Rick Snider: Nationals fans, enjoy the ride

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Washington Nationals fans only want to talk about October.

Will the team win the World Series? Can Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper take home the NL Cy Young and MVP awards respectively? Will Davey Johnson enter retirement donning another crown?

Calm down -- this is like kids saying what they want for Christmas on the first crisp fall morning. The postseason is more than six months away.

Enjoy the journey. A summer of winning games. While Washington bakes, the sound of the radio calling the game will make it all so much more bearable.

It's all about enjoying the ride, knowing last year's playoff collapse merely sets up an encore that should see the Nats reach the World Series, given good health. This time, Strasburg shouldn't be resting come late September. This time, Harper isn't befuddled in the playoffs.

It all comes together beginning Monday vs. the Florida Marlins. No more wishing for baseball's return for over a generation. No more knowing it's going to be a long, crummy season, like 2005 through 2011.

After winning 98 games last year, though, Nats fans gained a big case of fall fever over spring training. They see virtually no holes. Even the bullpen is stronger after falling one strike short of reaching the NLCS last fall.

And why shouldn't expectations rise? Harper's 22 homers and .270 average as a rookie reminded older fans of Mickey Mantle. He was the catalyst of rallies with a spot of broken bats and immaturity that can only improve. Harper can partner with Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and Wizards guard John Wall to give the city its biggest chance of sports success since Vince Lombardi, Ted Williams and Lefty Driesell arrived together in 1969.

No more babying Strasburg over his amount of innings so his surgically-repaired arm can heal. Just hand him the ball and watch it turn into triple-digit flames. Why, Strasburg might actually match his 21 career wins this season alone.

But equally exciting is watching Ross Detwiler blow batters away. He won 10 games last season and might have been the team's best pitcher in the final weeks.

The days of cheap tickets are over for the Nats once the weather warms. They'll be must-see for Washington fans even past the opening of Redskins training camp when RGIII status updates crawl across TV screens like some storm watch. Besides, the Redskins are leaving town to train in toasty Richmond.

This isn't a walkover, though. Washington will be pressed by Atlanta and maybe Philadelphia in the NL East. Fans will want an immediate 10-game cushion and that's not happening.

It will be 162 games of grinding, slowly emerging in a crowded division of contenders. But as long as Washington remains on top, it's going to be a fun summer.

World Series or bust? Worry about that later.

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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