Thom Loverro: Drinking a Big Gulp of the Nationals' Kool-Aid

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If you are looking for the voice of reason when it comes to expectations for the Washington Nationals 2013 season, you're going to have to look someplace else.

This is the Kool-Aid line here, and I've got a Big Gulp cup to fill.

If there is a consensus among baseball observers about the season, it is that the Nationals, who open the season Monday at Nationals Park against the Miami Marlins, are the cream of the crop, and that something will have to go significantly wrong for them to not, at the very least, repeat as National League East division champions.

After that, as maddening as it may be, the baseball playoffs are a crapshoot.

But over the course of a 162-game season, the best teams usually win, and you have to work hard to come up with ways that the Nationals won't be among the best, if not the best, in baseball.

How could they not be when they are going to have three guys in their lineup with more than 100 RBI -- Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche?

How could they not when they'll have this year's Triple Crown candidate -- Harper, who will see your Mike Trout at the age of 20 last season and raise you?

What might I expect from Harper this season? How about 40 home runs and 50 doubles?

Like I said when I predicted "shock and awe" before Robert Griffin III stepped on the field for his first regular season NFL game -- why can't a young player who draws unprecedented accolades do something that we haven't seen before?

If Harper is Mickey Mantle incarnate, as was suggested before he could shave, why couldn't he turn in a Mantle-like season?

How could the Nationals not be the favorites when they have the Cy Young winner for 2013 -- Stephen Strasburg?

How could they not be when last year's Cy Young candidate -- 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez -- could be the fourth best pitcher in the rotation behind Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and the left-hander who could emerge as a top starter this season, Ross Detwiler?

How could they not be when veteran Dan Haren, with his 119 career wins, is your fifth starter? As journeyman Will Ohman said early in Nationals spring training when he realized Haren was the fifth starter in the rotation -- "Are you kidding me?"

How could the Nationals not be the favorites when they have the best manager I've seen -- Davey Johnson -- in the dugout? A manager with one of the best winning percentages all time, with talent up and down the bench, equals an overwhelming favorite, unless you are determined to be a contrarian and conjure up ways for the train to come off the tracks.

Players get hurt. They slump. They under-perform. All that happened to the Nationals last year, and they won 98 games.

Fill up the Big Gulp, baby.

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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Thom Loverro

Sports columnist
The Washington Examiner