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Don't worry about the week off, Nats fans. Joe Girardi said it was 'the most enjoyable week' of his baseball career

Don't worry about the week off, Nats fans. Joe Girardi said it was 'the most enjoyable week' of his baseball career

After sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in four games, the Washington Nationals are headed to their first World Series ever. 

While they await their opponent following the best of seven ALCS series between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees, they have plenty of time to rest, causing worry for many Nats fans who believe the extra time off will disrupt their momentum. However, baseball great Joe Girardi said his week off before the 1996 Yankees World Series (which they went on to win) was "the most enjoyable week of my baseball career," Girardi said on The Sports Junkies Wednesday.

"You got a chance to relax, you got a chance to enjoy what you were preparing for, and you get a long time to think about, 'man, we're going to the World Series!'"

However, the Yankees did drop their first game of the series to the Atlanta Braves 12-1, and were shut out the second 4-0, so arguments could be made that the extra rest may have hurt their momentum. But the Yanks went on to win four in a row to win the World Series in six games, so they were able to turn it around. Girardi thinks the Nats could thrive from the extra rest.

"I think you worry about your team coming out a little flat and losing momentum, but I think you have the right personality in that clubhouse," Girardi said. "Think about how bad they were struggling and Davey [Martinez] kept it together."

Girardi added that he's a huge fan of hitting coach Kevin Long, former Yankees' hitting coach during part of Girardi's managerial career with the team. 

"You have Kevin Long, and he won't let anyone, *anyone* get complacent," Girardi said. "He will keep the boys fired up, let me tell ya. He will needle them, he will do whatever it takes to keep that edge up."

So, Nats fans. The only reason to despair is that we'll have to wait a week to watch our team play in the World Series. As someone who's been there, Girardi says they will be just fine.

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Daniel Hudson represents a key offseason question for Nationals

Daniel Hudson represents a key offseason question for Nationals

An intact unit from a championship team is typically positive. Bring back the winners. Try it again. Why not?

The Nationals’ bullpen, such as it was by the end of the season, will again be populated by pieces from the league’s worst ensemble in 2019. Closer Sean Doolittle is back -- that’s good. Washington picked up his $6.5 million option. To do so was a simple decision.

Also still on the 40-man roster are Roenis Elías, Hunter Strickland, Javy Guerra, Tanner Rainey and Wander Suero. Quickly, a bullpen foundation emerges. A left-handed specialist remains a need. Another power arm to pitch late is necessary. And, with the latter, is where the question about Daniel Hudson enters. 

Hudson -- along with Howie Kendrick -- represents a core question for the World Series champions: What is repeatable?

There is a discernible need in Hudson’s case. Washington has to find a way to supplement Doolittle with another closer-level reliever. Free agent options are extremely limited.

Hudson, 33, put together the second-best season of his career in 2019. The only other year which personally rivaled his 2.0-WAR output last season came in 2010. He was a very effective starter across 11 games almost a decade ago. 

His careening 2019 path falls right in line with the Nationals’ own stop-and-go trajectory. Hudson was released by the Anaheim Angels on March 22. Three days later, he signed with Toronto. It traded him for right-handed minor-league pitcher Kyle Johnston, who is in Single-A, at the trade deadline. Suddenly, Hudson was en route to the playoffs as a premier part of a revamped bullpen.

He dominated after arriving: a 1.44 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and a crucial bridge during Doolittle's August injury. Hudson finished Game 7 of the World Series with a slider to strike out Michael Brantley. He pulled off his glove -- though he almost forgets the pledge he made with Doolittle to do so -- then hurled it toward the dugout before he began celebrating.

Real life often intervened for Hudson during the season. The birth of his third daughter became a national hot-take topic for a brief time and yet another embraced opportunity for proving stupidity on social media. Hudson went on the paternity list and missed Game 1 of the National League Championship Series because of the birth. A Google search of “Daniel Hudson paternity list” proves how far the story resonated. The top result is from People magazine. 

Hudson, meanwhile also adjusted to an on-field role he didn’t want: being Washington’s full-time, then part-time, closer put him in position to handle the ninth inning. He said late in the season, “I hate closing.” Turns out he was good at it. Hudson arrived with 11 career saves. He picked up 10 more between the regular season and postseason after joining the Nationals. 

He also struck a positive note with Doolittle. 

“I want Huddy back,” Doolittle told NBC Sports Washington. “I don’t know how that’s going to shake out. I know the market for relievers is relatively set, but I want Huddy back.

“I think it works. It was really a unique situation where you had a couple guys at the end of the day, like, we weren’t super-attached to that role or that title (closer), we just wanted to win.”

That’s a repeatable sentiment. But, at what cost? Hudson’s ERA from 2016-2018: 4.61. His ERA with the Nationals was more than three runs lower. Would Washington be paying for recency bias and sentimentality? Or can it find a price point where Hudson’s return would be in line with his likeliness to revert? 

He’s one player. However, he represents a key question and a key spot.

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Sean Doolittle speaks out against disbanding of several minor league affiliates

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Sean Doolittle speaks out against disbanding of several minor league affiliates

When Sean Doolittle speaks, it's usually a pretty good idea to listen.

The latest piece of news the Nationals' closer has weighed in on? The proposed changes to baseball's minor league system, in which several teams may lose their affiliations and 1,000 players -- not to mention countless local employees -- would lose their jobs.

Doolittle is responding to reports of incoming changes that would drastically alter the shape and, more importantly, scope of minor league baseball. 

In an era with rapidly-declining attendance and fan interest every year, it's confusing to Doolittle and others why Major League Baseball would take actions to limit exposure to thousands of fans.

Doolittle points out in his thread of tweets why this seems counter-intuitive to what baseball is trying to do in winning over young fans. At the end of the day, the decision comes down to money, which will ultimately hurt fans in more remote areas of the country.

The Nationals and Orioles would be impacted too. The Frederick Keys, Baltimore's Single-A affiliate, is on the chopping block despite some of the best attendance numbers and community efforts in their league. The Hagerstown Suns, the Nats' Single-A affiliate, are also potential victims.

Once again, baseball is having the wrong conversations when it comes to improving the sport. Hopefully cooler heads like Doolittle's prevail and local teams across the country can continue to operate, bringing baseball to new fans everywhere.

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