Timeline of How the Nationals Transformed from Punching Bag to Contender

Kenny DeJohnAnalyst IIIFebruary 5, 2013

Timeline of How the Nationals Transformed from Punching Bag to Contender

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    The Washington Nationals have undergone a drastic transformation since their inaugural season in 2005, going from punching bag to contender—and potential National League powerhouse.

    Following the 2004 season, the Montreal Expos moved their franchise back to Washington, D.C., to begin the 37th season in franchise history.

    With them, they unfortunately brought their decade-long streak of futility.

    Prior to the 2005 season, the franchise had not been successful since the strike-shortened 1994 season—and we all know how that worked out for the Expos and the fans.

    Now, the Nationals are one of the best teams in baseball.

    This transformation may have been years in the making, but it's finally time for fans of the franchise—both Expos and Nationals fans—to rejoice over having a contending ballclub to cheer for.

2005

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    The Nationals entered 2005 with nearly the same roster as in 2004. The only significant changes came when they signed Vinny Castilla, Jose Guillen, Cristian Guzman and Esteban Loaiza.

    Surprisingly, the Nationals finished the first half of the 2005 season with a 4.5 game lead over the Atlanta Braves for first place in the NL East. Their record of 51-32 was, by far, one of the biggest surprises of the first half of the season.

    Poised to make a run at the playoffs, the young Nationals could not handle the pressure during the second half.

    They went 30-49 in the second half and finished last in the NL East.

    Regardless, the team finished 81-81—just the fourth time in the past 10 seasons that the franchise recorded a .500 season.

    One of the best moments of the season came on the season's first day. After being the last player in history to wear an Expos jersey, Brad Wilkerson led off on Opening Day with a base hit.

    Not only did a new era of baseball in Washington ensue in 2005, a new face of the franchise earned his first taste of the majors during his August-September call-up.

    Ryan Zimmerman recorded 23 hits in 58 at-bats and became the first Nationals batter with a .300 batting average in a season when he recorded at least 50 at-bats.

    Washington was off to a good start with an 81-81 record in 2005, though those successes were not reproduced the following season.

2006

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    The Nationals entered 2006 seemingly just a few pieces away from potentially finishing above .500.

    Alfonso Soriano was acquired from the Texas Rangers during the offseason, lefty specialist Mike Stanton was signed and the team acquired Felipe Lopez, Austin Kearns and Ryan Wagner from the Cincinnati Reds before the trade deadline.

    Interleague play saw the rebirth of a rivalry between the Nationals and the crosstown Baltimore Orioles. The Beltway Series, as it began to be called, was the first time the Orioles played a game in Washington, D.C. in 35 years.

    The two teams split the season series three games apiece.

    Despite the renewed rivalry and big-name acquisitions, the Nationals were unable to best their record from 2005.

    A last-place finish was again in order for manager Frank Robinson and the Nationals, this time finishing with a record of 71-91.

    It turned out to be the final season of Robinson's tenure in D.C.

2007

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    Frank Robinson was replaced by Manny Acta for the 2007 season, and the team experienced mixed results.

    It was the first time Washington did not finish last in the NL East, though they still produced a poor record of 73-89.

    Via free agency and trades, the Nationals lost Alfonso Soriano, Jose Guillen, Ramon Ortiz and Jose Vidro. The most notable acquisition was first baseman Dmitri Young, who ended up winning the first major award in Nationals' team history when he was named Major League Baseball's Comeback Player of the Year.

    The Nationals lost four starters to free agency (Hernandez, Ortiz, Pedro Astacio and Tony Armas) and invited 36 pitchers to spring training to compete for spots on the roster.

    This led to the team becoming the first one in history to go an entire season without a pitcher posting double-digit wins or losses.

    This season was also significant for being the team's final season playing in RFK Stadium. In 2008, the team was prepared to move into a newer stadium that was supposedly going to encourage the ushering in of a new era of baseball.

2008

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    Aside from moving into their beautiful new stadium, the Nationals had absolutely nothing to be pleased about in 2008.

    The team finished a league-worst 59-102 and even dismissed six coaches before the final game of their season. Only Manny Acta and pitching coach Randy St. Claire were retained for the following season.

    Tyler Clippard, Odalis Perez, Paul Lo Duca, Aaron Boone, Lastings Milledge and Wily Mo Pena were all newcomers in 2008, though it's obvious that none of them were able to help the team enough to win.

    Clippard remains the only current National of the group.

    Ryan Zimmerman continued to establish himself as the team's leader, though an injury to him after 106 games left the team without their top guy.

    He finished the season with just 14 home runs and 51 RBI.

    There's really not that much more to say about the Nationals' atrocious season in 2008.

