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Rick Snider: For Nationals, winning isn't enough now

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The Washington Nationals are all in this year -- World Series or bust.

No more promises, no more building for the future as the team begins spring training. This is the season Washington fans have waited for since the team's 2005 arrival. It's payback time for loyalty in a town that often has little.

Fans hung in there during those awful 100-plus loss seasons of 2008 and 2009, when the "Natinals" promised better days after last-place finishes resulted in the ability to draft Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. They survived general manager Jim Bowden's ill-fated tenure to get to the Mike Rizzo's, who brought an overflow of talent.

It was all supposed to get better in a few years, promised president Stan Kasten, who's now running the Los Angeles Dodgers. Practically everyone is gone from the early days, which can be met only with a grand thank goodness.

Finally, finally, finally, the Nats are serious World Series contenders. Oh, they looked the part last season when they won 98 games and the NL East crown. But franchises often require a step before they reach the top. Losing the agonizing deciding game in the NL Division Series last season was it.

Fans are no longer content with winning. They want a title, a season to remember for a generation that waited a generation for the sport's return.

Manager Davey Johnson said he was returning for one more year to win the World Series. That's good enough for me.

This should be another fun season. There will be a new mascot rivalry between Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, which will make the fourth-inning race entertaining instead of painful when Teddy always lost. Losing Michael Morse's "Take on Me" walk-up song stinks, but something new will replace it. Bryan Harper should use Lady Gaga's "The Edge of Glory."

This could be the year Strasburg and Harper truly blossom. There's no innings limit this time for Strasburg, who may win 20 games and be available for the playoffs after he was shut down late last season to avoid arm troubles. Harper will get his first full season at age 20.

That's not the end of the young talent. Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler should have better seasons. Reliever Drew Storen, too. And minor league infielder Anthony Rendon finally may be promoted -- past Nats teams already may have done so.

Maybe the key to the year is how the Nats handle being the hunted instead of the feel-good story. The pressure is now on them. Atlanta will win 90-plus games, and Philadelphia could rebound into contention. The NL East is probably a three-team race, and the Nats are every opponent's team to beat.

That's not an easy mental task. Washington fans also boo poor play. The Nats won't find refuge home or away from the pressure.

But it's like Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III says, "No pressure, no diamonds."

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or email rsnider@washingtonexaminer.com.

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