Amazing to consider ...

Nine games. Nine wins.

That is how close the Nationals were to a World Series title.

Twice they were down to one strike from dethroning the current world champions.

The St. Louis Cardinals celebrated. The Nationals headed home.

The Cardinals were sweating the Nationals, a team that eight years ago deployed a pretty much decimated minor league system. A team that was pretty much orphaned by Major League Baseball.

They had 59 wins in 2008, 59 wins in 2009 and 100 wins in 2012.

In 2008 and 2009, the team combined for 118 wins.

In 2011 and 2012, the team combined for 178 wins - 180 wins if you count the postseason.

That is a pretty amazing turnaround for a team that had very little going for it four seasons ago.

And imagine what this team can do with a front line of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez all going 200 innings - and all potential 20 game winners.

How about Ross Detwiler's emergence with an incredible Game 4 start?

Now that is a pitching staff.

Of course, it doesn't take the sting away, as Adam LaRoche put it, but as teammates hugged each other and said their goodbyes early Saturday morning in a quiet clubhouse, you got a clear sense about why this team was so good.

Yes, they had the talent and the good mix of experience and youth, but they also had chemistry. There were no "cliques on this team," as LaRoche noted. That made for a clubhouse that pulled for each other on every pitch and every at-bat.

It was fun to watch the new young guns - Bryce Harper, Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi and Christian Garcia - play at the highest level of baseball and play well. The offense sported a front seven that could all potentially hit 20 homers in a season.

And don't forget what this lineup could do with a healthy Wilson Ramos as a catcher. A Ramos-Kurt Suzuki one-two punch is also tantalizing to consider.

The bench was a key component of this team's success with Chad Tracy, Mark DeRosa, Roger Bernadina, Moore, Lombardozzi and even Eury Perez staking claim to a second unit that was legitimate and could hit for power. That was something the 2008 reserves could never boast.

So it certainly hurts to be so close to grabbing their first postseason series win in a season when they won their first NL East title.

But, wow, does this team have potential to sustain.

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