Capitals

Plenty of options for Nats in center

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Plenty of options for Nats in center

The big free agent signings of the MLB offseason are likely weeks away, but it is probably a good idea for Nats fans to get used to hearing the name Michael Bourn. Because of a logical fit in the lineup and an obvious connection with his agent Scott Boras, nearly everybody in the national baseball media sees Washington as the favorite to land the speedy center fielder. Take Jon Heyman of CBSsports.com or Ben Reiter of Sports Illustrated for instance.

But for Bourn to land in Washington, several things would have to happen. For one, the Nats would have to fork over a lot of money, potentially $100 million according to some reports

At 29 (30 on Opening Day) and with an inconsistent 2012 (.311 BA in first half, .225 in second half), Bourn and Boras may end up settling for something less than nine figures. But either way the price will be high and the years included may become the biggest issue. 

The Nationals would also probably have to create room in their lineup by either letting Adam LaRoche walk via free agency or trading Michael Morse.

One other obstacle for the Nationals, if they are indeed as interested as many speculate, could be the Philadelphia Phillies. Philly is said to be looking for an outfielder who can hit at the top of the order. They are a lefty-heavy lineup and could be looking for someone different, but Bourn represents familiarity having coming up through their farm system.

The two top position players that fit the need both the Nationals and Phillies seem to have are Bourn and B.J. Upton. Sports Illustrated rates them as the second and third best position players available in this year’s class. Both players are excellent base runners and very good defensive center fielders. Bourn has traditionally hit for a higher average and slots better in the leadoff role, but Upton packs power and could make up for the removal of Morse’s production from the lineup.

Here is a look at the last two seasons for each player:

Michael Bourn (29 years old)

2011 – 158 G - .294/.349/.386 – 94 R – 2 HR – 50 RBI – 62 SB

2012 – 155 G - .274/.348/.391 – 96 R – 9 HR – 57 RBI – 42 SB

B.J. Upton (28 years old)

2011 – 153 G - .243/.331/.429 – 82 R – 23 HR – 81 RBI – 36 SB

2012 – 146 G - .246/.298/.454 – 79 R – 28 HR – 78 RBI – 31 SB

Both players strike out at a high rate, but Bourn’s on-base percentage would rank second on the Nationals behind Jayson Werth based on 2012's numbers. Meanwhile Upton’s OBP would have been the worst in the Nats’ lineup. Bourn also gets the edge defensively with a .992 career fielding percentage and two Gold Glove awards. 

Upton, on the other hand, is much more proven in the postseason. Bourn has played just three career playoff games, a small sample size. But Upton has appeared in 25 and has an impressive seven home runs and 18 RBI in those games. He was a big piece on the 2008 World Series runner-up Tampa Bay Rays and knows what it takes to make a playoff run. 

If the Nats signed Upton, say to replace Morse, there would essentially be a dropoff in batting average and power but a significant upgrade defensively and on the basepath. Signing Bourn in the same scenario would give the Nats a traditional leadoff hitter and a top notch defensive player, but the slip in power would be dramatic. A big step by Bryce Harper or a full season by Ryan Zimmerman would likely be needed to offset that.

According to Heyman, the Nationals are seen as the favorites for Bourn while the Phillies are Upton’s most likely suitor. But the Nats have more money to play with and could have the upper hand.

If the Nats are intent on upgrading at center field as reports suggest they are, they could always go for someone cheaper. Washington does, after all, have a potential center fielder of the future in 2011 first round pick Brian Goodwin.

Here are a few second tier options for the Nats at center field:

Angel Pagan (31 years old)

2012 – 154 G - .288/.338/.440 – 95 R – 8 HR – 56 RBI – 29 SB

Melky Cabrera (28 years old)*

2012 – 113 G – .346/.390/.516 – 84 R – 11 HR – 60 RBI – 13 SB

Shane Victorino (31 years old)

2012 – 154 G - .255/.321/.383 – 72 R – 11 HR – 55 RBI – 39 SB

*Suspended for season’s final 50 games for performance enhancing drugs

Pagan is a terrific defender and could be a good signing for one or two seasons. Cabrera is a wild card as his numbers were enhanced by PED's, but he may be willing to sign for one year in hopes to re-establish his reputation. Victorino next to Werth in the Nationals' outfield would be a bizarre sight, but his down year in 2012 could make his production a bargain.

As far as free agent classes go, the Nationals certainly have options at center field. But will they solve the problem now or wait until Goodwin is ready? The Nats could, after all, play 2013 just as they did 2012 with Morse, Harper, and Werth in the outfield. While it would appear that isn’t Mike Rizzo’s longterm plan, the Nationals have shown in recent years they can be unpredictable in the offseason.

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3 stars of the game: Caps save their season in physical win over Lightning

3 stars of the game: Caps save their season in physical win over Lightning

This one is going to go the distance.

The Washington Capitals staved off elimination on Monday with a 3-0 Game 6 win to force a Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Andrei Vasilevskiy looked unbeatable for much of the game, but T.J. Oshie finally got one past the Lightning netminder on the Caps' first power play since the second period of Game 4. Devante Smith-Pelly finished them off with a third-period tally.

Game 7 will be on Wednesday with a spot in the Stanley Cup Final on the line.

Here are the three stars of Game 6.

1.  T.J. Oshie: Oshie scored the goal that saved Washington's season.

The Caps were doing everything right, but they just could not get one past Vasilevskiy. Finally, Oshie struck with a one-timer from the high-slot that just managed to beat Vasilevskiy.

Oshie also added an empty-netter to ice the game away.

We will never know how close frustration came to really wearing down Washington, but it probably came closer than you think. Just seconds before Oshie's goal, John Carlson rang a blistering slap shot off the inside of the post. It was so close, the horn went off briefly, but play continued. Had Washington not been able to finish off the power play, would they have recovered or would Vasilevskiy officially have Halaked them?

2. Andrei Vasilevskiy: Don't let the score fool you, Vasilevskiy was absolutely brilliant. He really stood out in the first period when he denied great chances again and again to keep the score locked at 0-0. You knew he was on his game when he denied a great chance from Alex Ovechkin from the slot with the blocker. His best save, however, was saved for Evgeny Kuznetsov when he was on the ice and desperately extended the arm just in time to deny Kuznetsov.

Vasilevskity made a total of 32 saves in the losing effort.

3. Braden Holtby: Though he was not tested as much as his counterpart, Holtby was equally as brilliant in his 24 save performance for his fifth career playoff shutout.

The Lightning made a real push in the second and third period and some key saves by Holtby ensured the Caps did not give up the first goal or the game-tying one. The most critical save came on Anthony Cirelli in the second period with the game still tied at 0-0. A Lightning 2-on-1 resulted with Cirelli coming in all alone on Holtby, but the Caps' netminder just managed to extend the toe for the save.

Smith-Pelly had seven goals in the regular season. he has four in the playoffs. Smith-Pelly put the exclamation point on the game with his third period goal to extend the Caps' lead to 2-0.  He was set up by a phenomenal pass by Chandler Stephenson.

It was clear from the outset that the Caps wanted to be very physical in this game and Smith-Pelly really took that message to heart with 

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

Juan Soto, the highly-regarded 19-year-old Nationals' prospect, got his first major league start of his career tonight. 

How did it go, you ask? Surely it would take Soto - who was in Single-A less than two weeks ago - some time to adjust? 

What were you doing at 19??

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.