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Thom Loverro: Get used to the Nationals making the playoffs

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The magic number for the Washington Nationals heading into their home series against the Los Angeles Dodgers is just three games to clinch a playoff spot and 11 to win the National League East.

But if you're into magic numbers, you might want to start the count for 2013, 2014 and beyond.

Yes, the Nationals are annually going to be traveling down this road to playoff baseball.

This surely violates all sorts of sports scripture because nobody is promised tomorrow, which is part of the root of the debate on the Stephen Strasburg shutdown.

But if tomorrow comes, the Nationals are going to be making more than one trip to the rodeo. The notion that Strasburg, who was pitching in his first full season since Tommy John surgery, should put his future at risk because this moment may never pass this way again is idiotic.

The Nationals are good, and they're going to be better next year -- and perhaps the year after that and beyond.

Alex Meyer, a first-round pick for the Nationals in 2011, is a 6-foot-9 right-hander who went 10-6 with a 2.86 ERA, 139 strikeouts and 45 walks in 129 innings pitched with Hagerstown and Potomac. One NL executive in player development said Meyer "is as good as any pitcher the Nationals have now not named Strasburg."

He'll be pitching his way into the rotation, perhaps as early as next year.

Infielder Anthony Rendon, the Nationals' other 2011 first-rounder, was coming back from a broken ankle and spent just 22 games in the Gulf Coast League, New York-Pennsylvania League and the Carolina League before finishing the season with Double-A Harrisburg.

He'll be hitting his way into an already crowded lineup sometime next season.

And Tyler Moore is already part of manager Davey Johnson's bench. The Nationals' power-hitting rookie first baseman/outfielder has nine home runs and 26 RBIs in 143 at-bats as a part-time player. Overall, in the past three seasons Moore has hit 80 home runs and counting in the minors and major leagues.

Opposing pitchers must be wondering how Moore is not in the lineup every day.

Some may point to the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s and early 2000s as an example of missed chances, and the reason why the Nationals should throw Strasburg out there and take the risk.

The Braves, though, actually make the opposite case with 14 trips to the postseason in a 15-year span. The fact that they have one World Series to show for it is a tribute to the randomness of playoff baseball and nothing else -- a Jack Morris superhuman pitching effort in 1991, a Jim Leyritz game-winning home run in 1996.

You just want to get to the postseason and then play the hand you're dealt. The Nationals will have a seat at the table for a while.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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