Nationals

Quick Links

Max Scherzer set to start Game 1 of the World Series

Max Scherzer set to start Game 1 of the World Series

HOUSTON -- The simplest decision often rests as the correct one.

In this case, the Nationals selecting Max Scherzer to start Game 1 of the 2019 World Series qualified as the simplest decision.

Washington let the options publicly simmer until Monday afternoon when Davey Martinez said Scherzer would start Game 1. Stephen Strasburg will follow. The Game 3 starter is to be determined.

Scherzer has not pitched since Oct. 12. Monday, he was in left field throwing, the crack of a catcher’s mitt among the few sounds in Minute Maid Park before the Nationals’ evening workout began, prior to skulking around on the center field warning track by himself.

The six-day break between games prompted by an NLCS sweep was key for the Nationals’ biggest strength, their starting pitching. Strasburg is No. 1 in pitches thrown in the postseason. Scherzer is No. 2. They are the only two to throw more than 300 pitches in the postseason. No pitcher in the major leagues has thrown more pitches than Strasburg this season.

Scherzer and Strasburg starting Games 1 and 2 in Houston means they are in line for Games 5 and 6, respectively. Patrick Corbin’s availability for Game 3 will be dependent on his bullpen role in Games 1 and 2. Corbin brewed a mess in his first relief outing of the postseason. He allowed six earned runs in ⅔ of an inning against Los Angeles in Game 3 of the National League Division Series before pitching more effectively in future relief appearances.

“I haven’t really thought about it because we’ve kept winning,” Corbin said. “That night stunk. The next day, after that series [I] was fine. Never really thought about it. Right now, I’ve had a lot of time off, about a week now, I’ll be fresh to come in and give what they want. I’ve felt fine. I’ve kind of developed a little routine down there to stay loose. If they need me, I’ll be available.”

The Nationals considered pitching Aníbal Sánchez in Game 1, which would bump Scherzer and Strasburg to Games 2 and 6, and 3 and 7, respectively. They opted to send out their biggest strength immediately in the series, then will figure out Game 7 (which would be the Game 3 starter on normal rest). Martinez will go step by step following the first two games. 

As for Scherzer, he opted to skip the canned answer and express his excitement about pitching the same game as Houston starter Gerrit Cole, who has dominated for more than a year. 

“Of course,” Scherzer said. “I mean, I've been in the situation, faced really good pitchers here in the National League over the years; [Clayton] Kershaw, [Jacob] deGrom, those guys. You just know you've got to come out there, you're going to be throwing up zeros. And you've got to try to match the intensity from your opponent.”

Taken away from Scherzer is his chance to hit. Howie Kendrick will be the designated hitter in the first two games. Scherzer said not being part of the offense alters the vibe of the game for him. 

“It's just a different feel to the game of not grabbing a bat,” Scherzer said. “I've definitely grown accustomed to doing that, it kind of keeps you in the game flow even more. It feels weird when you get to the DH and you're not in that flow of the game offensively.”

That will be his situation Tuesday night when he opens the World Series in Houston.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Report: Stephen Strasburg could re-sign with Nationals before Winter Meetings

Report: Stephen Strasburg could re-sign with Nationals before Winter Meetings

The last time Nationals fans saw Stephen Strasburg, he was standing on a stage in Washington D.C. being forced into a group hug by several teammates.

Now a free agent after opting out of the remaining four years of the extension he signed in 2016, Strasburg has put himself in a position to sign with any team he pleases ahead of next season.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s headed out of the District. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported Monday that he thinks Strasburg could ink a deal with Washington before the Winter Meetings begin Dec. 8.

This would be a far cry from the trend demonstrated over the last two offseasons, when the biggest names waited until Spring Training to sign mega-deals—some even waiting well into the season.

"A lot of teams want Cole. A lot of teams want Rendon. I think these two guys may move faster because they're not going to have to manufacture markets for them,” Feinsand said on MLB Network. “These guys are in demand. It's going to be a matter of who's willing to give them the most money, but I don't think these two players are going to be the ones who are going into deep February [unsigned]."

The Nationals certainly have the payroll flexibility to sign such a deal after Strasburg, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman’s significant salaries all came off the books. Signing Strasburg early would also suit Washington well, giving it the chance to modify its approach to addressing other needs accordingly while most of the other free agents are still on the market.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

    Quick Links

    5 free agents the Nationals could, but probably won’t, target

    5 free agents the Nationals could, but probably won’t, target

    The World Series champions entered the 2019-20 offseason amid several questions about the future of their roster. While the landing spots of former key players Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg remain to be determined, the Nationals figure to be active in the free-agent market regardless with holes at first base, second base, third base, rotation, bullpen and bench.

    That being said, there are many free agents who could fit on Washington’s roster but probably won’t be donning the Curly W come Opening Day.

    Here are five players the Nationals could sign if not for a few factors standing in the way.

