Neal Shaffer: There but for the grace of the baseball gods ...

Today, let's talk about a team. A team with more than a couple of young, All-Star-capable players and an overall talent level that grades out better than average. One with a decorated, veteran manager. They were very bad for a long time but they made a playoff run last year and, in doing so, laid the foundation for a strong future.

We're talking, of course, about the Washington Nationals.

Maybe you're one of those Baltimore fans who harbors a weird hatred of D.C. I'm not. I loved watching the Nats succeed last year because it boosted the baseball juice for the region and suggested - for the first time - the possibility of an I-95 World Series sometime in the near(ish) future.

That and, well, it was impossible to ignore the similarities between the two teams. Who could watch them both emerge at the same time and not wonder what the future held?

Now, of course, things are different down in Washington. The Nats have struggled this year and, at times, struggled badly. The World Series expectations with which they entered the season have faded to a middling 58-60 record and no real hope of a playoff run. Their manager is on the way out and this Washington Post piece suggests, unless I'm reading it completely wrong, that he feels resigned to fate.

By any measure, the Nationals' 2013 campaign has been a letdown.

Contrast that with the Orioles who, while they are far from certain to make the playoffs, are well above .500 and appear to be getting stronger as an organization. They have strong performers in key spots and a general manager/manager combo that's locked in (barring one or both being unexpectedly fired) for years to come.

And yet nothing's guaranteed. The 2014 Orioles could, if we swap out a few details here and there, be the 2013 Nats. That's baseball. It happens.

When the Nats shut Stephen Strasburg down last year before the playoffs a lot of folks made this very point. "You never know when or if you'll get back" was a common refrain. It was easy to dismiss that refrain in the face of success but it sure seems accurate now.

It's right for us, as fans, to demand from our team that they do everything they can - not only to win today but also set themselves up for future success. As we do so, however, we need to realize how fragile success really is.

Spare a thought for the 2013 Nationals. There but for the grace of the baseball gods go the Orioles.

Neal Shaffer regularly blogs about the Orioles at The Loss Column, and his work appears here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. 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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