Cubs

IVs and Hawaiian dudes: Stephen Strasburg is ready to pitch Game 4 for Nationals

IVs and Hawaiian dudes: Stephen Strasburg is ready to pitch Game 4 for Nationals

The latest twist in the Nats’ version of “Who’s On First” simply boils down to Stephen Strasburg feeling better on Wednesday.

The last-minute decision to start Strasburg in Game 4 of the National League Division Series has nothing to do with peer pressure from his teammates or the media. The All-Star pitcher’s flu-like symptoms improved enough overnight for him to inform the team he’s ready to go.

At least that’s the Nationals’ version in a saga that has seen the All-Star pitcher’s courage questioned and the team’s ability to put out a clear and concise message mocked for an entire news cycle.

Less than 24 hours after manager Dusty Baker said Tanner Roark would start the potential elimination game, the Nationals announced that a suddenly healthy Strasburg would go instead. The team’s message was further muddled early Wednesday when Nats general manager Mike Rizzo reaffirmed that Roark would start on a DC radio station.

In the end, all that matters to the Nats after this distracting much-ado-about-nothing cycle is that Strasburg will face the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

“Many statements that have been made about this subject have been inaccurate,” Rizzo said. “If you're alluding to the fact that -- did the media pressure him into starting this? I don't think Stephen Strasburg cares about what the media thinks about him or says about him. He wanted the ball in this game because he wants to win this game and he thinks he's our best option. And he's an ultra-competitor and he feels this gives us a chance to win.”

If you’re all confused by this you’re not alone.

Though Cubs manager Joe Maddon had an inkling that Strasburg would start, Baker said Wednesday afternoon that when he left Wrigley on Tuesday night he was under the impression Roark was his guy.

The decision to stick with Roark after Tuesday’s rainout stunned the baseball world as everyone figured the Nationals would take advantage of the weather to use Strasburg, who took a no-hitter into the sixth inning in Game 1 of the series. When they stayed with Roark because Strasburg -- who threw a bullpen Monday and played catch on Tuesday -- was ill, Baker, Rizzo and the pitcher were all questioned heavily.

But Strasburg apparently responded well enough to overnight treatment, including IVs, to call pitching coach Mike Maddux on Wednesday and tell him he wanted to pitch. Maddux said the coaching staff would convene once they arrived at Wrigley.

Two hours later, word leaked out Strasburg would pitch adding another layer of confusion. Much to his surprise, Baker said Strasburg told him he wants the ball.

“I was planning on Tanner pitching,” Baker said. “Things are subject to change and … maybe the rain helped him and helped us, like I hoped that it would. I said my prayers and said, ‘Hey, man, let the rain try to help us.’

“Hawaiian buddies of mine … were saying, ‘Hey, sometimes, that's a blessing from the sky.’ They call it mana. I believe in that.”

Baker believes Strasburg is ready for a normal start. The turn comes on regular rest after Strasburg pitched Game 1 on Friday in Washington. Strasburg pitched 5 2/3 no-hit innings in the opener but was undone when the Cubs took advantage of an Anthony Rendon error in the sixth inning and went on to a 3-0 win. Strasburg allowed two unearned runs and three hits while striking out 10 and walking one in seven innings.

Baker reiterated Rizzo’s stance that Strasburg wasn’t pressured into the decision by the team, its players or the media.

“We didn't put that pressure on him, and I don't think that he would succumb to the pressure from the public or the media or anybody,” Baker said. “You know, he's a grown man. He made that decision on his own and he wanted to pitch, and he was very adamant about he wanted to pitch and how much better he was feeling.”

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

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AP

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

During the middle of Jake Arrieta’s 2015 Cy Young Award campaign, super-agent Scott Boras compared the emerging Cubs pitcher to another client – Max Scherzer – in the first season of a seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals.

Now don’t focus as much on the money – though that obviously matters – as when Scherzer arrived for that Washington press conference to put on his new Nationals jersey: Jan. 21, 2015.

It might take Boras a while to find a new home for his “big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.” Teams have been gearing up for next winter’s monster Bryce Harper/Manny Machado free-agent class for years. Mystery surrounds Shohei Ohtani, Japan’s Babe Ruth, and the posting system with Nippon Professional Baseball. Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax may also have a chilling effect this offseason.

As expected, Arrieta, All-Star closer Wade Davis and pitcher Alex Cobb were among the group of free agents who went 9-for-9 in declining the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer before Thursday’s deadline.

With that formality out of the way, if Arrieta and Davis sign elsewhere, the Cubs will receive two third-round picks in the 2018 draft.

By staying under the $195 million luxury-tax threshold this year, the Cubs would have to give up a second-round draft pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool to sign Cobb, an obvious target given their connections to the Tampa Bay Rays, or Lance Lynn, another starter on their radar who turned down a qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.

That collectively bargained luxury-tax system became a central part of the Boras media show on Wednesday outside the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, where he introduced “Playoffville” as his new go-to analogy at the end of the general manager meetings.

“The team cutting payroll is treating their family where they’re staying in a neighborhood that has less protection for winning,” Boras said. “They’re not living in the gated community of Playoffville. Certainly, they’re saving a de minimis property tax, but the reality of it is there’s less firemen in the bullpen. There’s less financial analysts sitting in the press boxes.

“The rooms in the house are less, so obviously you’re going to have less franchise players. When you move to that 12-room home in Playoffville, they generally are filled with the people that allow you to really achieve what your family – your regional family – wants to achieve. And that is winning.”

Boras also represents four other players who rejected qualifying offers – J.D Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland – another reason why this could be a long winter of Arrieta rumors, slow-playing negotiations and LOL metaphors.