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This Week's Royals Series Presents A Tale Of Two Franchises

They have nearly identical records this season. They've both become dismal franchises over the past several years. They've both spent in free agency fairly heavily in the last few seasons only to have minimal returns on those same investments. And the fan bases for both have been hurting for some time. Yet it's amazing how things that seems so similar can be, in fact, so different.

The Nationals are in town for the Kansas City stop of the Strasburg Showcase Tour and it has the city of Washington (and any leftover Montreal Expos fans) abuzz. The Royals haven't sniffed .500 or better at season's end since 2003 when they went 83-79. In that span, they've finished last in their division four times and second-to-last twice. This season, they're currently in fourth and looking about the same as usual.

The Nationals finished with an even .500 record at 81-81 in their inaugural season in 2005. And even that season, they finished last in the NL East, a position they've had every other season since then, save for 2007 where they finished one spot higher. The last two seasons specifically, the Nats have lost over 100 games and lacked any real signs of life.

So if they are near identical in wins and losses this season, what's the big difference? Hope. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have this decade's Mark Prior who actually makes good on his potential. Ssuperstar prospect Stephen Strasburg struck out 32 in his first three major league starts, allowing only 10 hits in 19 innings. That's elite-level dominance. But he's not the only show in town.

Young regulars are playing all over the diamond for the Nationals, proving themselves in key places. 3B Ryan Zimmerman is raking again and making good on the All-Star predictions surrounding him from the beginning of his career. Adam Dunn is hitting at a .280 clip and has an astounding .943 OPS. Josh Willingham is near that himself at .894, providing a third big bat in the line-up. Young SS Ian Desmond has filled in fairly since the start of the season and even unexpected gems like OF Roger Bernadina is earning his keep at the ML level.  And that doesn't even touch new first round choice Bryce Harper, a guy who should become the best hitter in the organization in just a year or so.

The Royals, meanwhile, continue to search for that level of hope -- the type that allows a fan base to push through the present pain knowing that the future is looking bright. Washington is feeling the same thing that Rays fans felt a few years back before the young crop of players broke through to become major league regulars. But the Royals just can't find the same water to drink alongside those clubs.

Here's hoping that changes. Until this year, former first rounders like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer -- the very guys who are supposed to play the role of hero -- have failed to hold up that mantle. Thus, the Royals have languished with any real leaders to step up every fifth day and take over the ballgame from the mound, or deliver in the middle of a line-up night in and night out. But finally, it seems that both guys are finding their footing and making good on the promise that drew the Royals choice in the first place. Mike Montgomery is an number one starter in the making and gives Royals fans hopes for their own lefty ace.

But some of those scenarios are a few years away, leaving this tale rather one-sided this weekend. While both franchises seem to be in the same immediate state, try telling that to the fans who are giddy over their future both for the rest of this season and for the ones to come.