2009

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    Manager Manny Acta didn't make it all the way through the 2009 season, getting replaced by Jim Riggleman on July 12. Under Acta, the Nationals were a league-worst 26-61.

    Adam Dunn represented the team's biggest acquisition of the previous offseason, though he did not change the losing culture in D.C. liked the team's front office hoped he would.

    The lone bright spot in 2009 was the outstanding play of Ryan Zimmerman. After returning from injury, he mashed 33 home runs and drove in 106 en route to his first career Silver Slugger Award.

    He brought home even more hardware for his defensive prowess, winning his first career Gold Glove as well.

    The best scenario to describe their season came on April 17, though, when Dunn's and Zimmerman's jerseys read "Natinals" instead of "Nationals."

    Dysfunctional and always the butt of all jokes, the Nationals finished the season at 59-103, one loss worse than the season's previous record.

    During the following offseason, Riggleman was named the permanent manager. 

2010

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    Finally, the season when things finally started to turn around for the Nationals—sort of.

    A 69-93 record kept the team in the cellar of the NL East yet again, but the future of the franchise took the mound for the first time on June 8 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    Stephen Strasburg, the flame-throwing phenom, struck out a remarkable 14 batters in his major league debut and left every single Nationals fan in existence wanting even more.

    He would make 11 more starts during the season, striking out 92 batters in 68.0 innings.

    His season was cut short, however, by a torn ligament that required Tommy John surgery to repair.

    Ryan Zimmerman won his second consecutive Silver Slugger Award, belting 25 home runs and driving in 85.

    This season also marked the first time since 2006 that the Nationals posted a winning record at home (41-40).

    Even with their lack of success, it was obvious that things were slowly beginning to look up for Washington.

2011

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    On June 23, Jim Riggleman resigned as the team's manager after contract disputes ruined his relationship with general manager Mike Rizzo.

    Davey Johnson, the team's current manager, took over and led the team to a much-improved record of 80-81—the team's first third-place finish in history.

    Despite the initial belief that Stephen Strasburg would not pitch at all in 2011, he came back successfully from Tommy John surgery and pitched to a 1-1 record with an ERA of 1.50 in five starts.

    The young core of the Nationals finally began to play well under Johnson. Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Mike Morse, Tyler Clippard and Jordan Zimmermann all established themselves as quality major leaguers with still even more room to grow.

    Morse's season was exceptional. He hit 31 home runs, drove in 95 and posted a line of .303/.360/.550. This contributed to a 19th-place finish in the NL MVP voting.

    With Strasburg healthy, Morse raking and the team's young core finally capitalizing on their potential, there were high hopes for the 2012 season—and rightfully so.

2012

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    The year it all came together—that's what 2012 will forever be known for in Washington Nationals history.

    The team won a league-best 98 games and won the NL East for the first time in team history.

    Offseason acquisitions Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson helped solidify the starting rotation, and the emergence of Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen as legitimate relievers finally gave the Nationals stability in the bullpen.

    Bryce Harper, the team's uber-prospect, made his debut about a month into the regular season and immediately grabbed headlines with his hard-nosed play. With maturity being an issue early in his minor-league career, he stepped up and acted as a major leaguer should.

    Stephen Strasburg was put on a much-debated innings limit for the year and was shut down for the remainder of the season on Sept. 8.

    Even without Strasburg, the Nationals did not look undermatched in the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals.

    Washington was actually one strike away from advancing to the NLCS until Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma ruined their season.

    With such an abrupt stop to an incredible season, the Nationals seem poised to make a run at a championship in 2013.

2013

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    The Nationals have plenty to look forward to this upcoming season.

    After Drew Storen's postseason collapse, the team brought in Rafael Soriano to be the unquestioned closer and dominant presence in the ninth inning.

    Dan Haren was brought in to replace Edwin Jackson in the starting rotation. Though he's coming off a down season in 2012 with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, he figures to at least produce the same numbers that Jackson did.

    Whether or not Bryce Harper undergoes the dreaded sophomore slump will be a key storyline for the season's first couple of months. If he can improve upon his Rookie of the Year campaign, the Nationals lineup may be the most potent in the National League.

    Stephen Strasburg will finally be unleashed to his full potential in 2013. No innings limits seem to be in place, and no lingering injuries have been reported since he was shut down.

    This is especially good news when you consider Gio Gonzalez's attachment to PED's. There are no suspensions yet in place, though there's a good possibility that he misses the season's first 50 games.

    It will most assuredly be an interesting season in 2013 for the Nationals. It's Davey Johnson's last season as a big league manager, and his motto is "World Series or bust."

    Let's see if the Nationals can rally around their manager and make the city of Washington, D.C. proud.