For the Washington Nationals, last season started so perfectly.
Stephen Strasburg struck out seven and recorded 19 consecutive outs. Bryce Harper hit two home runs in his first two at-bats of the season, eliciting "MVP" chants from the crowd, one that had been inundated by high expectations.
It was never that perfect again. The "World Series or bust" Nationals failed to live up to their lofty standards. Bravado was not enough to clinch a postseason appearance one season removed from being the best team in baseball.
Under new manager Matt Williams, Washington has taken a more businesslike approach. The Nationals are once again World Series favorites, but they are not taking that as gospel.
"I think a lot of it has to do with how much talent is on our roster and how good we look on paper," Strasburg told reporters. "That's not going to carry you the whole way."
The Nationals boast one of the most complete lineups in baseball, not to mention a rotation featuring Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann that any other club would and should be envious of.
Monday afternoon, the Nationals will start anew, opening against the New York Mets at Citi Field with an opportunity to replicate last season's Opening Day magic. This time, however, they will attempt to replicate that magic into October.
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