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Braves' Dansby Swanson admits he hates facing Stephen Strasburg

Braves' Dansby Swanson admits he hates facing Stephen Strasburg

After winning the NL Cy Young award in back-to-back seasons, the New York Mets' Jacob deGrom holds the title of undisputed best pitcher in the NL East—if not the entire major leagues.

So when asked at the Braves' annual winter FanFest, Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman were quick to admit that they hated facing deGrom more than any other pitcher in baseball.

But shortstop Dansby Swanson has another nemesis: Stephen Strasburg.

Dansby Swanson is not a fan of Stephen Strasburg from r/baseball

Swanson is 6-for-27 (.222) with one home run and 15 strikeouts against Strasburg, making it understandable why he'd hate facing the Nationals starter.

Unfortunately for Swanson, Strasburg signed a seven-year deal with the Nationals in December. The Braves infielder isn't going to be able to avoid facing him anytime soon.

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Tim Kurkjian says there’s no replacing Anthony Rendon in the Nationals’ lineup

Tim Kurkjian says there’s no replacing Anthony Rendon in the Nationals’ lineup

For the first time in their history, the Nationals are gearing up for a title defense. The reigning World Series champions spent the offseason re-signing several key contributors from their playoff run while making the media tour required of Commissioner’s Trophy hoisters.

One player who won’t be returning to D.C. in 2020, however, is third baseman Anthony Rendon. After finishing third in NL MVP voting last season and leading the majors in RBIs with 126, he inked a seven-year, $245 million with the Los Angeles Angels at the Winter Meetings and left behind a hole in the Nationals’ lineup that has yet to be filled.

Free agents Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas signed elsewhere. There has been reported to be little traction between the Nationals and either the Chicago Cubs or Colorado Rockies for Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado, respectively. Instead, Washington is giving top prospect Carter Kieboom a shot at earning the starting job at third out of spring training.

ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian sat down with NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas for the Nationals Talk podcast and discussed just how much the team is going to miss Rendon’s bat.

“They’re not going to replace him,” Kurkjian said. “He’s way too good of a hitter. But what they’re trying to do makes some sense. If Carter Kieboom is ready, and I’m not sure he is, but if he’s ready and they put him out there every day, they got a chance to have a really good young third baseman on their team.

“If it doesn’t work, they have Asdrúbal Cabrera, they have Howie Kendrick, they have other options even Starlin Castro. But none of those guys together are going to be as good as Anthony Rendon was and none of those is going to be able to help protect [Juan] Soto in the order.”

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW ON THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST

General manager Mike Rizzo said at the Nationals’ annual WinterFest event in January that the team wants to “score runs in other ways.” He spent the winter building their infield depth, signing Starlin Castro, Asdrúbal Cabrera and Howie Kendrick to play multiple positions.

But even so, the Nationals’ lineup lacks the thump that Anthony Rendon and, in years past, Bryce Harper provided. Yet Rizzo made another area of the roster a priority: the bullpen. He inked Houston Astros set-up man Will Harris to a three-year deal and brought back playoff hero Daniel Hudson to form a formidable reliever trio alongside Sean Doolittle.

“Their bullpen is way better than it was last year, it has to be,” Kurkjian said. “Their starting rotation is still great and even though they won’t be the same team offensively—they can’t be without Anthony Rendon—I think they’re still a solid contender to win the division, solid contender to make the playoffs again.”

The Nationals figure to be in the thick of the NL East race once again, but they’d like to do so without digging themselves into the 19-31 hole that they got into last season. While the string of comebacks and miracle performances made for an unbelievable championship effort and a legacy that will endure for generations, Kurkjian believes Washington is going to need to play more like a legitimate contender all season if it’s going to return to the World Series.

“Will they repeat last year? That’s never happening again,” Kurkjian said. “It’s not that they can’t win another championship. The way they won it, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime story and we’re never gonna see that again. From them or very many other teams, either.”

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Is a contract extension in Max Scherzer’s future?

Is a contract extension in Max Scherzer’s future?

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Early July of 2019 in Cleveland was not the time Max Scherzer wanted to talk about his contract.

Washington had surfaced from its brutish start, but remained six games out of first place when the All-Star break arrived. Scherzer was the team’s lone presence at the All-Star Game in Ohio since Anthony Rendon opted for rest and the voters opted for other players. Scherzer wasn’t going to pitch. Though, he did go to Media Day, where he was asked about the future of his contract. The question annoyed him.

“I’m trying to win a championship,” he said.

Flip to this spring in West Palm Beach. Scherzer has won said championship, shaved another year off his seven-year deal and is entering his age-36 season. Let’s try the question again. Has he thought about or been approached about a contract extension?

“Obviously, there is a time and place to think about that,” Scherzer told NBC Sports Washington. “It’s really [for] the team to come to you to drive those conversations. And, so, for me, I’ll cross that bridge when a team wants to pick up the phone.”

The template to do so is Scherzer’s former teammate, Justin Verlander. He signed a two-year, $66 million extension in March of 2019 on his way into his age-36 season. The Astros approached him in January of last year about a longer deal before it was sealed two months later. The extension kept Verlander from becoming a free agent following the 2019 season. The contract also set a precedent by delivering the highest average annual value in base salary for a pitcher.

“I thought it was very fair compensation, and also the way it affects future players’ contracts in age-37, -38 seasons just helps push the boundary a little bit, which is something that’s important to me,” Verlander said at the time.

In that sense, he did Scherzer a favor.

The Nationals will point to last season’s injuries as reason not to approach Scherzer now. Scherzer made only 27 starts because of a middle back problem. His neck stiffness in the middle of the World Series roiled the entire setup. His swift return from the rigid neck enabled them to start him in Game 7. He says he feels good now, but those issues linger at least mentally and offer easy reasons to kick the can. Never mind he’s averaged 220 innings per season across the prior five years. In order to be paid, he has to prove it over again, continuing his tussle with the aging process.

Scherzer tries to push out thoughts of the future. He doesn’t have a flat answer for how long he will play, or what he wants to do in the next few years when his already firm Hall-of-Fame résumé will become concrete. He’s 308 strikeouts from becoming the 19th pitcher to strikeout 3,000 batters, and likely the last to do so for a long period, if not the last to do so period because pitcher usage has dipped so much. Another Cy Young Award would be his fourth. Just four other pitchers have done that. Those numbers aren’t kicking around inside his mind.

“Ignorance is kind of bliss,” Scherzer said. “Trying to worry about your future and how many years you want to play kind of makes your head go numb. For me, what works is just kind of stay in the moment, don’t worry about everything. Control what you can control. Who knows how everything will turn out over the next few years? But, for me, I feel great, I feel good. Want to continue to keep playing baseball and look forward to what I can do the next few years.”

Maybe, Scherzer will make 32 starts this year. Maybe next spring he will be at a press conference sounding like Verlander did in 2019, when he said he didn’t want to be anywhere else, and he will be charged with keeping it up until he is 38 years old. Maybe it all comes together so he retires in a Washington uniform, then becomes the Nationals’ first representative in Cooperstown. But someone from the organization has to pick up the phone before all that can happen.

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