Nationals

Quick Links

Craig Kimbrel could help any NL East contender solve a division-wide problem

kimbrel-celebrating-usat.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Craig Kimbrel could help any NL East contender solve a division-wide problem

WASHINGTON --  Progressively, the lines of desperation and declined price will have to intersect.

At least it would seem. Craig Kimbrel’s demands reportedly are receding during his extended unemployment. The needs of contenders in the National League East’s rock fight continue to increase day by day. The sides should be on a path to merge. Right?

Take this week. 

Atlanta announced closer Arodys Vizcaino underwent right shoulder surgery. He’s out for the season. This the day after his would-be replacement, A.J. Minter, gave up three earned runs in ⅔ of an inning. Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos acknowledged he heard the chants from Braves fans Tuesday night demanding he sign Kimbrel.

Philadelphia placed reliever David Robertson on the 10-day injured list because of a flexor strain (initially labeled elbow soreness). It used Hector Neris to close Wednesday afternoon. He entered with two runners on base. Neris struck out the first batter, gave up a soft single, hit Wilson Ramos to load the bases, then struck Keon Broxton to end the game. That’s an interesting path to the end.

The Mets are living similar to the Nationals. They have a closer -- Edwin Diaz -- who can be relied on. It’s getting to him which has been such a challenge. Seth Lugo (5.06 ERA), Jeurys Familia (6.48) and Robert Gsellman (3.48) are often dispatched to drag New York to the ninth inning.

All five members of the National League East are in the bottom half of bullpen ERA entering play Friday. Philadelphia is 15th, Atlanta is 22nd, Miami is 24th, New York is 27th and Washington remains last by a wide margin -- almost a run-and-a-half worse than 29th-ranked Baltimore.

The Nationals’ bullpen toiling around with the have nots is endangering the team’s season as a whole, the $190 million payroll investment, the demands of the Lerner family to be better than first-round playoff exits. But, few paths are available to fix it without relinquishing a commodity -- whether human or financial.

Multiple reports claim Kimbrel’s asking price has come down in both years and cash. It may never reach a point of intersection with the Nationals if team ownership remains steadfast against surpassing the competitive balance tax threshold for the third consecutive year. Passing the $206 million roster mark would result in a 50 percent tax on every dollar spent from there on. 

Kimbrel would also cost the Nationals a compensation draft pick and international draft money because he declined a qualifying off from Boston. In all, four layers of cost exist around Kimbrel: salary, luxury tax, a draft pick and international money.

Financial stances can change when circumstances do. Though, the Nationals’ leverage with Kimbrel has evaporated. Owning the league’s worst bullpen is not a promising negotiation point for a team preferring to restrict this final portion of spending. Imagine their pitch: “We’re desperate for your services, but don’t want to spend much.” 

Whichever lagging bullpen signs Kimbrel still needs to subsist until he is ready. In Washington’s case, it continues to hunt for solutions ahead of a six-game road trip which starts Friday in Miami. Trevor Rosenthal’s lost early season, a better way to match up with left-handed hitters, help in the middle and a way to use closer Sean Doolittle less -- he’s on pace for 86 appearances -- are all on the docket. 

“Things haven’t gone the way we envisioned them coming out of camp,” Doolittle said this week. “Part of being a reliever -- you don’t get to this level without having taken some lumps; without having taken some punches. So guys, they might be in the jungle a little bit right now, but they know how to get through this. We’re working on it. Guys are talking to each other about things they can do, whether it’s pitch selection or mechanics or straight up execution to try to get things smoothed out. 

“We’re in it as a group. As a reliever, you can’t have an ego. You have to be ready for whatever the team needs, whatever the group needs and be ready to pick your teammate up.”

Doolittle’s words could have come from the leader of any NL East bullpen. Four contenders with the same problem populate the division. One big name looms. Day by day, the tussle for a fix and leverage goes on. 

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Blue jerseys continue to be lucky for Washington Nationals

Blue jerseys continue to be lucky for Washington Nationals

A historic win in the World Series opener means only one thing for the Washington Nationals: They'll stick with the blue jerseys.

The team is now - as MLB Network pointed out - 8-0 when wearing their blue jerseys in the postseason.

And while not changing the jersey color might seem a little extreme - after all didn't this win have a little more to do with Juan Soto for example - as our Caroline Brandt discovered before the World Series, the Nationals are far from the only ones holding tight to any sort of luck they can find in their first World Series trip.

Here are some more interesting numbers from the win: 


MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Nationals use everything they have to pull out Game 1, take World Series lead

juan_soto_kurt_suzuki_usat.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Nationals use everything they have to pull out Game 1, take World Series lead

HOUSTON -- Every bullet, every angle, every idea.

