Targets on their backs

Watching the Redskins pick up their sixth straight win yesterday and move within one more victory of a division title (boy, will Sunday night’s game against the Cowboys be just a tad intense?), I realized that the Skins’ 2012 season to this point somewhat mirrors the Nationals’ 2012 campaign.

Obviously, given how each team finished in 2011, the Nats entered this most recent season with a bit loftier expectations around them than the burgundy and gold, and while the Redskins might end up in the postseason, they won’t be able to match the regular season success of the Nationals, who finished with the best record in baseball.

But there are a few key similarities between the two teams.

Both squads are fairly young, have a superstar rookie captivating fans across the country and have, at least to some extent, surprised many people around their respective leagues with their strong play.

Much like the Nationals, if the Redskins end up making the postseason this year, it would be somewhat of a surprise. Even the most optimistic Skins fan couldn’t have realistically predicted this type of run, especially not after a 3-6 start.

Same goes for the Nats. Davey Johnson might have felt that his team was playoff-caliber back in spring training (he sure wasn’t shy about vocalizing such thoughts), but there weren’t a ton of people outside that Nats clubhouse who agreed with him.

It would be a stretch to say that fans would have been happy with 88 wins and a second-place finish in the division, but in some ways, the Nationals winning 98 games and making the postseason was a bonus. The team wasn’t necessarily expected to contend for a title in 2012.

That definitely won’t be the case next season, just as it won’t for the Redskins when their 2013 season kicks off next September.

The Nats will go into spring training this year not just as a team with a lot of upside or a squad with a shot at a playoff spot. They’ll enter the 2013 campaign as the reigning National League East champions, a team that will likely have the endorsement of many as a favorite to win the World Series.

That’s a position the organization obviously hasn’t been in before.

The Nationals have been the cellar dweller. They’ve been the upstart team. They’ve been the scrappy contenders hunting down the perennial NL East elite.

They haven’t yet played the role of the hunted. And that’s about to change.

Anything short of a playoff appearance in 2013 would be a disappointment. Another exit in the National League Division Series probably would, as well.

This year has been a fun one for D.C. sports fans, who in just a couple seasons’ time have seen two organizations rise from the basement and play at an elite level.

But next year, the expectations will be raised. Like the Redskins, the Nationals won’t be sneaking up on anyone anymore.

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