Rachel Levitin: Respect in hand, Nats look to 2012

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times and, now, the Nationals' 2011 season comes to a close.

Moments of loss, like the end of Jim Riggleman's time as manager in Washington, made way for Davey Johnson to take the helm and lead the team to their most successful season in recent memory. The triumph of a 31-homer season for Michael Morse begs the question, "Is this a fluke, or is that guy as good as his 2011 numbers?" Drew Storen matured in both age and pitching prowess to earn himself a spot in the talks for a Cy Young Award (though we know this is not in the cards this year, it's still nice to see).

The Nationals earned some long-awaited respect by securing third place in the National League East. The most optimistic of fans are saying that 2012 could be the year the Nats make a true run for their first playoff berth. Had this thought been stated after the back-to-back 100-loss seasons, it would have been fodder for a standup comedian, but now it does seem more likely than Charlie Brown's odds of kicking the football placed upon the ground by Lucy.

There's a phrase to describe a team like this: They've got potential. No longer being in the cellar is a start. The next step is to narrow down the rotation, secure a leadoff bat and have each player who makes the 2012 25-man roster improve upon the skill they already posses and work on their weaknesses.

Most of Washington tends to ignore the Nationals' growth this season. It appears the nation's capital is far from being a baseball town. Redskins talk is everywhere and the Capitals are the lone team leaving a impression since they're the squad that knows how to win. But story of early fall should be that the scrappy Nationals of days past strung together a recipe that didn't spell disaster in 2011.

What will happen in 2012? Well that all depends on the offseason and the transactions that take place. Personnel will move around. New faces will appear and familiar ones will find new teams to call home. But for now, let it be said that the 2011 team was far from being a cellar-dwelling failure. They came together, despite injury and managerial changes, to prove to themselves that they could do what their skippers have been saying they could do for the past two seasons: be better than what they tend to demonstrate.

'Til next year.

Rachel Levitin blogs about the Nationals for We Love DC, and will be sharing her observations about baseball in the nation's capital as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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