It's never too early to think about next season, especially if you're a Washington Nationals fan.
Major League Baseball released its 2012 schedule Wednesday morning to the delight and disdain of several fans across the country. Of course, it seems a little odd that the league would release next year's schedule when this season is still happening, but for the 20 or so teams who are out of contention, this means they are one step closer towards the hope and optimism spring training and April baseball annually bring.
What particularly intrigues me about Washington's 2012 slate is how they will be playing American League East teams, including a three-game set at Fenway Park and matchups against the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays. I know it's looking far ahead, but how the Nationals perform during these interleague games will say a lot about the makeup of the team. Taking two of three from the Red Sox or Yankees would be a huge boost of confidence for a young team that could really use a few signature wins to convince the non-believers.
If you want to look even further, how can you ignore the matchups in the final weeks of the season where the Nats will be facing the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies? Washington will face the Phillies in two separate series, once in Philadelphia and once in D.C. for the final three games of the year. What's interesting is that these games may have huge implications on the postseason - that is, if all goes according to plan.
Let's be real, the Nationals expect to contend next season and there is no reason why they shouldn't. Assuming they acquire an impact free agent, anything less than 83-85 wins would be a disappointment to me. I was hoping for at least 80 wins this season even without Stephen Strasburg, but when Jayson Werth goes through a season-long slumps and Ryan Zimmerman is hurt for an extended period, you can't expect much.
I don't mind that Major League Baseball releases the schedule so early. It's not like it will ever be an off-the-field distraction. I think it's great that they do it this way because it gives baseball fans an opportunity to plan accordingly if they want to do a serious stadium road trip next summer.
In the meantime, let's enjoy the final weeks of the 2011 baseball season and what is sure to be a great postseason.
Ted Youngling blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog, and offers his viewpoints 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.