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Nationals win a series for first time in almost a month

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Nationals win a series for first time in almost a month

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals beat the New York Mets, 7-6, Thursday to up their record to 18-25. Here are five observations from the game…

1. Where were you when the Nationals beat the San Francisco Giants on April 18? Don’t remember since it’s almost a month later? Fair enough.

The reason to ask is because that was the last time Washington won a series before Thursday’s second victory over the Mets in as many days. That was also the last time the team won back-to-back games.

The win dragged Washington to within six games of first place thanks to back-to-back Philadelphia losses. It put them seven games under .500. As troubling as it is, that’s progress for this team.

It wasn’t without a cost. Anibal Sanchez left the game early because of an injury. Thirteen Nationals players have been on the injured list this season. Sanchez could soon join that lot.

Also, Sean Doolittle barely made it through the ninth inning. He allowed two runs, then loaded the bases before striking out Keon Broxton to end it.

“Feels pretty good,” manager Davey Martinez said of winning a series. “I’m going to have a glass of wine. It feels really good… the boys, they played really well the last few days, and that’s what we’ve talked about, playing clean baseball. Again, we should have turned a double play, it didn’t happen, but what I’m starting to see is they regroup. [Erick] Fedde did a great job of getting out of that. That’s what I tell these guys. You have to pick each other up every now and then. It’s not always going to be pretty, but the next guy has to pick the guy before him up. And they did that [Thursday].”

2. Sanchez left Thursday's game with one out in the second inning because of left hamstring soreness, which was later labeled a hamstring strain. He is heading for the injured list.

Sanchez walked Brandon Nimmo with a cutter, then appeared upset on the mound. Sanchez circled the mound, head athletic trainer Paul Lessard and manager Davey Martinez came to visit him, then Sanchez was removed.

The veteran right-hander walked off with his jersey in his mouth, clearly upset with what occurred. Sanchez came into the game 0-6 with a 5.27 ERA this season.

Erick Fedde replaced him. And, Fedde may take Sanchez’s turn in the rotation. But, the Nationals are not sure yet how they are going to fill the spot in five days.

“We are going to keep our options open, we haven’t decided yet, I mean Fedde has been pitching well,” Martinez said. “So we’ll give him a couple days and see where he is at.”

3. All the good news delivered via Fedde’s bullpen outings received a shot Thursday.

Fedde gave up a 4-0 lead during his 2 ⅔ innings. Michael Conforto hit a three-run homer to tie the game, 4-4, in the third inning. The Nationals were prepared to hit for Fedde in the bottom of the third, but Wilmer Difo struck out to end the inning. Fedde worked a 1-2-3 fourth to take care of the bottom of the order.

He and Ross have learned pivoting to the bullpen is not an easy shift. Fedde’s streak of eight scoreless innings is over. The reality of a blowup in the bullpen is in front of him. Next bullpen lesson: how to promptly come back from those days.

4. Another Gerardo Parra homer? Another Gerardo Parra homer.

Parra hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth inning to vault the Nationals back into the lead.

It feels like Parra has been hitting a lot. He hasn’t. Parra was 2-for-14 coming into Thursday before racking up three hits, including his second home run since joining the team less than a week ago.

However, the home runs have been crucial. Parra’s grand slam in Los Angeles helped a teetering team to a split. His home run Thursday put the Nationals back in front after blowing a comfortable lead. Not a bad first week for someone previously unemployed.

“That’s what I do every day,” Parra said. “The baseball, you need to play happy. No matter what, we have opportunities to do our job. Like I say, every day you want to see me like that, bringing a lot of energy.”

5. Trea Turner is close to his return.

Turner was back on the field Thursday morning to take optional batting practice. He played back-to-back full games for Single-A Potomac on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Nationals took Thursday to let him workout again, then get off his feet.

Martinez would not commit to Turner being activated for the three-game weekend series against the Chicago Cubs, however it appears Turner is as close as can be to ready.

When he is back on the field, the Nationals expect some rust from Turner, who has not played in the major leagues since a pitch struck and broke his right index finger April 2. Though he has not played in a while, Turner remains distinctly better than the alternative at shortstop, which has become an enormous hole for the Nationals in his absence.

Difo is 27th out of 28 shortstops (at least 100 plate appearances) in wOBA. He is tied for last in WAR, -0.3, with Miami shortstop Miguel Rojas. Carter Kieboom also received a chance there. He was sent back to the minor leagues after significant struggles at the plate and in the field.

