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Why Nationals fans should be rooting for the Yankees in the ALCS

Why Nationals fans should be rooting for the Yankees in the ALCS

The Nationals wrapping up the NL Championship Series in a sweep has given them an unusually long break of six days before Game 1 of the World Series takes place Tuesday night. That has allowed the team and their fans to stop and soak in the glory of making it this far. It also gives plenty of time to watch the ALCS and consider Washington's next opponent.

When it comes to that, Nationals should have one clear, if undesirable, option. That is to root for the New York Yankees.

Yes, the team everyone loves to hate, the Evil Empire, the team with more bandwagon fans maybe than anyone else in sports. In a sense, the Yankees don't deserve going to the World Series as much as the Houston Astros, as they have won more championships than anyone else. But they also probably represent the Nats' best path towards getting their first.

The Astros, though more likeable than the Yankees, are also better. They are a superteam devoid of weaknesses. They would meet the Nationals in the World Series with an advantage in just about every single category. Their lineup is better, their defense is better, their pitching staff as a whole is better and their manager is more experienced. They won a World Series just two years ago and are arguably better now than they were then.

Even their starting rotation, one could argue, is at least as good if not better than that of the Nationals. They may be the only team in baseball that can match the triumvirate of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin with an equally-imposing trio of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. Not to mention their vastly superior bullpen.

The Yankees, meanwhile, also have a better lineup and bullpen than the Nationals. But they don't have the rotation the Nationals do. They only had one starter this season post a sub-4.00 ERA and that was James Paxton, who has already allowed four runs in seven innings so far this postseason.

The Nationals' rotation would be a clear strength against the Yankees' and would be the ideal counter to New York's best asset, a power-hitting lineup led by Aaron Judge, D.J. LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton. And while Stanton has given the Nationals nightmares for many years, he is not 100 percent healthy due to a quadriceps strain.

There are also some good narratives in a potential Nationals-Yankees series, for those who are interested in those sorts of things. For one, the last time a D.C. baseball team made the World Series, back in 1933, they played a New York team, the Giants. In fact, the Senators beat the Giants in 1924 to capture Washington's only World Series title.

There is also an angle many Nationals fans may dismiss, but will be a factor for some. Before the Nats arrived in Washington, generations of baseball fans in Washington grew up rooting for the Baltimore Orioles. And not only were those fans trained to view the Yankees as rivals, many were scarred by the 1996 ALCS when a young fan named Jeffrey Maier reached out to catch a fly ball in Game 1 that should not have been a home run. To many baseball fans in this area, it cost their favorite team a chance to play in the World Series.

Playing New York would also give fans an easier way to travel to road games. The drive to New York is only about four hours via car or bus, and the train is even faster. Yankee Stadium would likely have a good amount of red in the crowd.

Travel considerations and media storylines aside, the most important goal for the Nationals is to win four more games and capture the team's first World Series title. Playing the Yankees increases the likelihood of that happening at least a little bit.

It's like a prescription with adverse side effects that is essential for a patient. Nationals fans should know what to do as they watch the ALCS. Just maybe hold your nose as you wash it down.

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Anthony Rendon’s future appears set following Stephen Strasburg deal

Anthony Rendon’s future appears set following Stephen Strasburg deal

SAN DIEGO -- On the stage Monday at the Winter Meetings, two key components of Anthony Rendon’s future chatted before the television’s red camera light popped on.

Mike Rizzo and agent Scott Boras passed a final 30 seconds before showtime with small talk, then addressed the first bombastic signing of the Winter Meetings: Stephen Strasburg is returning to the Washington Nationals on a seven-year, $245 million deal. This, for all intents and purposes, ends Rendon’s time with the organization. 

The math creates a crunch. Rizzo tried to maneuver around the reality when on the dais next to Boras, but the reality is Washington does not want to surpass the competitive balance tax, it does not want to blow out payroll, and it has little wiggle room. Rendon moving on is the now an anchor in the offseason.

Washington operates with a big payroll and pocket-lining approach. A seeming dichotomy. It spends just to the edge. Then, it stops. Not too far to go over the tax. Not too far to appear reckless. But always far enough to say, correctly, the organization is a willing spender, a point Rizzo leaned on when asked about Rendon’s future Monday.

“You look at the history of the Nationals and the way we've positioned ourselves and the details of the contract and the way that it's structured, this ownership group has never shied away from putting the resources together to field a championship-caliber club,” Rizzo said. “I don't see them in any way hindering us from going after the elite players in the game.

“I think that Anthony Rendon is, again, one of the players that is most near and dear to my heart, a guy we've drafted, signed, developed, watched turn into a superstar, playoff success, and a huge part of the world championship run that we went on. So he's a guy that we love.

“The ownership has always given us the resources to field a great team, and we're always trying to win, and we're going to continue to do so.”

That is a 141-word non-answer. 

Washington’s managing principal owner Mark Lerner did not help Rizzo’s position before the Winter Meetings by stating the team could bring back only Rendon or Strasburg -- not both. 

“He did?” Rizzo joked. 

He did. Which, naturally, makes reporters curious about the correlation between a statement from ownership and Rizzo’s operating capacity.

“Well, when you look at those comments, and then you look at the structure of this particular deal and the structure of deals we've had getting up to where we are right now, I think Mark realizes that there's ways to fit players in, there's ways that you can field a championship-caliber roster -- and, again, the resources have always been there, so I don't expect that to change,” Rizzo said.

Here, he hopped into the idea Strasburg’s deferred money -- reportedly $80 million to be paid out within three years of the contract’s expiration -- suggesting the manipulation of those numbers keeps Rendon in play for the organization. It’s not enough. Not based on how the Nationals allocate and spend.

Which means they chose. Strasburg or Rendon. They could only have one, and they signed the homegrown pitcher and thanked Rendon for his time.

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Mike Rizzo believes there is a path to bring back Anthony Rendon even with Stephen Strasburg signed

Mike Rizzo believes there is a path to bring back Anthony Rendon even with Stephen Strasburg signed

The announcement of Stephen Strasburg signing a 7-year, $245 million deal to continue (and hopefully finish) his career in Washington was music to the ears of Nationals fans everywhere.

General Manager Mike Rizzo kept the good news coming during a joint press conference officially announcing the deal, implying that the Nationals were still in the conversation to resign their other superstar free agent: Anthony Rendon.

Rizzo was asked early on about how Strasburg’s mega deal might impact the team’s ability to purse (afford) a similar contract with Rendon. The Nationals’ GM was quick to point out he has never been hamstrung financially by the team’s ownership group, and he sees the franchise as capable of bringing back both World Series stars.

In response to his optimism, Rizzo was asked a follow up question specifically referencing Nationals owner Mark Lerner’s comments, in which he suggested to NBC Sports Washington that the Nats can only afford to pay one of Strasburg and Rendon. 

“When you look at those comments, and then you look at the structure of this particular deal, and the structure of deals we’ve had getting up to where we are right now, I think that Mark [Lerner] realizes that there’s ways to fit players in,” Rizzo responded, initially rebutting Lerner’s hesitation that there’d be enough money available. 

The Lerners are among the wealthiest ownership groups in Major League Baseball, and while hundreds of millions of dollars may seem like a lot, it’s important to remember that sports team owners are almost exclusively billionaires.

On the other hand, it’s also important to remember that the Nationals have never shied away from spending big if it means getting closer to a World Series title.

“There are ways that you can field a championship-caliber roster,” Rizzo continued. “And again, the resources have always been there. I don’t expect that to change.”

It’s a little eye-raising to hear two important decision-makers with the same team make such contrasting comments publicly, but this is the type of answer you’d expect from a team expecting to compete for more championships in the years to come.

Both Strasburg and Rendon were drafted by the Nationals and developed into World Series-winning superstars in the nation’s capital. It’s no surprise that the team would like to bring both back to their win-now club. 

What may be a surprise to Nats fans is if/when they elect to spend that kind of money. But don’t tell Mike Rizzo the team isn’t ready and willing to spend on another championship-level roster. 

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