Welcome to Nationals Pastime

CHICAGO - Happy opening day, everyone, and welcome to my brand spankin’ new blog here on MASNsports.com - Nationals Pastime.

Clever title, huh? Feel free to bookmark the link to my landing page, email it to your friends and tell your grandparents, cousins and annoying co-workers all about it. This is where you’ll be able to find me from now on, although you can still flip through our Nationals Buzz blog for my full spring training archive, right through yesterday’s email from John Lannan requesting that the Nationals trade him.

After over a month of driving back and forth across Florida racking up ridiculous miles on my rental car and watching games that don’t mean anything in the standings, today we finally have games of actual importance to talk about.

For the first time since the Nationals became the Nationals back in 2005, there are legitimate expectations around this team entering a season. People are starting to notice. Oh, are they starting to notice.

As Dan Steinberg outlined yesterday, a host of national experts have hopped aboard the Nationals bandwagon and picked Davey Johnson’s boys to make the playoffs, and a few have even gone as far as to predict a World Series appearance for the Nats.

Well, that sure is new.

Johnson has said that if the Nats don’t find themselves in the postseason this year, he deserves to be fired. Players have commented that they expect to be suiting up for meaningful games in September and October, and perhaps for the first time, they truly believe they have what it takes to be in that situation.

The Nats haven’t experienced this optimism thing too often in the past, but it’s here now. And now it’s time for the team to deliver, not necessarily in the sense that the season’s a bust if they don’t make the playoffs, but that they need to show signs of progress and prove they can contend with the big boys in the National League.

For what it’s worth, here’s what I’m expecting this season - 87 wins, fantastic seasons from Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann and a bounceback campaign from Jayson Werth. My date in the fictitious Bryce Harper Call-up Pool is June 20, I think Werth leads the team in home runs with 27, and I see the Nats coming up three games short of a playoff berth.

Just so you know, if the Nationals do, in fact, find themselves in the playoffs this season, I’m taking full credit. In all four of my seasons covering the Ravens, they made the postseason, so I fully expect my presence on the Nats beat to make all the difference in turning this team around.

Now I open it up for your predictions and thoughts entering 2012.

If you’re willing, give me the number of wins you expect the Nats to post this season, which pitcher you think will lead the team in victories (and with how many), who will lead the team in home runs (and with how many), when you expect Bryce Harper to make his major league debut and whether you see the Nationals in the playoffs this season.

I’m interested to see where you all stand.

Also, if you have any ideas for topics or angles you’d like to see covered this season, feel free to let me know. I’m always interested in hearing what you guys are interested in seeing, and welcome any thoughts you have.

Let’s have some fun this year.

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