to take a chance on me like that, I felt obligated. I thought I should stay here and give them what they gave me, which is my career.

Zimmerman debuted in 2005 and in just eight seasons has been on five different teams that lost 89 games or more. Along the way he has seen a lot of the guys around him come and go. He is still the face of the franchise, but now that franchise boasts the best pitching staff in baseball and a lineup as young and as talented as any.

Ryan Zimmerman is the leader. He is the captain of this organization, Gio Gonzalez said. He is the face of this organization, he is a franchise guy. He has seen the down and now he is definitely seeing the upside of it.

Jordan Zimmermann joined the organization as a second round draft pick in 2007 and made the major league team in 2009. In his first year the team lost 103 games, but since has improved by at least ten wins in three consecutive seasons. In a short period of time he has seen the team bottom out as the worst team in baseball and then rise to potentially its best.

We came a long way. When I first got drafted and came up here, we were losing ballgames it seemed like every night, he said.

You gotta give a lot of credit to Rizzo for putting some guys together and then having some good drafts.

For part of the turnaround, Zimmermann had to watch from the dugout while he underwent a year-long recovery from Tommy John surgery. He has been pivotal in the teams transformation and is excited to see where it can be taken from here.

Now were here and were that much closer, he said.

John Lannan was away from the team for much of this season after once being its de facto ace and making two Opening Day starts in 2008 and 2009. He joined them late this year after spending much of the season in Triple-A Syracuse and is now just appreciative he is here to stay.

Right now, its all worth it. Being down in Syracuse and then being here right now, its all worth it, he said.

There was a time earlier on in the season where I didnt know what was going to happen, but now it all makes sense. This is why everything happened.

Lannan was on two Nats teams that lost more than 100 games - 102 in 2008 and 103 in 2009 - and has seen the fanbase grow with the teams success.

Just to be part of this team now and to be a part of the teams that really struggled, we all wanted it. But now to celebrate it and really enjoy it is really awesome, he said.

These fans deserve it, these guys deserve it, its been a long road but we knew this time was going to come. It is special.

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Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

The Nationals played their first game of spring training today against the Mets. They won, but that's not nearly the biggest story of the day. It was Bryce Harper's first at-bat that stole the show. 

On just the second pitch he saw of spring training, from lefty Sean Gilmartin, Harper mashed a ginormous home run to right center field. MLB.com shared video of the bomb. 

According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Harper smacked the ball at least 400 feet. In his second at-bat, he hit a line-drive single on the first pitch. 

Let's just say it was an exciting start to the year for Harper, who won the 2015 NL MVP only to endure a let-down last season. As Castillo points out, the slugger hit .226 against left-handed pitchers in 2016. 

Harper enters spring training at 230 pounds, up 15 pounds of muscle from last year. 

“I just felt going into the offseason you want to get as strong as you can, try to maintain your weight the best you can and just do everything the right way,” he told the Post. 

MORE NATIONALS: Baker thinks DC sports teams can win a championship this year

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Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals manager Dusty Baker is back for a second year and feeling optimistic for his Washington team. Spring training has begun in Florida and it has Baker thinking about how the Nats can create some excitement for local sports fans.

In an interview with American University’s WAMU radio station, Baker said D.C. wants to be a "city of champions.” Furthermore, he thinks it can be pulled off before the year ends.

"I came here to win a championship and you know I would love nothing more than to bring one to Washington. Washington, I didn’t know it before I got there, but it’s had a tough time getting out of the first round in a number of sports."

He projected the Nationals to bring home the next championship for the District, but he knows they have competition of late. 

"Washington Wizards are looking pretty good. I’m pulling for them first because their season ends before ours, so I’ve been really following them. The Capitals have a good thing going. I started watching the Redskins more this year.

"You know once it gets contagious in a city and you get a positive attitude throughout the city, then it transfers to the sports teams. So we want to be known as a city of champions, before the end of the year hopefully."

Baker has a reputation for bringing out the best in his teams, especially managing star players. He managed the San Francisco Giants for ten seasons before moving on to the Chicago Cubs, a team he managed for four seasons.

He's never won a World Series, but has taken a team to Game 7. He also finished third for the 2016 National League Manager of the Year award.

So, what are Baker’s steps for the Nationals to get that ultimate prize? A simple formula, really.

"I think that we’ve got to stay healthy, number one. We’re trying to fill the holes that we need to fill, and we’ve got to play," he said. "You know last year we were very close, we were one hit away or one play away or one pitch away from going to the next round against the Cubs."

While he says he came to win Washington a championship, he's also enjoying his time in the city. 

"I love D.C. Before that, San Francisco was my favorite town; that’s my home. But I tell you, D.C. is definitely in the running," he said. "I thought San Francisco had the best seafood, but man, you guys have the best seafood I think in the world."

Thanks, Dusty!

The Nationals play their first spring training game against the New York mets on Saturday.

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