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The 2013 Washington Nationals were expected to run away with the NL East title and challenge the Los Angeles Dodgers for supremacy in the Senior Circuit.

Well, the Dodgers overcame a terrible start to live up to their half of this prediction, but the Nationals were not so lucky.

Washington put together a much better second half, but the Nats were officially eliminated from a division pennant with a loss Sunday. Hopes for a wild card have been  dashed, as the Nationals trail the Reds and Pirates have already clinched.

Ryan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez
Photo by Lane 4 Imaging, used under creative commons license.
But in Washington, the pieces for future success still remain, especially if the team can build off its productive second half. Come 2014, the Nats may still be picked as the NL East favorites.

Ryan Zimmerman had another quality season, as he’s now clubbed at least 20 home runs in six of his nine professional seasons. After somewhat of a slow start, he’s clubbed 11 home runs in the month of September.

Denard Span’s Nationals career got off to a slow start over the first few months, but his game has also improved in the second half. He rattled off a 29-game hitting streak and has hit near .320 since the All-Star break.

Though he missed some time due to injury, Jayson Werth continues to live up to his huge contract. Barring a huge slump, he’ll post a career-high in batting average, as he’s now hitting .318. He’s also hit 23 home runs and drove in 77 runners.

All-Star shortstop Ian Desmond is certainly a future piece. His defense is slightly shaky at times -- though he’s shown he can make the spectacular play -- but his main strength is his bat. He’s hit 20 homers, notched 80 RBIs and stolen 19 bases.

Of course, who could forget about young phenom Bryce Harper? He dealt with a few injuries after crashing hard twice into the outfield wall. He played through the pain but ultimately spent time on the disabled list after aggravating the injuries.

He had a feud with manager Davey Johnson, who will retire from managing following this season. The headstrong Harper still needs to realize who is boss, but the talent is unquestionably there.

On the mound, Stephen Strasburg may finish with a losing record, but his 2.96 ERA has shown he’s had a good season. He’ll finish with more strikeouts than innings and a solid 1.04 WHIP.

Gio Gonzalez maybe did not have the success he had last year, but he still was a factor at 11-7 with a 3.39 ERA.

Jordan Zimmerman had been on the brink the last few years of really breaking out, and this was his year. At 19-8 with a 3.18 ERA, he’s established himself right up there with Gonzalez and Strasburg moving forward.

Even Dan Haren has recovered from an abysmal start. He began the year 4-10, but has been 5-3 since. His ERA has been over 5.00 for most of the way, but he’s been able to corral that after the bad start.

Again, all these pieces can help this team next season and beyond. This year proves that sometimes the best teams on paper don’t automatically win division titles. The Nationals need to channel their second-half 2013 performance into a complete 2014 effort.

If they can do that, the Nats will rightfully regain their place as one of the teams to beat in the NL.