Photo by Bob Youngentob / CSNwashington.com
Ryan Zimmerman, the Nats' first draft pick in 2005, finally got to celebrate.
When the Nationals begin their five-game playoff series this weekend, it will mark the first postseason game for almost every player on the team's young roster. Most have never played meaningful games in October, but for a choice few who have seen the franchise at its lowest points, the dream perhaps seemed even farther away.
Ryan Zimmerman was the franchise's first draft pick when it moved to Washington, and through years of losing twice decided to sign contract extensions to stay with the club. He opted to stay loyal when he could have jumped ship and instead trusted the vision and future of the team around him.
Now his team is not only postseason bound, but champions of the NL East.
"The odds were in my favor that I was going to win here at some point," he said. "I love this town. They gave me a chance, took a chance on me at a young age, and put me right in the middle of it.
"For the team to take a chance on me like that, I felt obligated. I thought I should stay here and give them what they gave me, which is my career."
Zimmerman debuted in 2005, and in just eight seasons has been on five different teams that lost 89 games or more. Along the way, he has seen a lot of the guys around him come and go. He is still the face of the franchise, but now that franchise boasts the best pitching staff in baseball and a lineup as young and as talented as any.
"Ryan Zimmerman is the leader," left-hander Gio Gonzalez said. "He is the captain of this organization. He is the face of this organization, he is a franchise guy. He has seen the down and now he is definitely seeing the upside of it."
Jordan Zimmermann joined the organization as a second-round draft pick in 2007 and made the big-league team in 2009. In his first year, the Nationals lost 103 games but since has improved by at least 10 wins three straight seasons. In a short period of time, he has seen the team bottom out as the worst franchise in baseball and then rise to potentially its best.
"We came a long way," he said. "When I first got drafted and came up here, we were losing ballgames it seemed like every night. You gotta give a lot of credit to [GM Mike] Rizzo for putting some guys together and then having some good drafts."
For part of the turnaround, Zimmermann had to watch from the dugout while he underwent a year-long recovery from Tommy John surgery. He has been pivotal in the team's transformation and is excited to see where it can be taken from here.
"Now we're here and we're that much closer," he said.
John Lannan was away from the Nationals for much of this season after once being their de facto ace and making Opening Day starts in 2008 and 2009. He joined them late this year after spending much of the season at Class AAA Syracuse, started Monday night's clincher and is now just appreciative he is here to stay.
"Right now, it's all worth it," he said. "Being down in Syracuse and then being here right now, it's all worth it. There was a time earlier on in the season where I didn't know what was going to happen, but now it all makes sense. This is why everything happened."
Lannan was on two Nationals teams that lost more than 100 games and has seen the fan base grow with the club's success.
"Just to be part of this team now and to be a part of the teams that really struggled, we all wanted it," he said. "But now to celebrate it and really enjoy it is really awesome.
"These fans deserve it, these guys deserve it. It's been a long road, but we knew this time was going to come. It is special."