ATLANTA -- The Nationals are National League East champions for the second time in three seasons and are contending for the NL's top record heading into October. Here are five reasons they could go all the way and win the first World Series title in franchise history.
Stras will be in the postseason -- this time
Unlike in 2012, right-hander Stephen Strasburg will play in the postseason, the first taste of playoff baseball in his career. Two years ago, although he won 15 games, Strasburg was on an innings limit because of the Tommy John surgery he had undergone two years earlier, and his presence was missed during the NL Division Series. The Nationals would lose that series in five games to the Cardinals. Don't be surprised if Strasburg started Game 1 of the NLDS this season.
The pitching staff
The Nationals have the best pitching staff in the NL, with a 3.06 ERA entering Thursday's action. Doug Fister and Tanner Roark lead the team in victories. Although he is not saying it publicly, manager Matt Williams seems to have figured out who his closer is for the time being, and it's Drew Storen, who has seven saves in the last two weeks after replacing Rafael Soriano in that role.
Williams doesn't rely on the three-run homer. If the team needs to score a run, look for Williams to play small ball. He will implement the hit-and-run or have his runners steal a base. Williams is not afraid to make a lineup change. If the Nationals are facing a tough lefty, for example, Williams is not afraid to sit a person like Bryce Harper in order for a guy like Scott Hairston to be in the lineup.
The health of the Nationals
When Ryan Zimmerman is off the disabled list, the Nationals will have their full squad back. The question is, where will Zimmerman play once the postseason starts? Williams has said Zimmerman will play three positions -- third base, first base and left field. There is no question the Nationals need his bat. Zimmerman will probably hit fifth in the order.
The top-of-the-order guys
Denard Span and Anthony Rendon are the table-setters. Span is having the best year of his career. He already has career highs in stolen bases and he has a chance to set career highs in runs scored and collect 200 hits in a season. As for Rendon, he is the MVP of the team. He has hit second most of the season, leads the team in runs scored, and is one of four players on the team with at least 80 RBIs.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.