Any form of Turner will be better, and it appears that should happen soon.

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Don't worry Nationals fans, Anthony Rendon was never going to be a Dodger

Don't worry Nationals fans, Anthony Rendon was never going to be a Dodger

While Nationals fans are understandably disappointed Anthony Rendon is no longer a member of the Nationals, they can rest easy knowing he didn't see himself signing the the NL rival Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers never made an offer to Rendon, per The Athletic, after "sensing that he didn’t want to play in Los Angeles." He instead signed with the Los Angeles Angels, inking a seven-year, $245 million deal to play for the California team that receives considerably less media attention than its in-state rival.

Now entrenched in the AL on the other side of the country, Rendon won't face the Nationals very often nor will his team's play have any effect on Washington's playoff chances from year to year. It was a best-case scenario for fans after it became likely he wouldn't be returning to Washington.

After being spurned by Rendon and losing out on top free-agent pitchers Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, the Dodgers are still looking to make their first big move of the offseason.

There's still plenty of time for them to make a move, but Los Angeles can expect little sympathy from Nationals fans that Rendon won't be suiting up in Dodger blue for the next seven years.

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Nationals trading for a third baseman is possible -- as long as it’s not Nolan Arenado

Nationals trading for a third baseman is possible -- as long as it’s not Nolan Arenado

Here’s the list of players on the Nationals’ active roster who could play third base: Wilmer Difo, Jake Noll, Adrián Sánchez, Howie Kendrick, Carter Kieboom. Career major-league starts at the position: Difo, 29; Noll, one; Sánchez, nine; Kendrick, 25; Kieboom, zero. 

Such is the state of third base for the defending World Series champions. Not good. 

Which makes Josh Donaldson’s agent smile and any semi-skilled third baseman with a pulse a possible target. Possible trades? Count the Nationals in. On most. Not on Nolan Arenado. That’s a non-starter because Washington is not going to send assets (prospects) for a contract it was unwilling to give Anthony Rendon in the first place. Zero chance. Zilch.

However, Kris Bryant is more intriguing depending on the years and ask -- as always with trades. Beyond him and Kyle Seager, is there another third baseman the Nationals could pursue in a trade? The question takes on weight because of the aforementioned toothless list of in-house candidates and shallow free-agent talent pool beyond Donaldson.

Any trade consideration needs to begin with an understanding of the parameters Washington is working from. Last season, Rendon’s one-year deal to avoid arbitration earned him $18.8 million. When Washington looks at the cost for its next third baseman, the number will be similar to last season’s cost for Rendon. A bump in the competitive balance tax threshold, plus savings at first base and catcher, provide the Nationals wiggle room for increases in spots. So, $18-25 million annually for a third baseman is in play.

Second, the Nationals’ farm system needs to be taken into account. Their 2018 first-round pick, Mason Denaburg, had shoulder problems last year. Mike Rizzo said at the Winter Meetings that Denaburg is healthy and progressing. But, the early shoulder irritation for a high school pitcher who also had problems his senior year with biceps tendinitis provides his stock pause. He’s a would-be trade chip. So is Kieboom.

But, what is Kieboom’s value? What damage did it receive during his rocky, and brief, appearance in the majors last season? Did his potent hitting in the Pacific Coast League after being sent back mitigate his big-league struggles? 

Beyond Kieboom, the farm system’s next tier is manned by Luis Garcia, 2019 first-round pick Jackson Rutledge, Wil Crowe and Tim Cate, among others. Only Garcia is part of MLB.com’s top-100 prospects list (which is more of a guide than an industry standard).

So, when Bryant or Seager -- or anyone not named Arenado -- are mentioned, know where the Nationals are coming from. If they are positioned to take on money, they don’t want to use assets to do it (this is the Donaldson Scenario). If they can save money, find a solid player and retain the few high-end assets, then a trade could be in play (this would be the Seager Scenario, if Seattle pays some of the contract). 

The Bryant Scenario is the most appealing and challenging. He’s the best player of the group. However, acquiring him would be high-cost and short-term. Bryant has two years remaining before he can become a free agent -- with an outside shot at becoming a free agent after next season because of a grievance he filed against the Cubs for service-time manipulation. Obtaining him would likely focus on multiple pitching prospects.

There is no Arenado Scenario. Just a reminder.

Piled together, Washington is in a tough spot. What it has is not enough. What it needs will be costly.

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