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Veteran showdown between Max Scherzer and Adam Wainwright coming in NLCS Game 2

Veteran showdown between Max Scherzer and Adam Wainwright coming in NLCS Game 2

The combined totals represent their mutual laboring: 26 years in Major League Baseball, 672 regular-season starts, 40 postseason appearances, 4,584 ⅔ total innings pitched, 72,979 total pitches thrown.

Max Scherzer, 35, and Adam Wainwright, 38, will start Game 2 of the National League Division Series between Washington and St. Louis.

Frontiersmen think these two are grizzled. They admire each other, as high-end, manic competitors often do. Scherzer will be pitching with a 1-0 series lead because of Aníbal Sánchez’s Friday night mastery. Wainwright will work behind his curveball while trying to pull up the Cardinals once again.

“It's awesome watching him from afar,” Scherzer told reporters Friday. “I just know how much of a competitor he is and that's what he goes out there and does, he tries to find a way to win in every single way he can. I pitched against him in spring trainings here and in games and obviously in September, and you just know he's going to bring everything he's got. “Nothing will be different facing him [Saturday]. That's what makes this game fun is facing these great guys who can go out there and compete and lay it on the line like that, and he's obviously one of them. He's done it in the postseason and he's been a postseason ace.”

Wainwright has been more effective in the postseason. His 2.79 ERA stands almost a run better than Scherzer’s 3.60, which has been lowered this postseason thanks to a relief appearance and seven innings of one-run pitching. But, the two are splitting on their career arcs as they age. Wainwright last controlled the league in 2014, when he was 32.

Scherzer could well end up a Cy Young finalist yet again this season. Wainwright’s age didn’t stall his effectiveness to start the postseason. He didn’t allow a run in 7 ⅔ innings against Atlanta in Game 3 of the NLDS while throwing 120 pitches. Wainwright threw 57 curveballs in the outing.

“I like going into the game with some sort of preconceived idea that somebody's betting against me or favoring the other side or some of that,” Wainwright told reporters. “That pumps me up, I've always done that, I've always used that. But certainly any time you're competing against a guy like that you know you got to put zeros up. Our offense is very dynamic, there's a lot of people that can do some cool things, but a pitcher like Max is capable of going out and shutting anybody out. So from my point of view, I'm not so much pitching against Max except for once or twice, maybe three times through the order, as I am pitching against those hitters. I got to get those guys out, get zeros up.”

Sánchez combined with Sean Doolittle to stifle the Cardinals on Friday in a combined one-hitter.

St. Louis was 11th in OPS in the National League during the regular season.

If there is one section of its team not in line with the others, it’s the offense. Its pitching, defense and baserunning are among the best in the league. They have to deal with Scherzer on Saturday and Stephen Strasburg in Game 3.

Beforehand, Wainwright can’t wait to tangle with Scherzer in an effort to level the series.

“Competing against him is like Christmas for me,” Wainwright said. “He's one of the best competitors out there, one of the greatest pitchers of our generation for sure. I think he's probably going to be a Hall of Famer, and it's just a privilege to get to compete against him.”

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Report: Stephen Strasburg could re-sign with Nationals before Winter Meetings

Report: Stephen Strasburg could re-sign with Nationals before Winter Meetings

The last time Nationals fans saw Stephen Strasburg, he was standing on a stage in Washington D.C. being forced into a group hug by several teammates.

Now a free agent after opting out of the remaining four years of the extension he signed in 2016, Strasburg has put himself in a position to sign with any team he pleases ahead of next season.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s headed out of the District. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported Monday that he thinks Strasburg could ink a deal with Washington before the Winter Meetings begin Dec. 8.

This would be a far cry from the trend demonstrated over the last two offseasons, when the biggest names waited until Spring Training to sign mega-deals—some even waiting well into the season.

"A lot of teams want Cole. A lot of teams want Rendon. I think these two guys may move faster because they're not going to have to manufacture markets for them,” Feinsand said on MLB Network. “These guys are in demand. It's going to be a matter of who's willing to give them the most money, but I don't think these two players are going to be the ones who are going into deep February [unsigned]."

The Nationals certainly have the payroll flexibility to sign such a deal after Strasburg, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman’s significant salaries all came off the books. Signing Strasburg early would also suit Washington well, giving it the chance to modify its approach to addressing other needs accordingly while most of the other free agents are still on the market.

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    5 free agents the Nationals could, but probably won’t, target

    5 free agents the Nationals could, but probably won’t, target

    The World Series champions entered the 2019-20 offseason amid several questions about the future of their roster. While the landing spots of former key players Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg remain to be determined, the Nationals figure to be active in the free-agent market regardless with holes at first base, second base, third base, rotation, bullpen and bench.

    That being said, there are many free agents who could fit on Washington’s roster but probably won’t be donning the Curly W come Opening Day.

    Here are five players the Nationals could sign if not for a few factors standing in the way.

    Gerrit Cole, SP

    No one boosted their free agent value more this season than Gerrit Cole, who’s projected to easily clear the $200 million threshold this winter as the top starting pitcher on the market. Cole, 29, was the runner up for the AL Cy Young award after leading the majors with 326 strikeouts to go along with a 2.50 ERA, 0.895 WHIP and 20 wins in 33 starts and 212.1 innings.

    The Houston Astros unlocked the right-hander’s potential when they acquired him in a five-player deal from the Pittsburgh Pirates two offseasons ago. Cole did have one top-5 Cy Young season in 2015 with Pittsburgh but took a step back over the next two seasons before being dealt to Houston. He’s since posted back-to-back sub-3.00 ERA seasons and established himself as a dominant postseason pitcher.

    But Cole is rumored to be interested in returning to the West Coast, closer to his hometown in Southern California. In order for the Nationals to afford him, they’d probably have to lose out on both Strasburg and Rendon. But after the team decided to divide up the money it saved on Bryce Harper rather than splurge on a similar free agent, the Nationals’ track record says they probably won’t pony up for Cole.

    Yasmani Grandal, C

    Ever since the Nationals allowed Wilson Ramos to walk the winter after he tore his ACL, they’ve struggled to find consistent offensive production behind the plate. On the surface, the perfect solution to that problem lies in free agency in Yasmani Grandal, who’s the only catcher in baseball with at least 20 home runs each of the past four seasons.

    Grandal, 31, reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million deal with the New York Mets last offseason before settling for a one-year, $16 million contract to play for the Milwaukee Brewers. Grandal then put the critics to rest and posted the best season of his career, smacking a personal-best 28 home runs to go along with an .848 OPS.

    But FanGraphs expects Grandal to sign for around three years and $48 million, which would be an expensive upgrade given the Nationals already have Kurt Suzuki entrenched in a part-time role behind the plate. Grandal could also play some first base (70 career games there), but the Nationals’ long offseason shopping list probably forces them to settle for a cheaper option to split time with Suzuki.

    Marcell Ozuna, OF

    Yes, the Nationals’ roster as it currently stands already includes a crowded outfield comprised of Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Adam Eaton. But if the Nationals were to lose the impact bat of Rendon in their lineup, Marcell Ozuna is one of the few hitters available who could help supplant his production.

    Acquired by the St. Louis Cardinals in December 2017 from the Miami Marlins, Ozuna, 29, is a former Gold Glover and two-time All-Star with a strong track record of healthy and the ability to play both corner outfield spots. If the Nationals were to acquire him, they’d likely trade Eaton to help fill a hole at another position on the diamond.

    The hold-up here again comes down to money. Eaton is signed to a meager $9.5 million salary for next season with a $10.5 million team option for 2021. Ozuna is projected by FanGraphs to sign for a $16 million AAV over four years, which would be the most the Nationals have ever given to a position player for a deal of that length. The Nationals may very well sign a hitter for that price, but it’s likely to be at a position they already have a need for rather than replacing a cost-effective player they already have.

    Jason Kipnis, 2B

    Speaking of positions the Nationals have a need for, second base is a giant question mark in D.C. with Brian Dozier, Howie Kendrick and Asdrubal Cabrera all departing via free agency and top infield prospect Carter Kieboom delivering a less-than-stellar performance during his short stint in the majors last year.

    Jason Kipnis, 32, is among the available free agents who likely won’t command very much in free agency. The nine-year veteran has played his entire career with the Cleveland Indians and while he is a two-time All-Star, his performance in recent seasons suggest it’s going to be difficult for him to find a job this winter.

    Kipnis hasn’t finished a full season with an OPS above .715 since 2016 and has seen his performance in the field struggle as well. While he would be a cheap option for the Nationals to plug at second base while Kieboom continues to develop, Washington should be able to find a better defender with about the same offensive potential as Kipnis.

    Gio Gonzalez, SP

    As much as a reunion between the Nationals and old friend Gio Gonzalez would be, there just aren’t many scenarios that would make sense for Washington to bring the left-hander back to the District.

    Gonzalez, 34, played seven seasons in D.C. before being traded to Milwaukee in August 2018. He re-signed with the Brewers on a minor-league deal in 2019 before making 19 appearances (17 starts) over 87.1 innings in which he posted a 3.50 ERA, 1.294 WHIP and 78 strikeouts.

    If the Nationals sign Strasburg to a big extension, they’ll probably roll the dice with one of Austin Voth, Joe Ross or Erick Fedde at the No. 5 spot in the rotation. If they don’t bring Strasburg back, then Mike Rizzo and Co. will most likely pivot a target a higher-quality starter than Gonzalez such as Zach Wheeler or Madison Bumgarner.

    It’s a nice thought, but Gonzalez just doesn’t match up with the Nationals for 2020. Who knows, there’s always next year.

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