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Nats spring training question No. 4: Enough starting pitching?


Nats spring training question No. 4: Enough starting pitching?

This week we are counting down the biggest questions for the Nationals as they begin their 2016 spring training in Viera, Florida with their first official workout on Saturday. The second installment examines their starting rotation...

For several years running, the Nationals had been aggressive in upgrading their rotation over the offseason, even when it appeared to need no help and even when a new acquisition would leave a relatively accomplished pitcher - like Ross Detwiler or Tanner Roark - as the odd-man out. This winter, however, the Nationals decided to do nothing to significantly change their starting staff, unless you think highly of a post-Tommy John surgery Bronson Arroyo.

The Nationals have questions in their starting rotation really for the first time in years. If everything goes right, they will be just fine. But one injury could seriously test their depth, especially given the fact we don't know the specifics yet of their workload plan for Lucas Giolito.

Max Scherzer will lead their staff once again, but behind him are Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, two pitchers who had 2015 seasons that were not up to their normal standards. Behind them are Joe Ross - who has only 16 MLB appearances under his belt - and Roark, who had a forgettable 2015 season that saw him struggle with a variety of roles.

If Arroyo pans out, he will provide some veteran depth to that group. But if not, it could be A.J. Cole or Taylor Jordan they turn to as an injury replacement, depending on Giolito's availability.

There is potential for the Nationals' rotation to be very good, perhaps one of the best in the National League. There just appears to be less depth at the position than they have featured in years past.

The counter to that, however, would be the 2012 Nationals, who added Edwin Jackson before that season but were otherwise in worse shape - one could argue - than they are currently. Scherzer is a better No. 1 than Strasburg was, especially if you consider Strasburg was to be shut down in September. If Strasburg performs like he did in his final 10 starts of last season, he is a better No. 2 than Zimmermann. And then Roark, despite his troubles last year, is a more proven commodity than Detwiler was at the No. 5 spot going into that season.

Those Nationals won 98 games to lead the majors and they could have won a lot more if it weren't for injuries. This unit is certainly capable of matching that year's group, barring health. And they have the ultimate wild card in Giolito, who is the top prospect at his position in baseball but is likely to only be available for somewhere around 160-180 innings this year.

There is also the example of the Kansas City Royals, who this past fall won the World Series despite having the 22nd-ranked rotation in terms of starters ERA. Now, the Royals have a much better bullpen, defense and a more versatile lineup than the Nationals.

Winners of two straight AL pennants, the Royals are simply a better team, but they did prove that one can win without putting a ton of resources into a starting rotation, as the Nationals have in recent years. They also proved the New York Mets of all teams can be beaten that way, as well.

The Nationals have a fine rotation as they enter the 2016 rotation, but for the first time in a while it isn't an obvious strength with several questions of depth and inexperience behind their top three.

Nats spring training question No. 5: Who plays shortstop?

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May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

The start of spring training is a glimmer of hope during the cold of winter. It means warm weather, cold beers and hot dogs at the ballpark are coming your way.

It's our first chance to get a taste of how our favorite team is shaping up for the 2018 season, and for those who are not quite into just the game itself, betting odds.

CG Technology, a Las Vegas sportsbook operator, has set the 2018 odds for each MLB team.

Specifically, how are things looking for the local teams?


Washington Nationals: 91 1/2 wins

The 2018 season is looked at by many as the last World Series run for some time for the Nationals and their core group of players. Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez will become free agents after the 2018 season in addition to general manager and President of Baseball Operations, Mike Rizzo.

In 2017, the team won 97 games and went on to win the NL East, but couldn't make it past the first-round of the National League Division Series. In 2018, Vegas is giving the Nats 7/2 odds of taking the National League title. They are just behind the Chicago Cubs, who knocked them out of contention last season, at 4/1 odds.

As far as winning the World Series, Vegas is giving the guys an 8/1 chance of their first title, tied with the Cubs.

Baltimore Orioles: 77 1/2 wins

The O's finished the 2017 season with 75 wins, which could be considered somewhat of an accomplishment considering their pitching resources.

The same problem will occur in 2018 as the organization hasn't signed any new starting pitchers. Vegas is giving them 50/1 odds of taking the American League title and 100/1 odds of winning the World Series.

The lack of depth in their rotation will come back to bite them as division rival New York Yankees have 5/1 odds of winning the World Series and the Red Sox have 10/1 odds.

A below average season should be expected.

A few other standouts, good and bad, include the Miami Marlins at 500/1 odds of winning the World Series, the Kansas City Royals at 200/1 and current champions, the Houston Astros, at 6/1 odds.


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Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine


Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine

SAN DIEGO — Former All-Star pitcher Esteban Loaiza has been arrested on suspicion of trafficking drugs after packages containing a white powder believed to be cocaine were found at a home he rented in Southern California, officials said Monday.

The 46-year-old former Major League Baseball player was booked Friday on charges involving the possession, transport and sale of 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of suspected cocaine worth an estimated $500,000, according to the San Diego Sheriff's Department.

Loaiza played for numerous teams between 1995 and 2008, starting with the Pittsburgh Pirates and concluding with his second stint with the Chicago White Sox. He had a 21-9 record with the Chicago White Sox in 2003 and started in the All-Star Game that year.


He also played one season for the Washington Nationals in 2005 — the team's inaugural season in D.C. after the franchise changed from the Montreal Expos. During his one season in Washington, Loaiza finished with a 12-10 record adn a 3.77 ERA over 34 games played that year.

It was not immediately known if Loaiza had hired a lawyer and the former player could not be reached to comment. He was being held Monday for lack of $200,000 bail pending a court appearance on Wednesday.

Loaiza's agent, John Boggs, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he had no information about the arrest and that he has not spoken to Loaiza recently. He said that Loaiza had called his office early last week but Boggs was unavailable at the time.

"I am shocked and saddened by the news and had no indication he would ever be in this type of situation," Boggs said in a text to the newspaper. "I don't know how he would get himself involved in this, so it's difficult to even comment on it."

Officers stopped Loaiza for a minor traffic infraction Friday after he left the home he started renting recently in the Pacific coast community of Imperial Beach, along the U.S.-Mexico border. Authorities had the vehicle under surveillance on suspicion it was used for smuggling drugs.

When they searched the vehicle, they found a sophisticated compartment used to conceal contraband, authorities said. That led them to obtain a search warrant for Loaiza's rental home, where they found the packages of drugs, according to investigators.

The packages containing a white powder are still being tested but are believed to be cocaine, said San Diego Sheriff's Lt. Jason Vickery.

Loaiza was born in Tijuana, Mexico and was married for two years to the late Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera. She filed for divorce shortly before she died in a plane crash in 2012.

The 43-year-old Rivera was known as the "Diva de la Banda" and died as her career was peaking. She was perhaps the most successful female singer in grupero, a male-dominated Mexico regional style, sold more than 15 million records, and moved into acting and reality television.

Loaiza sued the aircraft's owners in 2014 for wrongful death but her relatives accused him of trying to profit from her death. He denied the accusations and later retracted his lawsuit.

NBC Sports Washington contributed to this report.