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Nationals will face juggernaut Houston Astros in the World Series

Nationals will face juggernaut Houston Astros in the World Series

Finally, an opponent.

The Washington Nationals will travel to Houston on Monday morning to open the 115th World Series on Tuesday against the American League champion Astros in Minute Maid Park.

The Nationals swept St. Louis to send themselves to the organization’s first World Series and a six-day break between games. 

Houston beat the New York Yankees, 6-4, Saturday night to capture its second American League title in three years thanks to a walk-off homer by Jose Altuve. The Astros won the 2017 World Series and lost in the ALCS to eventual World Series champion Boston last season. 

The Astros are deep, versatile and targeted. They won the American League title via a Game 6 bullpen showdown. Outside of starting Brad Peacock in the reliever-laden clincher, Houston also dispatches Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, a trio which rivals -- if not bests -- the Nationals’ top three. As a group, Houston commanded the strike zone like no other team during the regular season. It led the league in strikeouts from its pitchers and its hitters struck out the least. 

If there is a ding against Houston, which won a franchise-record 107 games this season, it would be the ALCS work with runners in scoring position. It entered Game 6 just 4-for-27 with runners in scoring position. Yuli Gurriel’s three-run, first-inning homer helped counter that slog Saturday night and push Houston into another shot at a title. 

Winning behind a bullpen game is a huge benefit for Houston, It can now pitch ace Cole in Game 1 on extra rest and Verlander in Game 2 on regular rest, if it chooses. 

The Nationals are yet to announce their rotation plans. They have options. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg could pitch the first two games. Or, Washington could throw Aníbal Sánchez in the opener to push Scherzer to Games 2 and 6 and Strasburg to Games 3 and 7. 

Scherzer and Sánchez dealt with a few of the keys to the Astros’ lineup in the past. Michael Brantley, who joined the Astros following a strong career in Cleveland, is 15-for-44 career against Scherzer (a 1.004 OPS). Jose Altuve is 2 for 11 in a much smaller sample. Josh Reddick is 5 for 11. Many of the major names in the Houston lineup have not faced Scherzer previously. 

Altuve (4 for 11) is more successful against Sánchez. Brantley less so (.667 OPS in 30 at-bats).

They will all face each other again starting Tuesday night at 8:08.

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How to try out to be a Washington Nationals' Racing President

How to try out to be a Washington Nationals' Racing President

Ever wanted to run for president? Well, now's your chance.

Or at least to compete to be a Racing one at Nats' games.

The Washington Nationals Entertainment Department is looking for interested candidates to try out to be the next George, Tom, Abe and Teddy.

Enthusiastic and energetic applicants should be able to run 200-yards in a 50-pound suit, be at least 5'7" and be available for at least 40% of the Nationals home games, according to the team.

You can apply here, but do so quickly. Applications close Wednesday, Dec. 11!

For those looking for helpful hints, NBC Sports Washington has some experts on staff.

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Nationals re-sign Howie Kendrick to one-year deal

Nationals re-sign Howie Kendrick to one-year deal

Washington pulled in another important piece from the 2019 World Series roster.

Howie Kendrick and the Nationals agreed to a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2021, pending a physical, on Friday morning, NBC Sports Washington confirmed. Kendrick's deal is reportedly worth $6.25 million.

Bringing Kendrick back retains a leader, elder statesman and quality bat. Kendrick, 36, became one of the key clubhouse voices last season while also delivering a career-best .966 OPS.

He can platoon at first base with Ryan Zimmerman -- should the Nationals and Zimmerman reach an expected deal -- because of his ability to hit right-handed pitching. Last season, Kendrick's OPS was .930 against right-handed pitching (.758 career), which made him more effective against right-handers than left-handed free-agent options like Eric Thames (.877) and Mitch Moreland (.887). Washington could still pivot to a left-handed platoon compliment if it does not reach a deal with Zimmerman.

Salaries at first base will represent significant savings for Washington in 2020. Zimmerman and Matt Adams cost around $21 million in base salary last season. If Zimmerman returns to work with Kendrick, his salary should be in a similar range, dropping the team's commitment at the position by roughly $9 million or more. 

The increasing possibility of the designated hitter coming to the National League in either 2020 or 2021 is also in play here for Kendrick. 

Kendrick's 2019 season was unlikely and filled with rejuvenation. He started the year arguing he was healed from an Achilles tendon rupture in 2018. Once he joined the team after opening the season on the injured list because of hamstring problems, Kendrick took off. Davey Martinez worked not to overplay Kendrick throughout the season in order to have him for the playoffs.

There, Kendrick excelled. His 10th-inning grand slam in Game 5 in Los Angeles will long stand as one of the biggest hits in organization history.
He was named National League Championship Series MVP when Washington swept St. Louis in the next round. His Game 7 homer off the foul pole in Houston was also an enormous moment for the Nationals.

Now, he's back and helps provide clarity. The Nationals know what their catching combination is, have a good idea of what their first base combination is and are set in the outfield. The two big free-agent questions -- third base and a top-tier starting pitcher -- remain.
 

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