Rachel Levitin: A changing of the guard?

When I moved to D.C. in 2005, I learned all I needed to know about the Nationals (at the time) rather quickly. It was the middle of August, the team was decent and they were on the verge of a winning season. Truth be told, I only went to a couple games before August turned into September. Then Ryan Zimmerman made his major league debut on Sept. 1.

My memory’s fading and I honestly can’t recall whether or not I was physically at that game, but I do know I spent an awful lot of time at RFK Stadium from 2005 to 2007 before the Nats moved to Nationals Park in 2008. It was in that block of time that Zimmerman started to solidify himself as not only one of the best young players in game but as a cornerstone of the Nationals organization.

His role only grew as he matured into an organic presence as the face of the franchise. But as of Tuesday night’s game versus the Chicago White Sox, I’ve been asking myself: Is Zimmerman still the face of the franchise or has that role evolved?

The spark for this thought came amid a routine foul ball down the third base line. Zimmerman tapped the ball with his glove on the grass before picking it up to toss it to a fan sitting behind the visitor’s dugout. But instead of tossing it to a fan directly, he tossed it to his old teammate and current White Sox player Adam Dunn.

Dunn got the ball to the fans, but it was that moment that reminded me how far this team’s come since Zimmerman and Dunn were billed as the heart (and often times, sole producers) of the Nats order. While Dunn played for the Nats in 2009 and 2010, the Nats posted a couple miserable 100-loss seasons. But between him, Zimmerman, and Nats outfielder Josh Willingham (who was also a part of the 2009-2010 Nats and now plays for the Minnesota Twins) they were the guys a Nats fan should have known. Why? Because they were the ones scoring the runs.

In Monday’s game, Zimmerman hit a sacrifice fly allowing Denard Span to score the team’s first run before beating Chicago 8-7. For whatever reason, this felt to me as if it were a metaphorical changing of the guard.

Though Manager Davey Jonson assured us Zimmerman is bound to break out of his start-of-the-season slow spell at the plate, the good news is really that the Nationals don’t need to rely solely on Zimmerman to carry them any more. Their lineup is stacked from top to bottom with strong, smart hitters. All nine defensive positions have All-Star-caliber starters and a deep bench fully capable of standing in when needed. Not to mention there are two nationally praised and recognized young phenoms on the roster who are likely to be among Washington’s 2013 All-Star selections.

Nats baseball is not “The Ryan Zimmerman Show” anymore. Instead, it’s the 2013 Washington Nationals fresh off their 2012 National League East Division Championship playing some darn good baseball.

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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