With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Nationals squad each day this week. Today's topic: The perfect season.
WASHINGTON -- When the Cubs won the World Series this past season, the Nationals franchise became the unfortunate owners of the longest pennant drought in Major League Baseball. The Montreal Expos joined MLB in 1969, and neither they nor the Nats have reached the Fall Classic since. The Nationals moved to Washington in 2005, and although they have conquered the National League East three times, they have been unsuccessful in advancing past the NL Division Series.
A perfect season for the Nationals ends with them vanquishing those past disappointments and bringing home the first World Series championship to D.C. since the Washington Senators won it all in 1924.
It begins with healthy starting pitching, which has been the backbone of their success the past five seasons. Max Scherzer is capable of another of a Cy Young Award-worthy season. Paired alongside a healthy Stephen Strasburg down the stretch and into the postseason, the Nats could have perhaps the best duo in the NL. Tanner Roark could prove his breakout 2016 was no fluke, Joe Ross needs to stay healthy and Gio Gonzalez must bounce back from a sub-par season to give Washington one of the strongest rotations in baseball.
The Nationals are also counting on a few improved performances from some of their hitters, especially Bryce Harper. If he can return to his Most Valuable Player form from 2015, Harper, Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy should be a dangerous trio in the middle of the lineup. And they should have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs with Trea Turner and Adam Eaton on base. Ryan Zimmerman and Derek Norris are both coming off the worst seasons of their career, but Washington believes both players are due for a rebound and should be able to contribute.
The Nationals do not have an experienced closer on their roster. If they cannot acquire one, they would like to develop one in-house. Perhaps Blake Treinen wins the battle in Spring Training and emerges as an effective closer for years to come. Or Shawn Kelley transitions seamlessly from his role in the eighth inning into the ninth and continues to dominate. Washington could get by for the first half of the season and then make a move at the Trade Deadline for a veteran, like it did in 2016 with Mark Melancon. Even if the ninth-inning role is still unfilled, the Nats are counting on a bullpen that was among the best in the Majors in ERA this past year to remain strong.
This is the Nationals' blueprint for achieving their goals in 2017, and if everything works out, they plan on being the team ending a title drought and celebrating a World Series championship.
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.