Giants

Lobaton's three-run homer leads Nationals to tie up NLDS

Lobaton's three-run homer leads Nationals to tie up NLDS

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON -- Jose Lobaton got the chance to play in the postseason because of a teammate's late-September injury and, boy, did the little-used backup catcher make the most of it.

Lobaton hit a three-run homer, Daniel Murphy provided more-expected production by driving in a pair of insurance runs, and Washington's bullpen threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings Sunday, leading the Nationals past the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-2 in a rain-postponed Game 2 to even their NL Division Series at 1-all.

The Nationals trailed 2-0 in the fourth when No. 8 hitter Lobaton put them ahead for good by connecting off a curveball from Rich Hill after the Dodgers left-hander walked Murphy and hit a batter.

Hard to see this coming: Lobaton did not do much at the plate in 2016, batting .232 in only 99 at-bats overall, including 1 for 15 against lefties. Then again, that lone hit was also a homer, and also against the Dodgers - off Scott Kazmir in July.

Lobaton didn't even start the playoff opener, in fact. He sat behind rookie Pedro Severino, who had played all of 18 games in the majors.

Murphy, in contrast, has been Washington's best hitter all season, considered a top contender for league MVP honors. Indeed, fans chanted those three letters after each hit as he went 3 for 3, including RBI singles in the fifth and seventh.

The Dodgers had gone ahead on Corey Seager's second first-inning homer of the series and Josh Reddick's run-scoring single in the third on a play at home in which Lobaton couldn't hold onto Bryce Harper's throw home from right. Both runs came against Tanner Roark, who lasted 4 1/3 innings.

Five Nationals relievers did the rest, with Mark Melancon working around a single in the ninth - the lone hit allowed by the hosts' bullpen - to earn the save. Blake Treinen went 1 1/3 innings and got the win.

All in all, NL East champion Washington used the same formula that NL West winner LA did in Game 1 and, truly, all year: hit the ball over the fence and rely on shutdown relief.

And after the Nationals wasted plenty of opportunities to score in a 4-3 loss on Friday, it was the Dodgers' turn to come up short in the clutch: Los Angeles left the bases loaded three times.

The best-of-five series shifts to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Monday afternoon, with Game 4 there on Tuesday, creating an unusual three-consecutive-days setup in the playoffs, thanks to the loss of a travel day.

Game 2 originally was supposed to be played Saturday, when heavy showers in the morning and early afternoon - and a forecast that promised more - prompted Major League Baseball to push it into Sunday's planned off day. The rain had disappeared by an hour past the original first-pitch time, though, and 20-20 hindsight said that the game could have been played.

This one was played under a blue sky but in wind that topped 30 mph and the temperature in the 60s that prompted some players to wear wool caps during pregame warmups.

The Nationals went ahead 3-2 in the fourth, finally getting to Hill - who went 4 1/3 innings - in the unlikeliest of ways. After a walk and two quick outs, he plunked Danny Espinosa for the second time; Washington's shortstop has struck out in his other five NLDS plate appearances.

That mistake proved costly when the next batter, Lobaton, put the ball into the visitors' bullpen beyond left field, leading to chants of "N-A-T-S! Nats, Nats, Nats, Woooo!" from a sellout crowd of 43,826.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: With RHP Joe Ross coming off a recent trip to the disabled list with an inflamed right shoulder, manager Dusty Baker still did not want to commit to his Game 4 and Game 5 starting pitchers. One possibility would be that Ross could pitch in Game 4, with Game 1 loser Scherzer starting Game 5.

UP NEXT

In Game 3, the Dodgers will have RHP Kenta Maeda (16-11, 3.48 ERA) on the mound against Nationals LHP Gio Gonzalez (11-11, 4.57). Both pitchers were scheduled to fly to Los Angeles ahead of the rest of the teams' players, so they could be in place, instead of waiting for Sunday's game to end. The Nationals are hoping Gonzalez can take advantage of the Dodgers' worst-in-the-majors batting average against left-handed pitchers. Maeda led LA pitchers in wins, innings (175 2/3), strikeouts (179) and starts (32).

