As Nationals develop, so do rivalries

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Cheers and Jeers,Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

For almost seven years, the Nationals were not considered a true rival by anyone. The team was bad, its fan base new and its uniforms occasionally misspelled.

When the Mets or Phillies or Braves came to the District, they could count on thousands of their own fans to be there supporting them. And no one on the home team possessed the necessary combination of arrogance, talent and flamboyance to draw their ire. But thanks to a 98-win season and a National League East title, things are about to get a lot more interesting at Nationals Park in 2013 -- both on the field and in the stands.

We have seen some of that this spring. Before Washington won its first division championship, Philadelphia dominated with five NL East titles in a row. Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins even did a little trolling at the end of last season by saying his team would have won last year were it not for injuries.

Fans can debate that one. But no question the on-field rivalry between the two teams became more heated. Remember Cole Hamels drilling rookie Bryce Harper on purpose May 6? And Harper stealing home plate during that game in retaliation? On March 6 -- in a spring training game -- Roy Halladay drilled Nats slugger Tyler Moore. That came after Nats pitcher Stephen Strasburg hit Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley with a pitch. They haven't even played a real game yet.

The Braves can't be lost in all this. This offseason they added both Justin Upton and B.J. Upton -- longtime friendly rivals with Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman from when they all grew up in the Virginia Beach area. Atlanta, too, made the playoffs in 2012, and even without top starter Brandon Beachy, lost for the season after a May arm injury, it finished only four games out of first place.

To all of those wins, add in brash personalities like Jayson Werth -- the former Phillies outfielder who is booed mercilessly every time he returns to Citizens Bank Park -- Harper and even manager Davey Johnson, and the Nats have more than enough juice now to antagonize anyone into a rivalry.

- Brian McNally

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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