Max Scherzer

Even if they don't get Bryce Harper back, the Nationals just ensured they'll be a threat to Cubs, NL in 2019

Even if they don't get Bryce Harper back, the Nationals just ensured they'll be a threat to Cubs, NL in 2019

The Washington Nationals may not re-sign Bryce Harper, but they certainly won't be on the outside looking in at the National League pennant race.

The Nats shook up the baseball world Tuesday afternoon when they inked Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 million deal, according to Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post.

The exact details of the contract are unknown, but Corbin gets a deal the same length as Yu Darvish's with the Cubs, only with an extra $14 million added on. That gives Corbin the 18th-highest AAV (average annual value) contract in baseball and the Nationals already boast Max Scherzer (6th) and Stephen Strasburg (10th) on that same list.

It pushes the Nationals' estimated payroll to about $196 million for 2019, which is only $10 million under the luxury tax. 

That may make it impossible for them to go out and sign Harper to a megadeal unless the Nats front office can unload some major salary somewhere along the line, but Corbin certainly legitimizes Washington's playoff chances. On the other hand, bolstering the rest of the roster is a nice recruiting pitch to Harper as the Nats front office can prove they're all about trying to bring a championship to D.C.

A three-headed monster of Scherzer-Corbin-Strasburg in the rotation is absolutely incredible assuming they can all stay healthy (something Strasburg has not been able to accomplish yet in his career). The Nationals then roll out Tanner Roark and Joe Ross — who most certainly are no slouches — as their Nos. 4 and 5 options on the starting staff.

Even without Harper, the Top 4 in the Nats lineup still has to rank among the best in the NL with some combination of:

1. Adam Eaton
2. Trea Turner
3. Anthony Rendon
4. Juan Soto

The Nationals have been very aggressive this offseason, supplementing their lineup with a pair of veteran catchers acquired via trade (Yan Gomes) and free agency (Kurt Suzuki). They also picked up two low-risk/high-reward bullpen arms in Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough to work in front of incumbent closer Sean Doolittle.

The Corbin deal gives the Nats 25/1 odds to win the World Series:

That's bad news for any Cubs fans under the illusion the Nats would fade into obscurity without Harper. 

The good news for the Cubs is the NL East may waste all their energy beating up on each other in the 2019 regular season as the Braves and Phillies are going all-in and the Mets just pulled off a big trade for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz.

That's a lot of talent headed to one division this winter:

Good thing for the Cubs they only have to play each of those teams 6-7 times a year.

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Cubs postponed after yet another bout with Mother Nature, doubleheader set for Saturday

Cubs postponed after yet another bout with Mother Nature, doubleheader set for Saturday

WASHINGTON — As if a stretch of 23 games in 23 days wasn't already difficult enough, now the Cubs have a rain postponement mixed in there.

More than four hours of rain delays Friday evening resulted in moving the game until Saturday.

First pitch of the doubleheader will be at 2:05 p.m. Chicago time, still on NBC Sports Chicago as originally scheduled. The second game will begin 45 minutes after the conclusion of the first game.

Before anybody threw a pitch Friday night, the game was delayed for over an hour. It was halted again right as Jon Lester was walking to the batter's box in the top of the second inning as the sky opened up and it started pouring.

Two hours and 59 minutes after that halt in play, the game was finally called and pushed to Saturday.

Jon Lester will not be available for Saturday's game and the Cubs will roll with recently signed veteran Jaime Garcia in Game 1 against Max Scherzer and Cole Hamels in Game 2 (the Nats have not announced their starter yet).

On the one hand, this is good news for the Cubs in that they were down most of their "A" relievers Friday due to recent work — Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson and Jesse Chavez were all unavailable. 

The bad news is they also now just wasted their ace (Lester) in a game that should've never started in the first place. And now the bullpen has to cover the entirety of Game 1, though at least the expanded rosters helps make that a whole lot easier.

It also isn't really a day of rest amid this brutal stretch for the Cubs given they had to warm up and played an inning and now will have to play two games on Saturday, plus a day game Sunday and then travel Sunday night back home to Chicago for an all-important three-game series with the Brewers at Wrigley Field beginning Monday night.

The Cubs' next off-day is Thursday, which Joe Maddon joked the players and coaches won't know what to do with themselves after not having a day away from the park in more than three weeks.

But the Cubs are 12-5 on this tough stretch with six games remaining.

"Why would I complain? We're playing well," Maddon said before Friday's "game." "We're playing often, we're playing well. The biggest thing I have is the rest component with players. ... You can't ask for more from your guys. I mean, the way we've handled all this, I have nothing to complain about. We've been pretty impressive."

How the Cubs have formed a 'mental edge' over opponents

How the Cubs have formed a 'mental edge' over opponents

WASHINGTON — There's just something about the Cubs at Nationals Park.

