The Washington Times - March 28, 2013, 09:16PM

Baseball has returned to Washington D.C. this morning as the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees settle in at Nationals Park for their final exhibition game of the spring. The 2013 season is now just days away, and the excitement over what kind of season this could be for the Nationals is reaching its peak. 

As you head to the ballpark or tune in to the game on radio and television today, make sure to check out the 2013 Nationals season preview section in today’s Washington Times. Better yet, head out and pick up a copy. It’ll give you enough Nationals content to read through the weekend and take you right to Opening Day on Monday.


To make it even easier on you to check out all of the fantastic coverage in today’s paper, here’s a handy quick-link guide to all of the stories:

World Series or bust — a preview of the Nationals’ 2013 season: After a breakthrough season that included an NL East title, 100 wins and one heartbreaking loss, expectations for the Nationals can’t get any higher. Here is a link to the PDF file of the entire preview section, and you get to see how our talented designer, Matt Pallister, laid the whole thing out. 

Great expectations — Talented Nationals enter season as favorites, but they know luck is a factor, too: There is a theory in baseball circles when it comes to the playoffs. Teams are built for the grind. Built to win over the course of 162 grueling games from April through September. It’s a schedule intended to weed out the lesser competitors, the teams without the depth to sustain injuries or the personnel that fits together just so. But if you get to the playoffs, if you’re one of the elite teams that reaches that first checkpoint en route to the promised land, that is a different animal. Then, the thinking goes, you must simply let the fates play out. How being the favorite has worked out (or not worked out) in the past, and how teams can use expectations as a motivator or crumble beneath them.

It’s ‘World Series or bust’ as Johnson prepares to cap five-plus decades in the game: There is a question that hangs over Davey Johnson as he begins what he and the Nationals have mutually agreed will be his final season in the dugout: If this is the end for one of the game’s greatest characters, how will history view him? He won’t acknowledge thinking about the Hall of Fame, and how this season may affect his resume for it. But if the Nationals do it, Johnson’s case for enshrinement in Cooperstown goes from compelling to downright fascinating. A look at the 70-year-old’s legacy.

The goal: From good to great — how the additions of Denard Span, Dan Haren & Rafael Soriano were made with taking the next step in mind: One long-rumored trade and $41 million in free agent contracts ushered Denard Span, Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano into the long room that smells of breakfast and wood bats. That’s the outside, at least. Why a team that rolled up 98 wins and baseball’s top record, then missed advancing to the National League Championship Series by one measly strike — inches, really — acquired the three men is a tale more complex than a few lines in a transaction column. They aren’t tweaks or tinkering. They’re an aggressive, and in some cases unexpected, effort to make a good team great, writes Nathan Fenno. 

 In Rizzo’s plan, talent runs deep at every position: The grease boards, as he calls them, are stored in Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo’s office. The markers he uses on them have been worn out, replaced, and worn out again. On the boards are the plans for the path of an organization… Building a team that can withstand the barrage that 162 games brings is difficult. Giving that team the right pieces to see it through to a World Series championship is so immensely challenging that 97 percent of major league baseball teams will fail at it every year. But to build more than a one-year contender, to find the formula that gives a team the ability to compete in the present year with the foresight to feel it will compete for several, that is the goal. How do you do that?

Cooler than winning it all? Winning it all during the day: If the Nats do get to the Series, it would be cooler than cool. Baseball may not have the overall appeal it used to have, and it is kidding itself if it thinks it is as popular as the NFL. But the World Series? It remains terrific, and having the national spotlight shining on the town for sporting reasons would be a ton of fun. Winning it during the day like they did way back when, writes Mike Harris, would be even better — even though it’ll never happen.

Nationals pack up and head north after quiet spring: The floor of the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse was littered with plastic bins and navy blue duffel bags Thursday. Long pants and heavier coats hung in players’ lockers. The room was charged with a “last day of school” kind of feel, knowing that an interesting summer lay ahead. The corkboard where the schedules for “Today” and “Tomorrow” contained a message everyone wanted to see. “Leave after the game — D.C.” It was a welcome message for a team that is extremely excited to get the 2013 campaign underway. 

— Barring an injury, J.C. Romero will start the season at Triple-A, and Henry Rodriguez will get the Nationals’ final bullpen spot.