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Which AL team could become the Nationals' top rival if divisions are realigned for 2020?

Which AL team could become the Nationals' top rival if divisions are realigned for 2020?

Major League Baseball is aiming to have the 2020 season take place amid the coronavirus pandemic. Due to the circumstances surrounding the sport, whenever baseball does come back, it will be different.

The league is still working through numerous hurdles that include creating a safe environment for players, staff and family. One proposed solution that has been floated around revolves around the league being reformatted to three 10-team divisions. The groupings would be based on locations and those teams would only play each other.

USA TODAY recently reported what those new divisions could look like. For the Nationals, the New York Yankees and Mets, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins would become Washington's opponents.

That list of teams provides the Nationals with some familiar faces they are used to, but also a great deal of American League opponents they only see every so often during Interleague play. With more opportunities to face off with teams from the AL East, is there a chance that a rivalry or two could form? NBC Sports Boston's John Tomase believes so.

Tomase joined the Nationals Talk Podcast last week to give an outside perspective on how other teams around the league may view the Nationals. Among the topics discussed, Tomase listed some teams from the AL East he thought could become a foe of the Nationals in 2020.

Ideally, the Orioles would be the team one could point to and say a rivalry would grow from with the two teams close in proximity playing more often. Yet, location is only half the battle in a rivalry. There also needs to be a competitive spirit derived from both sides giving each other their best shot and trading blows. The Orioles aren't really up for that right now.

“In a perfect world you’d say the Orioles. But unfortunately we know they are irrelevant at the moment," Tomase said. "So, it’s not going to be then.”


Moving on to more formidable opponents, Tomase won't rule out the Rays as an option. Though they don't carry the same reputation and lore as other AL East squads, the Rays were a very good team in 2019. Winning 96 games, Tampa Bay entered the postseason as a Wild Card team just like the Nationals.

After winning the one-game playoff, the team used a fighter's mentality and got the most out of its roster to push the Astros toward elimination. Sound familiar?

“The Rays are the little team that could," Tomase said. "They are the team that very nearly kind of duplicated what the Nationals did last year, pushing the Astros to the limit.”

Though the Rays and Nationals would have some good battles in the new division, there's one team that Tomase thinks will provide Washington with the biggest challenge, therefore potentially sparking a rivalry.

"Really it’s the Yankees. Because the Yankees are a legit World Series contender, the Nationals are the defending World Series champs," Tomase said. "I think there you go right there."

The Yankees-Nationals rivalry makes sense. As Tomase notes, it has the competitive nature needed for a rivalry to grow. The Nationals are the defending World Series champs and a team that showed its skill in 2019, even if some think luck played a big part. New York was just a few games away from being Washington's opponent in the Fall Classic. The new division would allow two really good teams to get more looks at each other.

Additionally, the offseason activities of both squads bring more similarities. The Yankees have always been known as big spenders and proved it once again by signing Gerrit Cole. Washington was no slouch, however, giving a large contract to Stephen Strasburg. 

The Yankees and Nationals have big-time players and are at the top of the food chain in baseball entering 2020. With the potential for the two to meet more often, a new rivalry seems plausible.

"I think you’re really looking at a Yankees-Nationals one-two in that reconfigured East if that’s the way baseball goes," Tomase said. 

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Stephen Strasburg’s debut shows he still has a ways to go

Stephen Strasburg’s debut shows he still has a ways to go

WASHINGTON -- Elegant pitching took place in the top of the fourth inning Sunday when Anthony Santander led off the inning.

Stephen Strasburg threw him a 79-mph curveball for a called strike. An 87-mph changeup was a ball. Another changeup produced a swinging strike. A third consecutive changeup led to another swinging strike and an out.

Strasburg needed just 43 pitches to finish four innings in his season debut. The problem was he went to pitch the fifth -- and that his achy right hand still has mild issues.

He recorded one out, faded rapidly and was removed after allowing five sudden runs. The hook was too late. The Nationals fell behind, 5-0, and were on the verge of a weekend sweep at the hands of the Orioles and a troublesome 4-8 record before the game was suspended because of oddball circumstances with a malfunctioning tarp.

“You can look at the negative, or you can look at the positive,” Strasburg said. “I think there was a lot more positives. I'm just going to focus on that. Obviously command and execution wasn't very good there in the fifth. They just hit a bunch of singles and found the right spots. So they made me pay for it.”

Strasburg’s start came two weeks after he was supposed to be on the game mound for the first time in 2020. A right wrist impingement caused a nerve problem in his right hand, which led to pain in his thumb. All of the issues with the hand subsided after time off and treatment. He threw a bullpen session Wednesday. Sunday, “Seven Nation Army” poured out of the stadium speakers for the first time this season.

The first four innings showed a pitcher with lowered velocity, but exceptional command. In essence, Strasburg looked like himself. Plenty of curveballs, changeups and outs. Of his 69 pitches, 37 were curveballs or changeups.


Javy Guerra quickly worked to warm up when Strasburg faltered in the fifth inning. The first out of the inning came on a 101.1-mph line drive from Dwight Smith Jr. It was a harbinger.

Austin Hays hit a line drive to right field. Chance Sisco hit a line drive to right field. Davey Martinez and trainer Paul Lessard came up the dugout steps to head toward the mound because Strasburg shook his right hand. Strasburg waived them back to their spots, though there was an issue.

“To be honest, I felt it,” Strasburg said of his hand pain. “I don't know if it was necessarily like fatigue or just not having necessarily the stamina built up quite yet. But it's something where I don't think I'm doing any long-term harm on it. But it does have an impact on being able to feel the baseball and being able to commit to pitches. That's something I haven't quite figured out how to pitch through it yet, so I think the goal is to continue to get built up and get the pitch count up to where that won't be flaring up over the course of the start.”

He walked the next batter. Pitching coach Paul Menhart went to talk to him. This, presumably, is when Strasburg should have been removed from the game. He was left in.

Bryan Holaday singled. A run scored. Hanser Alberto doubled. Two runs scored. Santander singled. Two runs scored.

Guerre came in. Strasburg departed.

The good news is Strasburg finally made a start in 2020. And, Max Scherzer is expected to return to the mound on Tuesday in New York.

The bad news is 25 percent of Strasburg’s potential starts are over. Starting pitchers were only in line for 12 this year. He missed two, then failed in the fifth inning in what would have been his third start. That gives him nine to go -- if the season makes it to the end -- with a hand that isn’t quite right.


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Davey Martinez defends Nationals' grounds crew following tarp snafu

Davey Martinez defends Nationals' grounds crew following tarp snafu

Sunday's matchup between the Nationals and Orioles came to a halt in the sixth inning due to a brief rainstorm, but the game was delayed and eventually suspended after the grounds crew had multiple issues unraveling the tarp to cover the infield.

For much of the rainfall, the infield and pitcher's mound in Nationals Park were exposed. As the rain continued to fall, the dirt turned into slushy mud.

Despite the grounds crew's inability to properly cover the field, which ended up being the reason for the game's suspension, Nationals manager Davey Martinez refused to place blame on the crew.

"Feel bad for our grounds crew," Martinez said to reporters after the game was called off. "Personally, these guys, to me, are the best if not one of the best. Unfortunate that that happened."


The whole situation was a perfect metaphor for 2020 as a whole, a year of chaos and unexpected twists and turns, mostly in a negative fashion.

While Sunday's game came to a finish prematurely, Martinez said all his team can do is keep moving forward and be ready to play the New York Mets on Monday at Citi Field.

"There’s going to be days when you don’t know what to expect. This is part of it," Martinez said. "So, we just got to keep moving on. At the end of the game, I told the guys, pack up, we’re going to New York. Get ready to play [Monday]. That’s all we can do."

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