Sometimes 30 days to write a monthly sports column is a difficult parameter and it is necessary to paint a photograph to accompany the text. That’s why you now see this one.

This is a color photo. The background color is “Pennant Race.” It blankets the cityscape like a first heavy New Year snowfall. A unifying layer of refreshingly genuine patriotism and shared goal of achievement that gently transforms the alternate universe of an endless election season in the Nation’s capital. It is magical.

The contrast color, therefore – I need another color because otherwise you can’t see anything but one blob of color – is “Magic Number.” That means that my painting has slowly, steadily and with great suspense, shrunk, day by day, Nationals win by Braves loss, until…

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Nationals Know – National Pundits No

The reality that the Washington Nationals have actually shut down ace starting pitcher Steven Strasburg set off a near-unanimous, coast-to-coast maelstrom of criticism. Angry back-seat-driving pundits included retired baseball heroes, an ex-Nats TV broadcaster and Tommy John himself, the surgically-repaired pitcher that Strasburg’s elbow ligament reconstruction procedure was named after.

Neither the Nationals organization nor Steven Strasburg should pass up a once-in-decades opportunity to win the World Series. That is the gist of the criticism. And it is an argument that, like much of the criticism angrily directed at our Capital City’s most powerful resident, sounds like it makes sense, but does so only if you accept false assumptions that are stated as if they are factual.

But this is not a one-shot-only opportunity for the Washington Nationals. This is not a career-peaking but aging team that must risk one player’s future to go for broke in an attempt to win now.

The 2012 Nationals are very young, deeply talented and still developing. The starting pitching rotation, with Steven Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson, Ross Detwiler and John Lannan, even now subtracting an ace starter, is good enough to win this year. The Nats bullpen, with Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus, Tom Gorzellany and newcomer Christian Garcia, not to mention Henry Rodriguez, is equally talented and completes the best pitching staff in baseball. And with Strasburg returning healthy, it will be formidable for years to come.

The Nats infield of Zimmerman, Desmond, Espinosa, Lombardozi and LaRoche compares favorably with anyone, both offensively and defensively. Speed, range, power and athleticism.

The outfield is increasingly becoming a team strength. Bryce Harper has rapidly developed defensively right before our eyes. Jason Werth has been a tremendous asset in the lineup as a lead-off hitter with an exceptional knack for getting on base. Michael Morse, Roger Bernadina and Tyler Moore have been consistent offensive producers.

The catching duo of Jesus Flores and Kurt Suzuki call pitches for the best-performing staff in the game and, therefore, nothing else need be said.

And the bench, led by Chad Tracy, has, remarkably, been as good as the rest of their first-place teammates.

Team management knows all this, the Nationals players know it, and the local fan-base knows it. In time, it will also be clear to the rest of the country why the Nats community is united in support of a nationally over-discussed and criticized decision.

By Zev Feder, a long-time Southwest resident with a life-long passion for baseball as a player, coach and, above all, fan.

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