Eleven months after Wade Davis and the Cubs somehow found a way to beat the Nationals in an epic NLDS Game 5, Joe Maddon's group once again battled and picked up a tough 6-4 win Thursday night in D.C.

Though this time, Davis was nowhere to be found and Maddon had to squeeze the absolute most out of his bullpen in the 10-inning affair.

Brandon Kintzler — now a Cubs reliever, but was a part of the Nationals bullpen in that NLDS — believes his current team has a "mental edge" over opponents. Daniel Murphy — who followed Kintzler from Washington to Chicago — said he was impressed with the way this Cubs team can take a punch and give one right back.

That's the perception of this Cubs team from the opposing dugout and they proved why again Thursday night.

With the win over the Nationals, the Cubs guaranteed they would finish this tough stretch of 23 games in 23 days with a winning record...and they still have six games to play to improve upon that record. 

"We've really fought through some very difficult moments lately," Maddon said. "... I think our guys are baseball bright enough and they've been through enough to know there's no sense in crying or complaining about this [stretch]. We gotta do this. And they've done wonderfully. We've done wonderfully with all this.

"I'm proud of them. I just want us to tighten up some of the periphery stuff, that's all. That's where I become a little bit of a perfectionist. It's about the controllable stuff. You can strike out, make an error, I don't care. But the controllable, mental side of the game is where I want us to be very tight."

Maybe the Cubs do have a mental edge over opponents like the Nationals. That winning culture could help explain why the 2018 Cubs are marching toward the best record in the NL while the Nats will probably be waving goodbye to Bryce Harper this winter without having ever won a playoff series.

It's impossible to try to quantify a "mental edge," but either way, the results are still the same — both last fall and the way the 2018 season has played out.

"I knew the Cubs were dangerous," Kintzler said. "They were a team I really didn't want to face because I knew [Max] Scherzer is only gonna have one start in the playoffs.

"I knew they were gonna have an edge on us. But then once they came into D.C. and they won 3-0 that first game and really should've won that second game — you knew it wasn't gonna be an easy series.

"You could just tell — they were a scrappy team and they had pieces that knew how to win a game. I felt that way. I don't know if as a team we felt that way, but I felt like we were definitely talented but the Cubs just had something that we didn't have."

Now that Kintzler has spent the last five weeks on the other side of the coin (he was traded from the Nats to the Cubs before the July 31 deadline), he has an idea what sets this team apart.

"They're pretty laid back here," Kintzler said. "That's the thing — they don't take anything too serious. A loss is a loss — they move on. Which, you know, the best teams are going to lose 65 times a year, so you might as well — not be good at losing, but you gotta be able to accept it.

"These guys are good at turning the page. And that's what makes them successful. They know that if they show up, they're gonna win. Even if everyone's hurt or out of line, they still feel like they're gonna win. They just have that mental edge.

"That's what I felt like when we played against them in the playoffs last year. They had something over us. I felt like we were the better team on that other side. They just had something over us. They had tons of confidence and they know how to win games."

Kyle Hendricks started Thursday's game at Nationals Park against Stephen Strasburg in the same pitching matchup for Game 1 of that NLDS last fall.

The Cubs right-hander believes his team's mental edge comes from a camaraderie in the clubhouse and wanting to win for each other.

"Being through it in '15 and '16, all those games in the playoffs has just brought the group pretty close together," Hendricks said. "A lot of us being young at the time, I think it kinda molded our mindset and how we play.

"It helps having the same kind of guys around and fostering that confidence knowing that we have what it takes in this clubhouse at all times."

That kind of approach and winning culture has helped the Cubs to their fourth straight winning season for the first time in franchise history since 1967-72.

The Cubs have spent a lot of time and energy focused on the mental aspect of the game over the last few seasons — something Maddon preaches on a daily basis. 

In the analytical age of baseball, many pundits undervalue the idea of clubhouse chemistry, but Maddon set about changing that culture immediately after he took over as manager of the Cubs prior to the 2015 season.

Before Thursday's game at Nationals Park, Maddon was asked what the secret is to the Cubs' sustained success the last few years.

"Before [pitching and defense] comes the culture and attitude," Maddon said. "And the believability on a daily basis and the selflessness. All these leadership kind of words that I think are true. The group that doesn't believe that is because they've never had to do it. Kind of a 'mock what you don't understand' kind of thing.

"What happens first — chemistry or the winning? Everybody says, 'Well, if you're winning you create [chemistry].' False. If you've never won before, you gotta do something to create that method so everybody in that room believes that you can.

"So there's a lot of intangible. ... The part you really can't see is the building of the culture and having groups come together and the relationship and the trust and all those things matter. It mattered [Wednesday night] in Milwaukee, a lot."

And it mattered in that NLDS, particularly Game 5.

"Our guys show up when it gets hot and they don't seem to be spinning too quickly," Maddon said. "They're not overwhelmed. I think that's a product of the room."