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Mike Trout ends up in situation Bryce Harper would have wanted

Mike Trout ends up in situation Bryce Harper would have wanted

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- That didn’t take long.

Bryce Harper’s standing as the owner of the largest total contract in North American sports history lasted three weeks. Anaheim is working toward a stunning, 12-year, roughly $430 million extension with Mike Trout, according to multiple reports. The deal is trend-setting and telling. It also changes narratives for Harper.

Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, grappled for months during the most highly anticipated free agent winter in baseball history in order to get 13 years, $330 million from the Philadelphia Phillies. They landed on a record total to surpass Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million extension. They did so over a 13-year period. Among Harper’s first public comments was a plan to recruit Trout, a South Jersey native, to join him for a decade-plus in Philadelphia when Trout became a free agent following the 2020 season. That idea was emphatically squashed Tuesday.

Which positions Trout as the rarest of entities, and in a place Harper would have been happy to be: He owns a record-setting contract in both total and average annual value to stay with one team.

The numbers Trout received were among the projections for Harper. Years worth of chatter about his pending free agency eventually moved into a discussion about the $400 million contract range. Harper never approached the figure. His first employer made a no-chance-of-acceptance offer of 10 years, $300 million, with $100 million deferred over the course of decades (according to Harper). He finally surpassed Stanton’s total, but had to leave Washington to do so. Harper mentioned in his opening press conference his desire to remain with a single team. “It just didn’t happen,” he said.

It will for Trout, the game’s best on-field talent if an under-branded off-field one.

MLB Network was on the central flat screen inside the Nationals’ clubhouse Tuesday morning with the volume turned up after the news broke. Players paused for a glance as they walked in and out. Former Trout teammate Howie Kendrick, who spent four years in Anaheim, went into a soliloquy about how deserving Trout is when asked for his thoughts on the deal.

“I know what Mike’s doing now and what Mike can continue to do from playing with him,” Kendrick said. “He shows up every day to win. Whether that’s defensively, offensively, on the basepaths. He’s the model baseball player. That’s what it’s about. He shows up to compete every day. I feel like sometimes we get away from that. Whether clubs do or players -- but mostly, I feel like some teams are not competing. And that [deal] tells me [the Angels] want to compete for the long haul.

“I know if they didn’t pay him, there was a lot of other teams that would love to have him. That speaks volumes about the player. Being around this game, being around Mike, he has so many intangibles. The competitiveness he has ... Just goes about his business every day. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the guy not sign for fans. It’s like, man, you ever get tired? 'No, man. I do this because I want to.’ He always takes time for kids. The guy’s just been a phenomenal guy to be around. I even tried to learn things from him. I’ve been around. He goes about his business the right way. That’s what you want to see in young guys.”

Trout staying on the West Coast flushes any pursuit of a super team -- for now. Bending aspects of the collective bargaining agreement to assemble talent is much more difficult in MLB than the NBA. No one is signing consecutive 1-year deals to hop on the World Series favorite.

However, an investment in Trout is also one in attraction. It’s a big market with successful teams in the past. Games are in California. The best player in baseball will be there throughout. Any takers?

“The way I see it, he’s such a great player, why wouldn’t people want to go play with him?” Kendrick said. “With him being the type of competitor he is, I would want to play with him, I don’t know if they’re going to try to form a mega-team or not. But, obviously they’re very committed to Mike, Mike’s committed to being there, so, hey, kudos to Mike.”

Harper talked about staying in Washington at the end of last season. He put the onus ownership by wondering in interviews if “I’m in those plans” when the Lerner family assessed the future. Turns out, he was not. And after three weeks in Philadelphia, his reign as the highest-paid player closed before a month could pass. The next time he sees Trout, two baseball stars on long-term deals will meet, one in the position the other would have drawn up, if he could.

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Where is the dent in Houston’s roster? Nowhere

Where is the dent in Houston’s roster? Nowhere

What we know: Game 1 is Tuesday night in Houston. What we don’t: who will be pitching to start it.

There are reasonable guesses. Gerrit Cole is 99 percent the choice for Houston. Max Scherzer is the likely pick for Washington -- though it could tweak the whole situation by pitching Aníbal Sánchez in Game 1. Why Sánchez? Pitching Sánchez bumps Scherzer to Games 2 and 6, Stephen Strasburg to Games 3 and 7, and gives Patrick Corbin a start as well as two chances to use him out of the bullpen. The risk is two starts for Sánchez, though he has been pitching better than Corbin in the postseason.

Moving on. 

A closer look at the Astros confirms what is assumed from afar when the 107 in the wins column is viewed. They are a juggernaut. Often, that’s hyperbole. Not here.

Houston was No. 1 in Major League Baseball in OPS against right-handed pitching this season. Usually, that’s a left-handed heavy team which would suffer to a degree on the other side. Not the Astros. They were No. 2 in OPS against left-handed pitching. Rookie Yordan Alvarez carried an OPS over 1.000 against each side. George Springer is above .900 against both sides. So is Carlos Correa. 

Flip it. Maybe the Astros’ pitching has a notable problem against one side or the other. Nope. They are No. 2 this season in OBP-against by right-handed hitters (the Nationals are a right-handed heavy lineup). They are No. 1 against left-handed hitter in the same category. 

So, well, where else? The bullpen. Try there.

Roberto Osuna is the closer. He led the American League in games finished and saves. However, Osuna has not been infallible in the postseason. His ERA is 3.52. Sean Doolittle has been more than a run better, at 2.46. Daniel Hudson has not allowed a run. The key shot against Osuna came Saturday night when DJ LeMahieu hit a game-tying homer in the top of the ninth.

Osuna mixes a lot of pitches for a closer. He throws his fastball less than 50 percent of the time, his slider 18.4 percent of the time, a cutter 13.9 percent and a changeup 18.4 percent. He’s a rarity, the four-pitch closer.

Overall, the Astros’ bullpen was second in ERA.

Here’s another way to look at it: Do the Astros own the skills to get into the Nationals’ weakest point, the middle of the bullpen? Of course they do.

Houston led MLB in walk percentage and OBP. It is able to run up pitch counts, creating the gap between the high-end starter and the relievers with juice. The soft middle, as it is, for the Nationals, a place they desperately want to avoid.

So, to recap: the starting pitching is elite. The hitters operate against both sides. The bullpen is elite. The manager has been in charge of a club for three consecutive seasons of 101 wins or more, three consecutive ALCS appearances, two World Series appearances, and one title. Juggernaut, indeed.

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Nationals to host World Series watch parties at stadium for Games 1 and 2

Nationals to host World Series watch parties at stadium for Games 1 and 2

The Nationals will open the World Series on the road, traveling to Houston to take on the Astros for the first two games before heading back to the District. But the team is intent on packing Nationals Park anyway, as the stadium will host viewing parties for each of the Nats’ road games so that fans can watch their team on the jumbotron.

Admission into the park is free, but tickets must be reserved ahead of time. Parking passes will also be available.

For the first two games of the series—both of which begin just after 8 p.m. ET—the center field gate will open at 7 p.m. NATS PLUS members also have the opportunity to reserve premium seats behind home plate and at the Budweiser Brew House.

Game 1 of the World Series begins Tuesday night, when Cy Young contenders Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole will face off in an attempt to propel their respective clubs to a 1-0 series lead.

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