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Despite loss, Nationals’ recent run puts further emphasis on coming homestand

Despite loss, Nationals’ recent run puts further emphasis on coming homestand

It’s no time to plan the parade route, but consider this: Washington’s 12-5 run over the last 17 games rivals its best stretches since the club reached relevance.

Every season from 2012 on has included at least one stretch of 13-4, often two. The Nationals’ best run since then? Surprisingly, a 14-3 jaunt from April 29-May 19 of last season.

So, 12-5, pretty good.

Which provides some perspective following Tuesday’s 7-5 loss in Chicago. The Nationals of the last three weeks put together a stretch not often seen -- even by an organization accustomed to winning regular-season games with regularity. During it, they lost three games by a run, another by two en route to 12 wins.

It could have been better. Since the Nationals arrived home bloodied from a sweep in New York, Patrick Corbin has made four starts.

His first was stellar: a shutout of the Miami Marlins, which included a hefty 116 pitches thrown (and the standard caveat for anything related to the Marlins as an opponent).

Corbin’s three since have been problematic. He was hammered in Cincinnati, mediocre in San Diego and beat up again Tuesday in Chicago, when he allowed seven earned runs in five innings. The exit velocities against him suggest his night could have gone even worse.

Chicago hitters averaged 97.4 mph off the bat and 99.6 mph against his key pitch, the slider. Corbin is the wart of the run.

Otherwise, it’s been productive enough to pull Washington into so-so territory, a broad leap from its aflame season of the first two months.

The Nationals are seven games out of first place in the National League East and 6 ½ out of the wild card as they arrive home.

A quick word to wild-card observers: the 6 ½-game deficit is misleading. Seven teams remain ahead of the Nationals for the two spots.

One is currently the Chicago Cubs, which dropped a half-game back in the Central on Tuesday. Milwaukee or Chicago has its hands on the first wild-card slot.

Which leaves the Nationals in a place to pass six other teams for the second one as opposed to three teams in the division. Take note. Those playoff considerations remain far away. And, this coming 11-game homestand will have a mighty influence on what happens next. Arizona arrives in a good place. It’s two games over .500 with a plus-58 run differential -- tied for second-best in the National League -- suggesting underachievement. Simple Rating System (the number of runs they are better or worse than the average team) pegs the Diamondbacks as the third-best team in the National League.

The first four games to open the season’s longest homestand does not include any layups. Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray start the series for Arizona. Afterward, banged-up and hanging-on Philadelphia comes to town for four games. Atlanta follows for three.

The homestand will allow for a legitimate read of the team’s recent run. Win eight, and the club could shift into acquisition mode.

Lose eight, and the July 31 trade deadline suddenly appears a lot closer and more damning. What to do with Anthony Rendon? What to do with other veteran parts like Matt Adams, Howie Kendrick and Brian Dozier? What to do, in general, with a second consecutive failed season?

The Nationals are not there yet. But, adroitly moving through the last two-and-a-half weeks have reset the questions around the team from “When the manager is being removed?” to “What should be believed about this group?”

Back in Philadelphia on May 5, sitting in his office after everyone left, Davey Martinez said “we’re going to take off” once everyone was healthy and situated. He turned out to be right.

Now, the question is how long it will last.  

   

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If teams start 19-31 like the Nationals, it really is over in a 50-game season

If teams start 19-31 like the Nationals, it really is over in a 50-game season

To put 50 games in context, just flashback to last season. It’s easy enough. Say it: 19-31. If the Nationals could, they would trademark those numbers together.

Fifty games is a flash. Almost a death knell to the eventual 2019 World Series champions. That’s a season over in late May. Think of it this way: Teams play around 30 games in a normal spring training alone.

The owners have pushed this number into the public with their non-counter-counter to the players’ suggestion of 114 games. Commissioner Rob Manfred is trying to use the March agreement between players and owners as a cudgel. Players are refusing to take a further pay cut on top of the one already negotiated. Manfred in turn is saying, “Fine. Then we will schedule the amount of games that are in line with what you are being paid.”

In play now is the 48-game season, according to ESPN. A smidge under 50. A full blitz that would be looked back at as a farce if it’s attempted to be played in the regular way. Playing half a season in the traditional manner is probably the minimum for any legitimacy. Even then, 2020 will be awash in caveats.

The Nationals’ 2020 recovery came against restrictive odds. The manager was supposed to be fired. Some suggested trading the best players, and to do it sooner than later. Season simulations said the Nationals were done. Or as close to it as possible.

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A 50- or 48-game season would cook anyone who has a bad two weeks. Lose a frontline starter? It’s over. Have your shortstop and leadoff hitter hit on the finger by a pitch and miss three weeks? It’s over. Half a season feels like a baseball sprint. Fifty games or less defines the league’s desperation to put some pennies back in its pocket in 2020.

There is one fun idea around a 50-game season. It was hatched at Fangraphs. The premise is one big 50-game tournament. Not the usual three-game series in this town, and four-game series in that city.
Fangraphs makes the on-point mathematical argument that 50 games determines next to nothing when comparing the best in the league to the mediocre. It’s just games for the sake of games.

Since baseball is trying to wade through extraordinary times, why not attempt something extraordinary, such as the tournament?

The model used at Fangraphs included 32 teams, all 30 major-league clubs plus two futures teams, one from each league. Let’s use that premise.

Stage the whole thing in the Texas Rangers’ new park -- Texas is already saying it will allow fans. Have a loser’s bracket. Make the final a five-game series. Pay the players what was already negotiated. Pin more money to the outcome. Run it from early July to the end of September. That way, you still play through much of the summer but duck under a possible fall coronavirus spike the owners are so wary of.

No caveats about if the season was long enough for an authentic champion. This is a complete outlier. The tournament year. Players wore microphones. Some kid from Double-A struck out Bryce Harper in a big at-bat. No leagues. Everyone in the same pot. Have some fun amid an historically troubling time.

What’s not working is the public whining from both sides. The inability to make a deal. The lack of common ground. Both groups are working toward one idea: loss mitigation. A 50-game season does little of that and carries even less validity. Just ask a team that opened last year 19-31.

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MLB return: Union fires back at owners in latest statement, reject additional concessions

MLB return: Union fires back at owners in latest statement, reject additional concessions

The latest whack of the negotiation tether ball came Thursday night when Tony Clark, the executive director of the MLBPA, issued a statement of discontent.

“In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, Players want nothing more than to get back to work and provide baseball fans with the game we all love. But we cannot do this alone,” it began.

Clark went on to cite the league’s most recent suggestion of a “dramatically shortened” season “unless Players negotiate salary concessions.” The league suggested a 50-game season would be reasonable for the amount of money players agreed to in salary following a late-March negotiation.

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The statement went on to refer to the league’s stance as a “threat,” as opposed to the players' proposal, which in Clark’s view, was designed to move the negotiations forward. He rattled off the various items in the union’s proposal, which was framed around a 114-game season: more games, two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals and the exploration of additional “jewel events” (All-Star Game, etc.).

Clark said a conference call with the MLBPA’s eight-person executive board, which includes Max Scherzer, and several other player leaders concluded “the league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.”

Clark went on to say the players are ready to compete and get back on the field.

The union’s reaction to MLB’s non-reaction is not a surprise. Players are adamant they are not taking further salary cuts. The league solidly believes salaries should -- and need to be -- negotiated if there is to be some form of 2020 season. Everyone continues to wait for a solution.

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