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Sleep-deprived Nationals win one they probably shouldn’t have in Chicago behind Aníbal Sánchez

Sleep-deprived Nationals win one they probably shouldn’t have in Chicago behind Aníbal Sánchez

The clubhouse wears have never been packed so quickly. Washington was sprinting as a group to get out of Pittsburgh on Thursday night following another three-hour-plus game with a 1:20 p.m. local start looming in Wrigley Field on Friday.

Max Scherzer finished his postgame comments in less than four minutes, then quickly moved to get cleaned up and join the others. Most lockers were vacant by the time media members reached the clubhouse, which wasn’t long after the game ended. 

Despite the scramble for minutes saved, Friday was supposed to be a loss. Las Vegas knew. The players and management knew. It was a bad spot. Night game, onto a plane, then a day game against a team which played at home the previous afternoon, and was 44-19 there -- the second-best home record in the National League. 

And yet, Nationals 9, Cubs 3, and it wasn’t that close.

Some bloops fell, some situations turned out lucky. Though, Aníbal Sánchez dominated. No voodoo or charms were involved.

He went through 8 ⅓ innings before being removed after 112 pitches. He was provided a shot to finish the game -- just 15 National League pitchers have a complete game this season -- but couldn’t. A rare Anthony Rendon throwing error cost him an out, then his opportunity for a solo close to the afternoon in Chicago.

Sánchez threw 31 four-seam fastballs, 31 cutters and 28 “splitters” among his 112 pitches. He worked as a marionettist, pulling strings to change positions and outcomes throughout the day. Matt Grace finished the game. No high-end reliever was used, resetting a bullpen which had to cover five innings in Pittsburgh on Thursday.

The offense beat up Jon Lester. He didn’t make it out of the fifth inning. Everyone in the lineup -- including Sánchez -- picked up a hit. Trea Turner’s single extended his on-base streak to 30 games.

Sánchez’s work piggybacked on what the other starters did against woeful Pittsburgh. Nationals starters have allowed two earned runs in the first five games of this seven-game road trip. The offense has averaged 8.2 runs in that span. It’s hard to fathom they lost once with both sides operating in such fashion.

All of this is just a continuation of a massive turnaround. Washington is 52-26 since its nadir May 24. Only the Dodgers -- who host the Yankees on Friday night -- have a better record in that span, and by just a half-game. They have won 10 of 12 and 13 of 17. Fivethirtyeight.com now gives the Nationals a 90 percent chance to make the postseason (this includes the wild-card game).

Wins like Friday emphatically move that needle. The Cubs are trying to wind their way into the postseason. They were also set up for a clear advantage thanks to the schedule. Instead, Sánchez, throwing as slow as 68 mph and as fast as 91, controlled the day, the offense rolled through the afternoon and everyone was ready for bed after a surprise win.

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Why Gerardo Parra signed with the Yomiuri Giants

Why Gerardo Parra signed with the Yomiuri Giants

The Nationals officially lost one of the most recognizable players from their World Series run Wednesday when Gerardo Parra signed with the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league for $2.5 million with a $3 million vesting option for 2021.

Hosts Tim Shovers, Todd Dybas and Chase Hughes discussed Parra’s departure on Thursday’s episode of NBC Sports Washington’s Nationals Talk podcast.

“I’m sure there’s some marketing aspect of this involved in the whole thing too after what happened here in D.C. last season but his chances of getting a major-league job next year were very, very low and this just makes sense at this point in his career,” Dybas said.

Parra’s contributions to the Nationals’ clubhouse were immeasurable, but he struggled at the plate for most of the year. The 32-year-old hit just .234 in 119 games between the Nationals and San Francisco Giants, posting a subpar .684 OPS with just nine home runs.

After securing his first World Series title, Parra made the decision to sign with whatever team offered him the most money—even if that team resided on the other side of the globe.

Even though Parra won’t be on the Nationals next season, the legacy of his walkup song “Baby Shark’ won’t be quick to fade from the hearts and minds of D.C. fans.

“I think it’ll definitely live on,” Hughes said. “I’ll tell you what I hope it’s not a constant a thing, like don’t make it the seventh-inning song. It was fun but let’s keep in mind that that song is also kind of obnoxious if overplayed.”

Both Dybas and Hughes agreed it’d be fitting for Washington to fly out Parra for Opening Day next year, when the players receive their rings, and have him throw the first pitch. You can catch the rest of the episode, including a breakdown of what might be Anthony Rendon’s final season in the District, on Art19, Apple Podcast, Spotify or wherever you bet your podcasts.

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How the Yasmani Grandal signing could affect the Nationals’ catching plans

How the Yasmani Grandal signing could affect the Nationals’ catching plans

The first free-agent position player came of the board Thursday, when two-time All-Star catcher Yasmani Grandal signed a four-year, $73 million deal with the Chicago White Sox. It was a significant move for the Sox, who failed to lure top free agent Manny Machado to the South Side last offseason and complement their slew of prospects making their way to the majors.

While the Nationals weren’t rumored to be in on Grandal, there was a potential fit in D.C. if Grandal was willing to split time between catcher and first base. However, the eventual price tag was likely above Washington’s comfort zone, so it’s no surprise the team wasn’t in the running for his services.

But now that Grandal is locked into the starting catcher job in Chicago, the White Sox are left to decide what to do with the All-Star catcher they already had employed behind the plate.

James McCann played 118 games for the White Sox last season, hitting .273 with a .789 OPS and 18 home runs as he earned his first selection to the Midsummer Classic. Never considered a reliable bat in Chicago before this year, the White Sox could take advantage of his value and deal him to a team in need of catching help.

The Nationals fit that bill. Kurt Suzuki is signed for $6 million to play for the team next season, but he hasn’t played a full season since 2015 and will be entering his age-36 campaign in 2020.

Unless Washington is comfortable turning to unproven catching prospect Raudy Read to split time with Suzuki behind the plate, the team is likely on the hunt for a low-cost option to play a similar role to what Yan Gomes did in 2019. MLB Trade Rumors projects the 29-year-old McCann to make $4.9 million in what will be his last year of arbitration before hitting free agency, making him an ideal match.

The free agent market isn’t flooded with many other options at backstop either. Names such as Alex Avila, Jason Castro, Francisco Cervelli, Robinson Chrinos and Travis d’Arnaud are all available, but each is older than McCann and none of them are coming off a season as successful as his.

Chicago could of course opt to hold on to McCann, but his value has never been higher and the team gave former top-100 prospect and No. 10 overall pick Zack Collins a taste of the majors last season. If the White Sox do decide to deal him, the Nationals would certainly be well-suited to give them a call.

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