    Gerrit Cole, SP

    No one boosted their free agent value more this season than Gerrit Cole, who’s projected to easily clear the $200 million threshold this winter as the top starting pitcher on the market. Cole, 29, was the runner up for the AL Cy Young award after leading the majors with 326 strikeouts to go along with a 2.50 ERA, 0.895 WHIP and 20 wins in 33 starts and 212.1 innings.

    The Houston Astros unlocked the right-hander’s potential when they acquired him in a five-player deal from the Pittsburgh Pirates two offseasons ago. Cole did have one top-5 Cy Young season in 2015 with Pittsburgh but took a step back over the next two seasons before being dealt to Houston. He’s since posted back-to-back sub-3.00 ERA seasons and established himself as a dominant postseason pitcher.

    But Cole is rumored to be interested in returning to the West Coast, closer to his hometown in Southern California. In order for the Nationals to afford him, they’d probably have to lose out on both Strasburg and Rendon. But after the team decided to divide up the money it saved on Bryce Harper rather than splurge on a similar free agent, the Nationals’ track record says they probably won’t pony up for Cole.

    Yasmani Grandal, C

    Ever since the Nationals allowed Wilson Ramos to walk the winter after he tore his ACL, they’ve struggled to find consistent offensive production behind the plate. On the surface, the perfect solution to that problem lies in free agency in Yasmani Grandal, who’s the only catcher in baseball with at least 20 home runs each of the past four seasons.

    Grandal, 31, reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million deal with the New York Mets last offseason before settling for a one-year, $16 million contract to play for the Milwaukee Brewers. Grandal then put the critics to rest and posted the best season of his career, smacking a personal-best 28 home runs to go along with an .848 OPS.

    But FanGraphs expects Grandal to sign for around three years and $48 million, which would be an expensive upgrade given the Nationals already have Kurt Suzuki entrenched in a part-time role behind the plate. Grandal could also play some first base (70 career games there), but the Nationals’ long offseason shopping list probably forces them to settle for a cheaper option to split time with Suzuki.

    Marcell Ozuna, OF

    Yes, the Nationals’ roster as it currently stands already includes a crowded outfield comprised of Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Adam Eaton. But if the Nationals were to lose the impact bat of Rendon in their lineup, Marcell Ozuna is one of the few hitters available who could help supplant his production.

    Acquired by the St. Louis Cardinals in December 2017 from the Miami Marlins, Ozuna, 29, is a former Gold Glover and two-time All-Star with a strong track record of healthy and the ability to play both corner outfield spots. If the Nationals were to acquire him, they’d likely trade Eaton to help fill a hole at another position on the diamond.

    The hold-up here again comes down to money. Eaton is signed to a meager $9.5 million salary for next season with a $10.5 million team option for 2021. Ozuna is projected by FanGraphs to sign for a $16 million AAV over four years, which would be the most the Nationals have ever given to a position player for a deal of that length. The Nationals may very well sign a hitter for that price, but it’s likely to be at a position they already have a need for rather than replacing a cost-effective player they already have.

    Jason Kipnis, 2B

    Speaking of positions the Nationals have a need for, second base is a giant question mark in D.C. with Brian Dozier, Howie Kendrick and Asdrubal Cabrera all departing via free agency and top infield prospect Carter Kieboom delivering a less-than-stellar performance during his short stint in the majors last year.

    Jason Kipnis, 32, is among the available free agents who likely won’t command very much in free agency. The nine-year veteran has played his entire career with the Cleveland Indians and while he is a two-time All-Star, his performance in recent seasons suggest it’s going to be difficult for him to find a job this winter.

    Kipnis hasn’t finished a full season with an OPS above .715 since 2016 and has seen his performance in the field struggle as well. While he would be a cheap option for the Nationals to plug at second base while Kieboom continues to develop, Washington should be able to find a better defender with about the same offensive potential as Kipnis.

    Gio Gonzalez, SP

    As much as a reunion between the Nationals and old friend Gio Gonzalez would be, there just aren’t many scenarios that would make sense for Washington to bring the left-hander back to the District.

    Gonzalez, 34, played seven seasons in D.C. before being traded to Milwaukee in August 2018. He re-signed with the Brewers on a minor-league deal in 2019 before making 19 appearances (17 starts) over 87.1 innings in which he posted a 3.50 ERA, 1.294 WHIP and 78 strikeouts.

    If the Nationals sign Strasburg to a big extension, they’ll probably roll the dice with one of Austin Voth, Joe Ross or Erick Fedde at the No. 5 spot in the rotation. If they don’t bring Strasburg back, then Mike Rizzo and Co. will most likely pivot a target a higher-quality starter than Gonzalez such as Zach Wheeler or Madison Bumgarner.

    It’s a nice thought, but Gonzalez just doesn’t match up with the Nationals for 2020. Who knows, there’s always next year.

    MORE NATIONALS NEWS: