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Nationals start final two weeks of the regular season trying to get their act together

Nationals start final two weeks of the regular season trying to get their act together

WASHINGTON -- Davey Martinez’s Saturday night declaration has a broader application. 

“We’ve got to regroup,” Martinez said after a second consecutive loss to Atlanta.

Washington scored one run combined in the first two games of the series. Its pitching wasn’t much better. Max Scherzer didn’t look as sharp as his previous outing, the bullpen chopped up Austin Voth’s quality outing, the Nationals needed to win Sunday just to have a break-even week.

They did, beating the Braves 7-0. Atlanta starter Max Fried dominated them the last time he pitched (seven innings, one hit, no runs, nine strikeouts). Not so Sunday. He lasted just 2 ⅓ innings, allowed five runs, then was removed from the game. It turned into a day of salvage. Remaining is a two-week run against the clock.

The final road trips of the season begin Monday night in St. Louis with three games against the Cardinals. St. Louis is one of the best defensive teams in the league. Its offense is 12th in OPS. Its team ERA is second -- and includes the best bullpen ERA in the National League. The week ends with the opposite: a visit to Miami for three games. Thinking at the start of the season which argued Miami could determine postseason participants turned out correct. At least to a degree. Washington is 13-3 against the miserable Marlins. A weekend sweep would put it 13 games over .500 against a single opponent this season. That would be the Nationals’ best record against a division foe since 2012, surpassing a 15-4 run against the Mets in 2014 and the same record against Atlanta in 2016.

All the positive work against Miami, as well as through June, July and August, has taken lumps in September. The Nationals are 6-8 in the month. Two of the season’s eight shutouts have come in the first two weeks of September. Kurt Suzuki is hurt. Matt Adams is hurt. Gerardo Parra’s plate magic has run out (but been replaced by that of Asdrúbal Cabrera). The bullpen remains a logistical challenge. And part of that includes Sean Doolittle still not looking right.

Yet, the Nationals start the week with a lead and desperate to run out the clock. Fourteen games to go, two weeks, two road trips, then a weighted final week at home. Their lead is slight. Chicago is 1 ½ games back for the right to host the wild-card game. Milwaukee is a game from entering it. Those two teams are about to diverge in schedule difficulty.

Milwaukee, which has won nine of 10, waltzes into four final series all against sub-.500 teams, including two of the worst teams in the National League. First, is four home games against San Diego. A weekend series against the checked-out Pirates follows. Then, a final week on the road: at Cincinnati and at Colorado.

Chicago is blessed with series against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, too. However, in between is seven games with St. Louis. Which means the National League Central race will remain chaotic until the end.

The Nationals have a more difficult remaining schedule. After three in St. Louis and a weekend visit to Miami, they host Philadelphia for five in four days, then Cleveland (87-63) for three. It’s not only clogged, but the three of the four opponents are above .500 and in the playoff hunt. 

So, now is the time to regroup. The remaining schedule and situation leaves little choice.


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Dodgers' Cody Bellinger wins NL MVP, Anthony Rendon finishes third

Dodgers' Cody Bellinger wins NL MVP, Anthony Rendon finishes third

Anthony Rendon’s night went as expected Thursday. He finished third in National League MVP voting. 

Los Angeles slugger Cody Bellinger won the award for the first time in his career. Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich was second.

1. Cody Bellinger: 19 first-place votes, 10 second-place votes, 1 fifth-place vote

2. Christian Yelich: 10 first-place votes, 18 second-place votes, 1 third-place vote, 1 fourth-place vote

3. Anthony Rendon: 1 first-place vote, 1 second-place vote, 24 third-place votes, 3 fourth-place votes, 1 fifth-place vote

Rendon finished his best season with a 1.010 OPS, good for third in the National League, and a league-leading 126 RBIs and 44 doubles. By any measure, Rendon’s performance in 2019 exceeded those of his past years. His OPS-plus, WAR, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and average were all career bests. However, those numbers were not enough to take the award from Yelich or Bellinger, both of whom dominated the league throughout the season.

Bellinger led the NL in bWAR and tied with Yelich in fWAR. Yelich led the league in slugging percentage and OPS. Despite his totals being truncated by a season-ending knee injury -- a foul ball cracked his kneecap Sept. 10 -- Yelich remained a premier choice for the award. 

His .671 slugging percentage was the highest in the National League since Albert Pujols delivered the same number in 2006. He also stole 30 bases. Yelich led Bellinger in multiple statistics: Adjusted OPS-plus, average, slugging percentage and OPS. The question for voters became whether Yelich missing most of September was enough to undermine his case for the award.

Bellinger significantly increased his plate discipline en route to his best season. Bellinger swung at strikes 70.4 percent of the time, boosting his overall contact rate by almost six percent. His contact rate on pitches outside of the strike zone also went up since his attempts at such pitches declined.

Defining “value” is always part of the MVP discussion. Los Angeles was the league’s best team during the regular season. So, without Bellinger, where does it stand? It is in very good shape, but likely not a 106-win club. Milwaukee won 89 games. Thirteen of those wins came during a September surge without Yelich. Should he be penalized for the team, as a whole, playing well after his injury? Voters had to decide.

Both made the postseason, which is also sometimes used as a voting marker to determine value.

Three other Nationals also made their way onto ballots. Leftfielder Juan Soto placed ninth with 45 points while starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer finished 17th and 23rd, respectively. Strasburg and Scherzer also finished in the top five of NL Cy Young voting, which was announced Wednesday night.

The award, of late, has been passed around. Barry Bonds dominated it with four consecutive wins from 2001-2004. Albert Pujols commanded it next, winning three times between 2005-2009. There has not been a repeat winner since Pujols won his third in 2009. Joey Votto won in 2010; Ryan Braun in 2011; Buster Posey in 2012; Andrew McCutchen in 2013; Clayont Kershaw in 2014; Bryce Harper in 2015; Kris Bryant in 2016; Giancarlo Stanton in 2017 and Yelich last year. 

Bellinger, just 24 years old, will receive his chance in 2020.

Matt Weyrich contributed to this report.


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You might’ve forgotten they played for the Nationals, but these players will receive World Series rings

You might’ve forgotten they played for the Nationals, but these players will receive World Series rings

When the Nationals took down the Houston Astros in the 2019 World Series, they did so with an active roster of 25 players to claim the District’s first title since 1924. But those 25 men aren’t the only players who contributed to the Nationals’ success.

Fifty players appeared in a game for Washington this season and every single one will be receiving a championship ring once they’re distributed next spring. On Thursday’s Nationals Talk podcast, hosts Tim Shovers, Todd Dybas and Chase Hughes picked out some names that Nats fans might’ve forgotten over the course of the seven-month season.

One of those players is Austin Adams, who pitched in just one game for the Nationals this season before being traded to the Seattle Mariners in early May. Another was Austen Williams, who, in one of his two relief appearances that came before he was shut down for the year with a shoulder sprain, allowed a home run to eventual National Gerado Parra.

Remember that 19-31 start? Well the first game after was started by none other than Kyle McGowin, who allowed five runs in four innings before the Nationals battled back and won late.

On the hitting side, rookie catchers Tres Barrera and Raudy Read only combined to play in eight games with one hit between the two of them. There’s also Jake Noll, the Ryan Zimmerman look-alike who drew a walk-off walk against the Philadelphia Phillies for his first career RBI in early April.

For a full breakdown of the list with some interesting contributions each forgotten player made, you can listen to the Nationals Talk podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.