The Washington Nationals have never reported for spring training with anything close to resembling legitimate expectations hovering over them. For the first seven years of its existence, this franchise would have considered a winning record major progress, let alone winning its division or aspiring to reach the World Series.

Those days are no more. When Nationals pitchers and catchers officially report to Viera, Fla., tomorrow, they'll do so as the consensus "Best Team in Baseball" and the sport's most-popular pick to win the World Series.

Nobody's ignoring this franchise anymore. Nobody's setting the bar low. Everyone expects the Nationals to at worst repeat as NL East champions, at best hoist the Commissioner's Trophy on the final night of the season and a couple days later parade down Pennsylvania Ave.

Is there suddenly pressure on a team that has never experienced anything like that before? You bet.

"There's always a little bit of added pressure when you're expected to win," new rotation member Dan Haren said. "I think the biggest thing is just going out and playing the game, not really thinking about yesterday or thinking about tomorrow. Just play every game like it is. The season is so long, and think when it comes down to it, the cream usually rises to the top. ... Usually at the end, the teams that are supposed to be there, are there."

Haren is one of the few players on the Nationals' roster who have previous experience on clubs in this position. His Angels were widely expected to ride slugger Albert Pujols and a rock-solid rotation deep into October last season. Instead, they got off to a ragged start in April, couldn't recover in time and wound up missing the playoffs altogether.

Haren, though, thinks he can impart some of the wisdom he acquired through last year's experience in Anaheim to his new teammates. He won't be alone in that regard. Adam LaRoche played for back-to-back division winners in Atlanta early in his career. New closer Rafael Soriano just won the AL East title with the Yankees. And Jayson Werth played for a 2008 Phillies team coming off its first division crown in more than a decade, one with lofty expectations that proceeded to win the World Series.