By Jeff Nations
You get the sense that something big is about to happen in the Washington, D.C., sports scene.
Here we are, just into the opening weeks of baseball season, and the Beltway has not one but two potential contenders. The Washington Nationals were a darling pick by many a pundit to bring home a World Series championship this season, and they've certainly looked the part -- at least, when they aren't playing the Braves. The Nats have star power, lots of it -- Strasburg, Harper, Gio, Zimmerman, Werth, to name a few.
Baltimore is out to prove that last year wasn't a fluke, and a freakish power surge from Chris Davis to start the season has the Orioles flying fairly high in the mighty American League East. If they can't win the division this year, blame the pitching -- the O's have loads of offense built around Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters and Davis. And like the Nats, Baltimore has a phenom of its own in promising third baseman Manny Machado.
There's more good news for D.C. area fans. The NFL draft is just over a week away, and for once I can't pinpoint a glaring area of need for either the reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens or even -- gasp! -- the Washington Redskins. Since the Ravens made sure the Charm City got their title in January, it's time for the Redskins to step up and do the same. Washington has no first-round pick, which is actually fine considering that for the first time in ages, the Redskins aren't frantically grasping for that mythical "franchise quarterback." They took care of that last year by jumping up in the draft to nab Robert Griffin III, nickname and all. And for good measure they even drafted a capable backup in Kirk Cousins. With Griffin's status still a bit murky following reconstructive knee surgery, the Redskins brought back one-time starter Rex Grossman to hold a clipboard. Then, just for kicks, they picked up former West Virginia star Pat White to do ... something.
Griffin's injury is a downer, but his eventual recovery negates any controversy -- RG3 is the starter, period, and Cousins is the backup. Such clarity and certainty is a rare situation indeed for the Redskins. With that shiny second-round pick (No. 51 overall) the Redskins can actually draft for best available, or even need, but not desperation.
So good news in baseball, football -- heck, even the Washington Wizards are less terrible than advertised this season. So the Mystics are still terrible and D.C. United isn't exactly off to an inspiring start ... these are still salad days for D.C.
Of course, I didn't even mention the Capitals. After last Saturday's third period against the Tampa Bay Lightning, would you blame me? The Caps very nearly blew a 5-1 lead -- strike that, they did blow it -- but recovered in overtime for a 6-5 victory when Mike Green came through with a power-play goal. I listened to the end of that game on the radio -- nothing like hockey radio announcers, let me tell you -- and shifted from the usual disgust to elation with the flick of a slap shot as Washington improbably recovered from that meltdown to make it seven straight wins.
The Capitals are riding high in this abbreviated season. Coach Adam Oates had Washington atop the Eastern Conference's Southeast Division at heading into Tuesday night's home tilt against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the enigmatic Alex Ovechkin is playing like the Ovi of old. After a slow start, Ovechkin leads the league in goals (27) and has shown the flexibility to play left or right wing with equal skill for the Caps this season.
The Caps still have to hold off the Winnipeg Jets to secure that division title and lock down the No. 3 seed in the East heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but this suddenly seems like an eminently attainable goal.
If Ovechkin keeps playing out of his mind, the Caps could once again be for real in the playoff picture. The East's top seed, the Pittsburgh Penguins, have serious injury issues headlined by Sidney Crosby's absence. The Pens have been winning without Crosby, but for how long? The Montreal Canadiens are seating the No. 2 spot right now, but have been trending in the wrong direction.
You can just feel a title heading D.C.'s way, and soon. A month ago, I would have said the Nats were the best bet to bring home a championship with the Redskins an outside contender. Now I'm focusing on the NHL -- the Caps are starting to make a believer out of me once more.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>