Bryce Harper's 2019 home (Phillies? Cubs? Nationals?) is up for debate

Bryce Harper's 2019 home (Phillies? Cubs? Nationals?) is up for debate

Bryce Harper is a free agent, but don't expect him to play baseball in the Bay Area next season -- unless it's as a visitor.

While some Giants fans have drooled at the prospect of the slugger in orange and black, it doesn't appear likely, given their new head of baseball operations' past history. Agent Scott Boras, who's masterful at building markets for his clients, sees San Francisco as a fit, even if the team probably does not, with the reported $40 million-per-season asking price too rich.

There's no way Harper will join the payroll-light A's, either. In fact, his annual salary could cost more than a possible Oakland 25-man roster.

So, where exactly will Harper end up when the dust created by Boras' bluster is all said and done? Giants insider Alex Pavlovic and A's reporter Ben Ross debated that question and came up with different conclusions.

ALEX: Ben, this is the Winter of Bryce and Manny ... but so far Bryce Harper has been the one on center stage. That’ll happen when your agent stands up in front of reporters at the GM Meetings and declares that Harper’s Bazaar is open. It’s been a cold market so far. The Yankees say they’re out, the Cubs say they don’t have payroll space, and I reported last week that the Giants aren’t as interested as they once were.

Where does that leave us? Phillies? Dodgers? White Sox? The #MysteryTeam? His Nationals? Who am I missing?

BEN: The Phillies definitely look like the favorite at this point, but who knows? It seems like every article about him is telling us why he WON’T sign with a certain team. I still say he’s not worth the ridiculous salary being projected. Am I wrong?

ALEX: I think we've found over the years that most of the massive deals don't work out. A year ago at this time, we were on Giancarlo Stanton Watch, and he had a pretty quiet 2018. It's definitely safer to spread that money around, but you know Boras will find an owner -- and make no mistake about it, he goes straight to the ownership level -- to write that check. I know what I would do if I were Harper, but what do you think he should do?

BEN: Maybe I'm an idiot (actually, that's confirmed), but I think Harper is a little overrated. He's obviously a really good hitter, but he's only hit 30-plus home runs twice in seven years. Want to know where he ranked in WAR last season? Tied for 186th. If I were him, I think I'd stay with the Nationals. What would you do?

ALEX: I would stay with the Nationals, too. It's different if you can get yourself closer to home by playing for the Dodgers or Giants, or put yourself on the biggest stages in Chicago or New York -- but if it comes down to choices like the Phillies, I'd definitely stay home, unless the contract difference is overwhelming. It's rare that you're given an opportunity to be THE GUY in one city for your whole career, and it seems like the Nats really do want him back.

As for the overrated part, you're not an idiot -- I've talked to plenty of scouts and executives who point to Harper's poor defense and say he's not worth close to $300 million. Will he get it? We'll see. I think he will, which leads to our two big questions: Does he get the largest contract in MLB history, and where does he end up?

BEN: Good point on his defense. His career defensive WAR is -3.0. I still think he will get the largest contract in MLB history, although I don't expect him to end up out West. The Phillies seem like the best bet at this point, based on chatter around baseball, although I'm not completely convinced the Yankees and Cubs are out of it, regardless of what they say.

But if I had to bet, I'd pick the Phillies on a 10-year, $375 million contract. They have the money to spend, and they're a big-market team looking for a new face of the franchise. Harper would be that.

ALEX: All year, I've thought Harper would end up with the Cubs. But now everyone I check with around the game points to the Phillies. I get it -- and they probably have the most money to offer -- but for some reason, I just can't get on board with him jumping to another NL East club like that. It feels dirty.

Boras has a history with the Nationals, and I think he'll ultimately go back to ownership there and find a way to make a reunion happen. I'll say it's 10 years and $340 million, with at least two opt-outs that allow him to get back onto the market if he wants to go through all this again.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Monday is dedicated to Nationals slugger Bryce Harper.

