This time last season, the national media was in love with the Washington Nationals. They were the darlings of the media, seemingly everyone's pick to represent the senior circuit in the World Series.
Things don't always work out like they should.
What went wrong in 2015 has been well chronicled. We needn't rehash it here. Today is a day for renewed optimism across baseball, and perhaps nowhere is the fresh start needed more than in the Nation's Capital.
We don't really even need to look at the team through rose-colored lenses to once again imagine a team that should contend for the division. There's the reigning N.L. MVP, the batting order is full of former all-stars and veterans, the rotation is stout, the bullpen reconfigured with power arms.
But the projections were even rosier last season, and we saw how that turned out.
A baseball season is a living, breathing thing. The team that takes the field opening day is rarely the same one that walks off it at the end of 162 games -- or more if they're lucky. Even without personnel changes, the players themselves grow throughout the season, some for better, some for worse.
There are concerns about this team, to be sure. The back of the rotation could find themselves in over their heads. The bullpen, for all its changes, still might not be any better than last year's. Older players in left field and at first base need not only stay healthy, but prove that they still deserve to have their names written in the lineup every day. And the defense is shaky in several spots.
Evaluating the problems, though, we can envision where Tanner Roark reverts to 2014 form and Joe Ross proves no fluke. We can watch Shawn Kelley and Felipe Rivero strike out over 10 batters per nine innings and imagine Blake Treinen finally putting his elite skills altogether. We can imagine Jayson Werth OBP'ing .350 and playing a passable left field, with Michael Taylor spelling him for a couple of electrifying nights a week. We can talk ourselves into thinking Daniel Murphy and Ben Revere can make up on offense what they lack defensively from their predecessors.
And we can picture (with prayer, if you're so inclined) that Ryan Zimmerman, for so long the face of this franchise while it went through some of the ugliest growing pains imaginable, can play through his plantar fasciitis to be productive at the plate and a security blanket at first base.
All the while, Dusty Baker -- the coolest cat in the room -- blends together wildly different personalities, cultures and philosophies into a cohesive, productive unit, allowing the assembled gurus on the coaching staff to coax the most out of the assembled talent.
And if anything goes awry, that Mike Rizzo will point to his head and give the team just what it needs at precisely the right time.
I'm usually the purveyor of gloom and doom around these parts. In all honesty, I first try to evaluate players and situations from an analytical approach, using numbers and research as a guide. That's supplemented by conversations I have with sources within the game cultivated over the six seasons I've been credentialed to cover this organization. I try to leave my fandom or personal preferences out of it.
But on Opening Day, even I can put aside the spreadsheets and Rolodex and dream on the possibilities of the new season and hope, yes actually hope, things work out better this time.