The Nationals used all their options Tuesday night in Texas to wheezingly hang on for a 5-4 win against Houston and claim a 1-0 lead in the World Series. Max Scherzer made it through five innings -- barely. The bullpen did enough -- barely. The lineup found a way --- barely.

Together, it was enough for an upset in Game 1 for a team expected to be pushed swiftly out of the postseason, yet keeps finding new ways to fill the holes they create.

Scherzer walked off the mound following the first in a scenario the Nationals would have pushed toward worst-case. His pitch count was up and they immediately trailed against Cole, who allowed one earned run in 22 ⅔ innings this postseason. 

Yuli Gurriel hit a high 1-2 fastball off the wall in left-center field to deliver the Astros an early lead. George Springer and Jose Altuve scored to leverage the game heavily toward the Astros just five batters into it. What was to come beyond the first inning also became a concern. 

Houston entered the game with the fewest strikeouts in the league. It also led the league in walk rate. The push-and-pull between the Astros’ hitters and Washington’s starters stood as a central theme for the series. The Nationals need their starters to pitch as long as possible to keep their main flaw, the middle of their bullpen, at bay. Against Cole the concept is all the more crucial.

Scherzer’s 96th pitch produced a dribbler from Jose Altuve with two runners on base in the fourth. He sprinted to first to catch a toss from Ryan Zimmerman and close the inning. Nothing was easy, or clean, or enjoyable for him during the evening, when he was seemingly 10 rounds in shortly after the fight started.

The good news: Ryan Zimmerman hit the second pitch he saw in his first World Series for a sizzling home run to center field in the second. Juan Soto delivered an opposite-field solo home run to tie the game in the fourth. The Nationals had done what multiple teams had not in the postseason. They were getting to Cole.

Kurt Suzuki walked to open the fifth inning. Victor Robles singled. Trea Turner’s flyout pushed a tagging Suzuki to third. An Adam Eaton single brought him in. The Nationals led, 3-2, against a pitcher who was burning through the postseason the way few others had in history. Anthony Rendon’s fielder’s choice led to a second out. Soto arrived again, two on, two out, the spotlight acting more as fuel than inhibitor. 

Soto ventured into a 3-0 count. He took a slider then missed a changeup. Opponents hit .141 against Cole in full counts this season. A 3-2 slider sort of down, sort of away came next. Soto drove it to left field off the out-of-town scoreboard which had no out-of-town scores to show on Oct. 22. Eaton scored. Rendon scored. Minute Maid Park went quiet while Soto yelled at second base. His evolution took another step three days before his 21st birthday.

Wrinkles remained for Davey Martinez. How much longer should Scherzer pitch? Who would be next? Did he trust his relievers enough to use four of them, leaving Patrick Corbin rested for Game 3? Or, did “go 1-0” mean firing maximum bullets in the opener? 

Scherzer returned for the fifth to produce his first 1-2-3 inning of the night. Done after 112 pitches, he clenched a fist knowing his effort to absorb minor blows from Houston lasted long enough for his team to find a way against Cole.

Corbin came running in from the bullpen to start the sixth. He’s found a postseason niche since the National League Division Series, growing progressively more comfortable as a reliever following his rough run against Los Angeles. Corbin allowed a hit during a 21-pitch sixth. He, like Scherzer, clenched a fist when the final out of his appearance was recorded. 

Now, the rub. Corbin finished against the bottom of Houston’s order. Springer, Altuve and Michael Brantley were coming up in the bottom of the seventh. Tanner Rainey came in.

Springer homered on a 99-mph, 2-1 fastball. Fireworks were shot off. The crowd rebounded while Springer circled the bases. The trip moved him into history: Springer is now the only player in MLB postseason history to homer in five consecutive World Series games. He was tied with epic October ghosts Reggie Jackson and Lou Gehrig at four in a row. 

Altuve struck out via a rare flailing swing. Brantley walked on four pitches. Alex Bregman walked. Rainey was done.

Eights out remained. Only two pitching options, Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle, were at Martinez’s disposable. He chose Hudson to face Gurriel. His shallow pop out led to a second out. Carlos Correa’s infield single loaded the bases. Yordan Álvarez, an abnormal No. 7 hitter because of his 1.067 OPS this season, struck out on three pitches. Hudson threw eight total. He and Doolittle needed a way to six more outs.

Hudson returned in the eighth. A leadoff single ended up as another run when Springer doubled off the wall in right field. Eaton jumped, the ball hit the side of his glove and bounced off the wall. Washington’s lead dwindled to one. Heart palpitations increased. Houston’s crowd rose. Doolittle’s chance came after Altuve lined out to right field. He needed four outs, starting with Brantley. A liner to left delivered the first. Three outs to go through a thorn-filled group: Bregman, Gurriel and Correa.

Bregman struck out. Gurriel flew out. Correa flew out. The Nationals lined up to celebrate on the Astros’ home field.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: