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Clayton Kershaw's performance was simply great theatre

Clayton Kershaw's performance was simply great theatre

The two greatest games I’ve ever witnessed came about four and a half years apart. In May 2012, Chris Davis threw two innings, the 16th and 17th, to beat the Boston Red Sox in Fenway park. 

Thursday night, I saw a fine closer, Kenley Jansen nearly throw three innings, only to be bailed out by arguably the best pitcher of our time, Clayton Kershaw, who retired the final two Washington Nationals to clinch the Division Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Both games featured creative moves by managers, Buck Showalter knowing that Davis had pitched in college, and Dave Roberts knowing that he had little chance to win otherwise. 

The aggressive move by Roberts could well hurt the Dodgers since they have only a day to regroup before the National League Championship Series begins. 

The Chicago Cubs look to be a very difficult out, and Los Angeles will have to be very fortunate to beat them. 

Some fans chided Showalter during and after last night’s game, saying that if only Showalter had been as aggressive as Roberts, the Orioles’ wild-card game might have had a different result. 

I’m not going to rehash that game, but there were major differences. 

The Dodgers had a lead they wanted to protect. If the Orioles had a lead, they would have brought in Zach Britton, and he certainly could have thrown two innings, perhaps more. 

The Orioles bullpen is a lot more reliable than Los Angeles’. Brad Brach, Mychal Givens and Darren O’Day were far better alternatives than any of the others that Roberts had. 

In the National League game, there are double-switches, and there were plenty of them, forcing Jansen to hit. 

And while Jansen is a fine closer (1.83 ERA and 47 saves), he’s not in Britton’s class. 

The Dodgers-Cubs series that begins on Saturday will likely have more national interest than the American League Championship Series, which starts Friday. 

It will continue to be painful for many Orioles fans to watch the Toronto Blue Jays, and those that tune in will probably root for the Cleveland Indians. 

The Orioles won five of six against the Indians this season. 

This captivating postseason, which is only 10 days old, is really just getting started, and the story has been the use of bullpens — with the Britton decision, last night’s machinations and Cleveland manager Terry Francona’s use of Andrew Miller early and often. 

The guess here is that the Blue Jays will be just too powerful and too skilled for the Indians, and that the Cubs will roll over the Dodgers. 

Perhaps the most wonderful thing about baseball’s postseason is that it’s different from any other sports’. Every NFL game is a one-off, and Super Bowl strategy isn’t any different from in the regular season. It’s just magnified. 

In the NBA, rotations may be shorter and half-court play more prevalent, but it’s the same game — only more intense. 

Anyone attending last night’s game in Washington felt the intensity and could appreciate the seeming improvisation. Before the game, Roberts ruled out an appearance by Kershaw — even for an out. 

It wasn’t a surprise when Kershaw walked out to the bullpen in the eighth inning to warm up. It was great theatre. 

For a time, the boos that accompanied the announcement that the Metro would close — which turned out to be an hour before the game finally concluded — would be the high point of the night. 

Instead, it was the game’s finest pitcher getting two final outs. 

Four hours, 32 minutes never seemed so short. 

RELATED: Nats struggle to appreciate craziness of Game 5

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Tanner Roark is out, who could be in?

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Tanner Roark is out, who could be in?

LAS VEGAS -- Let’s strip the name and take a blank taste test. Wednesday, the Nationals sent an average of 197 innings out the door. That’s 591 outs. It’s not something to shrug off.

Trading Tanner Roark for a reliever, a minor-league one at that, extracts a path to almost 600 outs. The Nationals need to find a new one. Choices to do so aren’t very enticing.

They are back in the starting pitching market because of Roark’s regression the last two seasons coupling with an increase in pay. He’s expected to earn around $10 million out of salary arbitration. The Nationals are gambling they can find equal effectiveness through another starter -- or two.

There’s money to allocate now. It’s not much for the remaining upper tier of free agents. It’s sufficient to bring in someone on a one- or two-year deal and perhaps apply to a more versatile bench piece than a straight backup at first base.

Washington made Patrick Corbin the highest-paid pitcher this offseason. He was priority one. In a vacuum, he may not be worth six years and $140 million. But not all players carry the same value with every franchise. The Nationals had a clear need for another potent starter, and preferably a left-handed one at that. They received the combination with Corbin.

