A very Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there from northern Virginia to D.C. to Baltimore and beyond.
Hope you all enjoy food, football and family today. This is my favorite holiday of the year for all those reasons.
Nationals fans have a lot to be thankful for today beyond the three F's above. They've got a team which is on the rise, a stable of young players who will be around for a while and an ownership group which doesn't plan on trading away every recognizable name on the roster.
Here are a list of things that Nats fans should be thankful for as we work towards the 2013 season:
A successful 2012 campaign. Yeah, the ending stung a little bit for Nats fans, but don't let that overshadow what was a special season and an important building block for the long-term good of the organization. After never finishing with an above-.500 record since moving to the nation's capital, the Nats not only won the division in 2012, but dominated much of the summer and finished the regular season with the best record in baseball. Even if it didn't end in a World Series title, it still was a crucial season when it comes to generating interest locally and getting free agents to notice that the Nationals are on the rise.
A full year of Stephen Strasburg. While 2012 saw Strasburg get shut down after 159 1/3 innings, starting sports debates all over the world (some within the Nationals' clubhouse), 2013 will see a full season of Strasburg, health permitting. There will be no shutdown, no innings limit, no need to fill a void in the Nationals' rotation come September. The Nats' 24-year-old ace will be able to go out and pitch a full season, and we'll all enjoy getting to watch how far he can go.
Cortisone. Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa are certainly thankful for the magic drug, which helped them avoid in-season surgery and continue playing after batting through frustrating shoulder injuries. Zimmerman went on to post monster numbers after getting a cortisone shot in Baltimore mid-way through the season, while Espinosa was able to finish out the year and put troublesome pain in his left shoulder behind him during the stretch run. As great as the cortisone shots were this season, let's hope the Nats need fewer of them in 2013.
Gio Gonzalez's personality. As silly as this might sound, Gonzalez's outgoing nature was a major factor in the Nationals coming together as a group this season. While veteran infielder Mark DeRosa was mentoring a large portion of the team and making everyone laugh in one corner of the clubhouse, Gonzalez was constantly joking around and chatting everyone up in the other corner, bringing pitchers closer to position players and young players closer to the vets. Gonzalez became beloved by Nats fans because of his childlike nature and the constant smile on his face, and he helped develop a very tight clubhouse because of those factors, as well.
Bryce Harper's potential. He won the National League Rookie of the Year, became a quality center fielder in his first full season playing the position, hit 22 home runs and scored 98 runs in 137 games as a 19-year-old. Imagine what Harper will do for an encore, and for years to come once he settles in as a major leaguer.
A rotation which already rivals any in the majors. The Nationals haven't even finalized their rotation for the 2013, still needing another starter to fill out their group of five, and we can already say with confidence that it will be one of the best starting rotations in the majors. With Strasburg, Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler on board, the Nats have a stellar young foursome which will only become more polished in the coming few years. Add in another proven innings-eater and this staff will be even more dangerous in 2013.
Davey Johnson and Mike Rizzo. The Nationals have the perfect manager for their team back for the 2013 season, and they've got a general manager beside him who seems committed to steering the organization in the right direction not only in the short term, but for the next handful of years, as well. Johnson handled the Nats masterfully in 2012, managing all the personalities in the clubhouse, working around a host of injuries and getting young players to play up to their potential. He'll be back next year for what he says is his final season as a manager. Rizzo will be with him, pulling the strings to try and get the Nats to the next level by integrating the young talent with a mix of veterans who can contribute and teach at the same time.
What about this organization are you thankful for? Got your own list? Feel free to share it here.
Hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving.