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For now, Anthony Rendon is the Nationals entire offense

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USA TODAY SPORTS

For now, Anthony Rendon is the Nationals entire offense

WASHINGTON -- Brian Dozier saw this back at Southern Mississippi. He was a senior, Anthony Rendon was a freshman at Rice, the two crossing paths in Conference USA play.

Rendon was named Baseball America’s Freshman of the Year in 2009 when he hit .388 with 20 home runs. Just about every other award a freshman -- or otherwise -- could win was bestowed on him: District VII Player of the Year, Conference USA player of the Year, Conference USA All-Tournament team, and so on.

“When you come across guys like that you know are going to be really good in the big leagues, you keep up with what they do in the minor leagues, their career in the big leagues” Dozier told NBC Sports Washington.

Dozier has the talent right in front of him this year. Rendon’s opening run is akin to his college domination, though not quite as preposterous. Rendon had more homers (26) than strikeouts (22) his sophomore season at Rice. That’s not happening at the major-league level for anyone.

What has transpired in these first weeks is a Rendon weight lift which has helped keep the 7-7 Nationals afloat. Entering Monday, Rendon was third in the majors in OPS. His 231 OPS-plus (adjusted for park factors) is second in the National League. He’s also second in runs created. In essence, he is the Nationals’ offense through 14 games.

Good luck getting Rendon to explain why his offensive success occurs. He still doesn’t want to talk about his play, if possible. His go-to answer is semi-rhetorical when shrugging off questions about success: If he knew the answer it would always be like this. Fair point.

He also notes the fickleness of baseball. Stretches of good contact can lead to outs. And, his current BABIP (batting average on balls in play) backs his assertion sometimes balls land on grass when otherwise caught. Rendon’s BABIP is .381 so far this season, almost 70 points ahead of his career average.

Up along with his BABIP is his hard contact percentage. Rendon is making hard contact 47.9 percent of the time. That’s 11 percent higher than his career average.

And, early season analysis can show extremes. Rendon’s numbers will decline. So maybe assessing his value to the Nationals is better done by looking at the gap between him and his closest teammate in a variety of offensive categories.

In Runs Created, Rendon is 25 spots ahead of Victor Robles, who ranks 27th in the National League. His 0.9 WAR is almost five times that of Yan Gomes -- 0.2 -- who is second on the team among regulars or those not on the injured list (Howie Kendrick and Trea Turner would be on this list otherwise). Rendon is second in NL OPS, Robles is 24th, Juan Soto 39th, Adam Eaton 45th.

Most of what Rendon does at the plate is predicated on simplicity. His stance is open in order to swing his dominant right eye into a better visual position. His hands have a brief path to load. He picks his foot up, puts it down, then lets his hands and hip torque work. In short, a lot of direct lines to the ball.

“The biggest thing for me being a new teammate of his is how well he slows the game down,” Dozier said. “We preach that, especially to younger guys, all the time. The more you can slow the game down, you feel like you can wait an eternity before the ball comes. You can get it out front. That kind of thing. He’s doing a really good job of slowing the game down.”

Rendon stopped for a rare baseball chat at the end of last season. Here’s what he said about his stance:

“I’ve always been open,” Rendon said. “My whole life. Sometimes I’ll get more closed, I’ll get even. It’s more just comfortability for me. That’s where I feel comfortable, then I was always told it doesn’t matter where you stand as long as you get in a position to get ready to hit the ball. Remember Tony Batista? He was wide open, but he came down to here [pulls a leg in] every single time. I think it’s just all feel.”

He’s found the right touch the first two weeks of the season. He just needs some of his teammates to come along with him.

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Sean Doolittle says Nationals players will continue to support minor leaguers

Sean Doolittle says Nationals players will continue to support minor leaguers

Though the Nationals reversed course on their pay cut for minor-league players, Sean Doolittle still plans on lending his support.

Last week, just hours after it was reported that the Nationals would be reducing the pay rate for minor-league players from $400 per week to $300 for the month of June, Sean Doolittle announced that the major leaguers would cover those cuts.

A short time later, the team announced that it would revert back to the weekly $400 salary for the month of June. While that is good news and something that pleased Doolittle, it does not mean he and other players are done helping minor leaguers in the organization.

On Wednesday Doolittle tweeted out a statement sharing his excitement for the increased pay rates. Additionally, he noted that Nationals players will continue to offer financial help for other players in the organization.

"Nationals players are partnering with More Than Baseball to contribute funds that will offer further assistance and financial support to any minor leaguers who were in the Nationals organization as of March 1."

More Than Baseball is a non-profit organization that aims to provide minor-league baseball players across the country and world with resources to succeed both on and off the field. 

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As the back-and-forth drama plays out regarding the 2020 MLB season, it can be easy to find the negatives in the baseball community at the current moment. However, the gestures by Doolittle and the Nationals players show the good, and once again demonstrate Doolittle's ability to be a powerful voice in a complicated time

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MLB return: Schedules of other leagues show how much baseball is scrambling

MLB return: Schedules of other leagues show how much baseball is scrambling

The NBA appeared to pull things together Wednesday, following the NHL.

Basketball is expected to return July 31 in Orlando with an inventive, though truncated, format. A quick eight-game wrap to the regular season will be followed by the playoffs, according to ESPN. All in one place. The NHL will not start training camp before July 1. It has not determined when the playoffs may begin. The league shelved the regular season but will use “hub cities” for a playoff tournament when they deem it safe. No date has been set yet.

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball is trying to launch itself via a much quicker, and earlier, timeline.

Officials want to play at the end of June or start of July. They are currently haggling to get there.

Multiple reports earlier in the week said the league was considering a 50-game schedule. This is not an authentic pursuit of playing just 50 games. Rather, it was a fist clench from league commissioner Rob Manfred against the players’ insistence their prorated salaries will be the lone salary cut. Manfred is suggesting if that is true, then he has the right to dictate scheduling.

The players previously suggested a 114-game schedule. The number between the two proposals -- 82 -- remains the most-likely outcome.

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But, baseball continued its jousting and contorting and time loss Wednesday, jeopardizing the entire process. After rejecting the 114-game proposal, the owners said they would not send a counter, according to The Athletic. Further, the league said it has started talks with owners about playing a shorter season without fans, The Athletic reported. This brings the 50-game scenario back into play.

The calendar is not baseball’s friend in the near-term or around the bend. Pushing the season further into the fall and winter increases risk and logistical problems. It also cuts the offseason down.

Blitzing toward a start time with multiple questions about health and the coronavirus still unanswered delivers another set of problems. Baseball needs to race to a start so it can have a legitimate season and acceptable chance at a finish. Most of the prospective money for the season would be delivered by the playoffs. Playing without a postseason would fall into the “something-is-better-than-nothing” category, but barely. Playing a short season would also only amplify the risk-reward questions for the players. Why put so much on the line for 50 games? Or even 82?

And, don’t think both sides are not currently keeping score for the winter of 2021, after the current collective bargaining agreement expires. A brutish labor fight was already coming. Rule changes, perhaps league realignment, the typical eye-gouging over the splits of cash. The core of mistrust for players remains in place: The owners have not shown their full financial situation. Until that changes, both sides will be shouting from bunkers, no-man’s land in between them, whispering to each other how vile the other side is. Agreements are hard to come by in those circumstances.

Sunday marks the close to the first week of June. Players want three weeks of spring training. They also want to start the season sometime between June 30 and July 4. Which means if they can’t suddenly construct a bridge in the next handful of days, they have a week to pull everything together. The other leagues used creativity, an expanded timetable and risk reduction to present viable ways forward. Baseball has deployed none of that to this point.

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