Rafael Soriano stood outside the Nationals news conference room, not far from his new clubhouse, and reflected on the transformation he witnessed in Washington, a change many across baseball have noticed over the years. Soriano was a setup man and a closer with the Atlanta Braves from 2007 to 2009, a stretch during which the Nationals lost 294 games, finishing last in the National League East twice.

Soriano knew what to expect when he faced the Nationals then; much has changed since. The Nationals re-built, used two No. 1 overall draft picks to nab Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, developed their players and signed key free agents such as Jayson Werth. The changes in Washington caught Soriano's eye, in particular, last season when the New York Yankees came for a June series, and he notched two saves.

"They're completely different from when they were in 2007 and 2008," Soriano said in Spanish, then interrupted by a warm greeting from a team official. "They have changed 99 percent from the three years I played in this division. From last year, when I came, I saw a tremendous team, tremendous talent. I think there's a great chance this year to win a World Series."

With his signing, the Nationals made themselves one of the favorites to contend for a world title next season. Soriano, 33, is an experienced closer — 116 saves over the past three years — and a hard-throwing right-hander who knows how to pitch. He has been to the postseason three times: once with the Tampa Bay Rays and twice with the Yankees. Soriano is the team's clear-cut closer now, here to solidify a bullpen that imploded in the decisive Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.