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Will Joe Maddon let the Cubs pitch to Bryce Harper?

Will Joe Maddon let the Cubs pitch to Bryce Harper?

The last meeting between the Nationals and Cubs was marked by Joe Maddon's decision to give Bryce Harper the Barry Bonds treatment, walking him six times — including three intentional passes— in Chicago's 4-3 extra-inning win at Wrigley Field. 

As bizarre a strategy as it seemed to blatantly avoid the reigning NL MVP, the decision worked; Ryan Zimmerman, then the cleanup hitter, was unable to make the Cubs pay after each Harper walk, going 0-for-6 in those situations. 

Fast forward to Monday's matchup between the two clubs, the first since the infamous walk-a-thon, and much about the Nats offense has changed. Harper hasn't been the same hitter he was during his torrid April, but the bats around him have heated up. Daniel Murphy, who owns the best average in the big leagues at .369, was moved to the cleanup spot for better protection. Wilson Ramos might be the best hitting catcher in the National League so far this season. Anthony Rendon has thrived in the six-hole, and Danny Espinosa's gone on a home run barrage the last 15 games. 

So given all that, would Maddon still walk Harper if the opportunity presents itself? 

"I look at their lineup to see if there's are any openings in there," the Cubs' manager said before Monday's game. "They have Murphy behind Harper now, so that makes that more difficult to do that. So obviously that's one thing I wanted to look at."

Indeed, Murphy's surprise emergence made it an easy decision for Dusty Baker to move him to the No. 4 spot, so much so that the Nats' skipper even joked Sunday that the Cubs were the reason for rearranging his lineup. So even if Maddon decides to employ the walk-a-Bryce tactic, it seems unlikely that it'll work this time around. 

"Right now Murphy might be the best hitter in baseball," Maddon said. "So you gotta look at the entirety of [the situation]. What our matchups look like going into a moment. The best way to beat them is to grab a lead and hold onto it. If you have to make those choices late in the game, a lot of times you're just making your best guess." 

Of course, Harper has had to deal with other teams besides the Cubs opting not to test him. That said, what occurred on May 8 wasn't just bizarre, it was historic; he was the first player to reach base seven times in a game without registering a hit.

Who knows what tricks Chicago's unorthodox manager has up his sleeve this time, but Harper knows he has to take advantage of whatever opportunities that are given to him. 

"You never know what Maddon's gonna do," Harper said. "....If I get a pitch, I need to drive it. If they walk me and put me on first, then it's just like any other team walking me and putting me on first....It's apart of baseball, and it worked out well for them last time, so we'll see what happens."

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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.