Giants could use Harper money to fill numerous other needs
Harper would be an entire roster's worth of salary for the A's 
Phillies could use Harper's personality just as much as his big bat
Why Harper sacrificed home runs with Nationals to save his season
White Sox would have to pitch Harper on possibility of bright future
World champion Red Sox not a part of Harper's free-agent journey

How Giants could/should use Bryce Harper contract money in free agency

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NBC Sports Bay Area

How Giants could/should use Bryce Harper contract money in free agency

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants have been connected to Bryce Harper for months, but if you chatted with some coaches and players this summer, you often found people who preferred a different approach, one centered on adding three to four contributors.

Farhan Zaidi, the Giants' new head of baseball operations, surely would agree. His method over the years has been to build depth on the 25- and 40-man rosters. Under Zaidi and Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers never gave a player more than $80 million, and even then, the check went to Kenley Jansen, a popular homegrown star. Sources told NBC Sports Bay Area last week that the Giants’ connection to Harper has been overblown.

[RELATED: Harper's agent explains why slugger loves San Francisco]

Still, there’s plenty of money to spend here. The Giants dipped under the luxury tax and wiped some serious salary off the books. At the top of the list is Hunter Pence’s deal, which expired at the end of the season and gives Zaidi a $18.5 million chunk to play with this offseason. Andrew McCutchen was shipped out in August, and that’s another hefty salary slot left open.

The Giants already picked up Madison Bumgarner’s option, and they’ll dish out somewhere in the neighborhood of $18 million in arbitration. Depending on how aggressive they want to be, that still leaves them potentially between $30 million to $40 million to spend. Harper would take up all that, or nearly all of it, with agent Scott Boras seeking a record deal that could make him the first $400 million player.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s go to the high end of the free agent market. If the Giants have nearly $40 million to spend, and they’re not spending it on Harper, what else could they put together?

The Pitcher

The Giants would like to add at least one front-line starter, per sources, and there are plenty of options. Let’s assume the Giants don’t go straight to the top of the pitching market again, so Patrick Corbin is out. Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Nathan Eovaldi are intriguing options, but another name might make more sense.

Zaidi’s Dodgers gave Rich Hill a three-year, $48-million contract. MLB Trade Rumors predicts J.A. Happ -- basically a 3- to 4-WAR player in each of the last four seasons -- will get the Hill deal. So, we’ll slide Happ in here as as a strong rotation addition making $16 million next year.

The Swiss Army Knife

On the Giants Insider Podcast last week, Zaidi noted that “positional versatility will certainly be something we look at as a positive.” There isn’t a more versatile piece out there than Marwin Gonzalez, who could be the primary starter in left field while also backing up all four infield spots. MLB Trade Rumors has the 30-year-old costing $9 million per year.

The Outfielder

It’s not a deep class, but perhaps the Giants can find a steal on the second tier. They loved McCutchen, who is projected at $15 million by MLB Trade Rumors. Michael Brantley could be there at a similar price. Nick Markakis is at the $8 million to $12 million range on most prediction lists, and MLB Trade Rumors has him getting a two-year, $16 million deal. Markakis, who will be 35 next season, could be a nice placeholder in right field until Zaidi can build some prospect depth.

There are many ways to go here, and it’s possible that the market tanks as it did last winter and there will be some serious bargains in January. The point is, if the Giants want to be deeper and better, not just flashier, in 2019, they can pretty easily spread out the Harper money over multiple players. The Happ, Gonzalez and Markakis trio listed above combined for 8.5 WAR in 2018, per Baseball Reference, and none of them would require long-term commitments -- something the Giants should avoid, given their current payroll situation.

With a few adjustments here or there, the Giants still could bring back a Derek Holland or a Nick Hundley. Perhaps they could take on some money in a trade, adding an everyday outfielder that way. The possibilities, if your offseason is not focused on one player, are endless, and you can bet Zaidi already is exploring them.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Monday is dedicated to Nationals slugger Bryce Harper.

Harper would be an entire roster's worth of salary for the A's 
Phillies could use Harper's personality just as much as his big bat
Why Harper sacrificed home runs with Nationals to save his season
White Sox would have to pitch Harper on possibility of bright future
World champion Red Sox not a part of Harper's free-agent journey