WASHINGTON (AP) As the season starts, shortstop Ian Desmond and the rest of the Washington Nationals are a popular pick to win their first World Series in what some think could be the current core's last hurrah. Their focus is much narrower at the moment.
''We're worried about winning the first series - the first series of the season,'' said Desmond, who is entering the last year of his contract, as are Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Denard Span. ''We're not writing our names in anything. This isn't going to be, `We'll just throw our hats out there and see what happens in October.' This is a tough division, and we need to be ready to go.''
The reigning NL East champions will be missing three everyday players - center fielder Span, left fielder Jayson Werth and third baseman Anthony Rendon - when they open up at home Monday against the New York Mets, who finished tied for second place in 2014, 17 games behind Washington.
''They're a good team,'' New York shortstop Wilmer Flores said. ''We have a good team, too.''
Certainly one that's expected to be an improved team. The Mets have had six losing seasons in a row since moving into their new ballpark, but young pitchers Matt Harvey (coming off Tommy John surgery) and Jacob deGrom (the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year) inspire optimism.
Neither will be on the mound Monday, though. Instead, it'll be Bartolo Colon, who at age 41 will be the oldest opening-day starter in Mets history - and in the major leagues since 2006.
Colon, 15-13 with a 4.09 ERA last year, will be facing Max Scherzer, who takes the mound on opening day for the first time, beginning to earn the $210 million his new contract with the Nationals pays.
''It's cool to say that you've started on an opening day before, but at the same time, it really doesn't mean a whole lot,'' said Scherzer, who went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA for the Detroit Tigers in 2014, a year after winning the AL Cy Young Award. ''Starting Game 1 of a playoff series? Yeah, that means a little bit more.''
Washington will need to weather a bunch of injuries in the early going, including to more than a third of their ideal everyday lineup, but that's something the team managed to do a year ago.
''We're good at that. That's what we do,'' Desmond said. ''We have players who are ready to play at the big league level and fill in, and they know their role and can fill in and do the job the right way until the big guys come back.''
Because of the up-in-the-air futures of players such as Desmond and Zimmermann, the right-hander who threw a no-hitter in the regular-season finale in September, there are those who wonder whether this could be the last best chance at a title for a while in Washington. The team failed to win a playoff series in 2012 or 2014 after finishing with the NL's best record each time.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, not surprisingly, doesn't look at this as possibly the end of an era.
''We're not about to start talking about windows closing and that type of thing. We've built something here that we think is going to continue to be in existence. We're not built all-or-nothing for this year. We're built for the long haul,'' Rizzo said. ''We think we're going to be a good, competitive team for years to come. The core players that we have this year are focused in on playing this year and winning this year - and what happens beyond that is between players and management.''
AP freelance writer Jonathan Santucci in Port St. Lucie, Florida, contributed to this report.
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