Posted April 4, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Keeler: Nats may be ready

Tommy Keeler

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

Usually, I'm very excited for baseball's Opening Day. I'm not as much of a die-hard baseball fan as many others are, but I still enjoy the first day of the season.

I usually can't wait to see how my beloved New York Yankees start their season. I'm almost always full of hope that they will add yet another championship to the long, long list of ones they already have.

This year things are very different.

Instead of watching the Yankees on opening day, I found myself watching and rooting for the Washington Nationals.

I did tape the Yankees game, but it was quickly deleted when I saw how badly they lost to the Boston Red Sox.

Let's face it -- the Yankees are old and may be lucky to be at .500 by the time the season ends.

Anyone that knows me knows I don't root for losers -- it's just not acceptable. Since the Yankees could be in for a down year, I've decided to become a more die-hard Washington Nationals fan.

I've liked the Nationals since they moved to Washington D.C., eight years ago. They quickly became my favorite National League team, and I was definitely rooting for them as they had success last year.

Then the usual happened, as I began to grow really sick of hearing about them everywhere I turned. It was like they were everywhere and many of their fans seemed a little too full of themselves -- talking about winning the World Series in May. That's something only Yankee fans should be allowed to do.

By the end of the season, I was happy as they fell apart against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Divisional Series.

However, it's a new season. I think the Nationals and their fans are ready for the big time.
For what little it's worth they're my pick to win it all this year, not that I ever get that right.
The Nationals have a lot back from last year, and they picked up some solid offseason additions. To me winning it all always starts with the bullpen. Starters can't go the whole way in the postseason, middle relief and closers are vital and the Nationals should be much-improved in that department.

They signed Rafael Soriano, who closed games for the Yankees last year after Mariano Rivera went down with his injury. They have guys like Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, who had 32 saves for the Nationals last year, to help set things up for Soriano.

Of course, the Nationals starting pitching looks pretty solid as well. There's not many teams that have a 1-2 punch like Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez.

The pair helped pitch the Nationals to back-to-back shutouts this week, and I think it's a sign of things to come. There's no inning-limit on Strasburg and I think the Nationals' pitching will be as strong as any in the majors. Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler are decent as No. 3 and 4 starters.

The Nationals also plenty of firepower on offense, led by Bryce Harper. I was as excited as I've ever been on Opening Day as I watched Harper hit two home runs in their win over Miami.

Harper is only 20, and it's amazing to think what he's going to do over the next few years and for the rest of his career, for that matter. The Nationals also picked up Denard Span, a solid veteran outfielder. With the return of catcher Wilson Ramos from injury and players such as Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond, I think the Nationals' offense will be fine.

The Nationals also have a good manager in Davey Johnson, who may be retiring after the season. That should give the Nationals even more motivation.

I think it will be an exciting year for the Nationals and their fans, myself included. I think the team is a year older, and will be able to handle any pressure that comes with having the best record heading into the playoffs.

It's been quite a while since D.C. has had a champion in one of the main sports, but I think the city's luck is finally about to change. And for once, I'll actually be celebrating with them.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com

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