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The Pirates hold the final Tuesday key to the Nationals’ postseason hopes

The Pirates hold the final Tuesday key to the Nationals’ postseason hopes

WASHINGTON — With a win in Game 2 of Tuesday's doubleheader against the Phillies, the Nationals could clinch a wild-card berth.

They'll need some help, though. A playoff berth is only secured if the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Chicago Cubs. That game is slated to start at the same time as the Nationals do in Washington. There will be plenty of scoreboard-watching in Nationals Park on Tuesday night.

Joe Ross, after having pitched four innings earlier Tuesday, won't be in the game, so his perspective from the dugout will be a bit different.

"It's exciting, obviously," Ross said. "Being in the dugout, I feel like I get to enjoy it a little bit more."

Recent history bodes well for Washington. Since 2018, the Nationals have swept four consecutive doubleheaders, per Elias Sports Bureau. The Nationals are one of two teams with a current streak of four consecutive doubleheader sweeps. The last team to sweep five in a row was the 1990 Pirates.

Although it's just another game for the players, they are acutely aware of what's at stake. But they're used to playing games under pressure, especially with the way the season started.

"Shoot, we've been having dress rehearsals for the playoffs since like May," Sean Doolittle said. "No, I'm being serious. We had our backs so far up against the wall so early in the season, I really feel like we've kind of played out every possible scenario that might come up."

Tuesday night in Washington, one scenario sends the Nationals to the playoffs and one makes them wait at least another day.

Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, something has got to give. The Pirates have been out of contention for quite some time and have lost nine in a row, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the Cubs to start the skid. The Cubs, losers of six in a row in their own right, are narrowly hanging onto their playoff hopes. The Cubs have won six in a row and nine out of 10 against the Pirates.

It's all just what-ifs before gametime. But, once the nightcap's first pitch is thrown, it'll be time to play the game at hand and while also following along with happening a few hours northwest in Pittsburgh.

"We've got to take care of business," Trea Turner said.

The Nationals will attempt to just that Tuesday night starting at 7:05.

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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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