For the last six years, the Washington Nationals have been baseball's ultimate "almost" team. The Nats have been to the postseason four times in that span, but they've failed to get past the Division Series. Three of those years—2012, 2016, and 2017—saw the NLDS go to a decisive fifth game. In those three games, the Nats held leads of six, one, and three runs, respectively. They blew every one of them, bowing out in excruciating fashion.
That run of success was spurred by the big-league debuts of two men: Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. But Harper will headline next year's jam-packed free agent class, and Strasburg has a pair of opt-outs built into the contract extension he signed in 2016, allowing him to be a free agent as early as the 2019-20 offseason.
That makes this season critically important. While the New York Yankees' acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton improved the Nationals' chances of keeping Harper, there's still a high likelihood that 2018 will be his last year at Nationals Park. If they hold on to him, the financial outlay will probably remove them from contention if Strasburg uses one of his opt-outs.
With this potentially—even probably—the last season that Harper, Strasburg, and Max Scherzer are all in a Nationals uniform at the same time, 2018 is World Series or bust for the Nats.
Can they get there? Let's take a look.