Deep breaths for Nationals fans, who likely were searching for the nearest sharp object after Max Scherzer left his start on Saturday with hamstring cramps. The early reports are that the likely NL Cy Young winner will be okay, though his status for NLDS Game 1 is still uncertain. Assuming he’s avoided major injury, then he and Stephen Strasburg are reasons No. 1 and 1A as to why Washington has real World Series aspirations. Reason No. 2 is the return of Bryce Harper, who missed nearly two months with a scary knee injury and still needs to get his timing back but is an obvious difference maker if he’s fully healthy. And he’s got a stupendous offense behind him, with MVP contender Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy and the rejuvenated Ryan Zimmerman making for a strong middle of the order—and leadoff hitter Trea Turner ready to cause chaos on the bases.
Even the bullpen, the source of so much agita in postseasons past, is much improved thanks to the additions of Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. The formula for success will be deep outings from Scherzer, Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez; big hits from Harper and company; and plenty of Doolittle and Madson. If Washington can get that, then there’s no reason the franchise can’t win its first title.