"Somebody once said to me, 'When you look back at years of losing, you just smile, because when it gets to the winning, it's awful sweet.' I think we've reached that stage," said Mark Lerner, son of Nationals principal owner Ted Lerner, "and we'll be good for a long, long time to come."
That very well may be.
In the interim, though, there are a string of questions facing the Nationals as they head into the offseason:
—How will Strasburg react to the way his season ended and what kind of numbers can he produce with no restrictions at all?
—Will Adam LaRoche, the first baseman who led Washington with 33 homers and 100 RBIs, leave as a free agent?
—How much longer will the 69-year-old Johnson, whose contract as the skipper is done, manage?
—How much better can Harper get? He turns 20 on Tuesday; in Game 5, he became the only teen in baseball history with a postseason triple and one of two with a postseason homer.
—What will it take for Storen and the rest of the group to put the meltdown against the Cardinals behind them?
"Come spring training next year, we'll be more battle-tested. Our young players will have grown up and they'll be veterans," Rizzo said. "And we'll know how to react to the playoff atmosphere."
His team arrived in the playoffs a year earlier than anyone really expected. After never finishing better than third in the NL East, the Nationals took over first place for good in May and eventually gave the nation's capital its first taste of postseason baseball since 1933.
Pretty much everyone associated with the Nationals expect the wait for the next October journey to last 12 months, not 79 years.
"We were right there. We were one out, one strike, away a couple of times. We've come a long ways, and I think that's why it hurts even more — because of what we've been through," said Zimmerman, the third baseman who was the club's first draft pick after it moved from Montreal to Washington in 2005. "We're the first team in this organization ever to be to this level, and its hurts. We put ourselves in a great position and had a chance to do something special, but we all should be proud of what we did this year."
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