The challenge for the Nationals is handling this market after Charlie Morton and Lance Lynn complicated it. Morton signed a two-year, $30 million deal with Tampa Bay. Lynn received a three-year, $30 million contract from the Texas Rangers. If the Nationals didn’t want to pay Roark $10 million, they surely don’t want to pay another pitcher something near what Morton and Lynn received, even if it allows more control. Roark was entering the last year of his contract.

Dallas Keuchel remains atop the available starters. By WAR, the next-best available pitcher is 34-year-old Anibal Sanchez. He put together what appears to be an outlier season in 2018 following three consecutive years of significant regression. Sanchez’s ERA-plus went 80, 73, 70 before spiking to 143 last season, the third-best mark of his 13-year career. Sanchez has also averaged just 138 innings pitched on average the last four years. That’s a lot of outs between the workload Roark handled and Sanchez has as he heads into his age-35 season.

Next on the list by WAR? Gio Gonzalez. Moving on.

After that? Not much inspiration. Left-hander Wade Miley pitched well in just 16 starts last season. He has a carer 4.26 ERA. Miley has not put together a strong full season since 2013.

Matt Harvey? Trevor Cahill? Clay Buchholz?

Brett Anderson? James Shields? Jason Hammel?

These are not exactly places to hang your hat.

However, the Nationals have little choice. Their solution to replace Roark’s outs will come from outside the organization. Depth at Triple-A Fresno is negligible. Options in Double-A to help the rotation now are non-existent.

They have one intriguing pitcher lurking: Henderson Alvarez. The Nationals signed him to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.

“Chance to make the team, if not, to pitch in Triple A for us,” Mike Rizzo said of his outlook on Alvarez.

Alvarez threw a no-hitter in 2013. He was an All-Star in 2014. Shoulder surgery was followed by shoulder discomfort, then another shoulder surgery. Alvarez didn’t pitch in 2016. He started three games for Philadelphia in 2017. He then pitched in the Mexican League in 2018, where he finished with 4.60 ERA in nine starts. The wildest of wild cards here.

Washington has also kept an eye on Japanese left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, who is available through posting system.

Somewhere, they need to find another 180 innings.

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Five things to know about new Nationals prospect Tanner Rainey

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Five things to know about new Nationals prospect Tanner Rainey

In what may be a Major League Baseball first, two players named Tanner R. were traded for each other Wednesday at the Winter Meetings.

It’s a fun (unconfirmed) fact, but what really makes it interesting for Nationals fans is the fact that one of the Tanners’ last name is Roark, which means Washington now has a hole to fill in their rotation. They’ve already added Patrick Corbin, but expect the team to search for other options now.

Roark had been a staple in the Nats rotation for the last few years, and often provided a steadying presence at the back end of the rotation. He was never as talented or awe-inspiring as Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg, but he never needed to be.

Let’s focus on the newest addition to the organization though: the one named Rainey.

Here are five things to know about Tanner Rainey.

1. He went to two small schools, but still has pedigree

Rainey was born in Louisiana, and played collegiate ball at Southeastern Louisiana University and the University of West Alabama.

He was both a first baseman and a pitcher, but was drafted as a pitcher in the second round of the 2015 MLB Draft by the Cincinnati Reds.

2.  His career got off on the wrong foot

Rainey made his Major League debut in April 2018, and it could have gone better. He allowed a grand slam to Scott Kingery of the Phillies, and he finished the season with a 24.43 ERA.

Of course, the caveat is sample size. He pitched just seven innings at the big league level in 2018, and while he struck out an impressive seven batters in those innings, his WAR was -1.0.

3. He was born on Christmas Day

This, of course, allows for many fun puns, especially considering he once played for the Reds. Rudolph The Red(s)-Nosed Rainey-deer? Okay, we’ll try to come up with something better.

The Christmas Day he was born on was in 1992, so he’ll be 26 in a few weeks. It’s a little old for someone without much Major League experience, but he’s got some arm talent, and relievers regularly develop into reliable options later in their careers.

4. He has an electric arm

Rainey may struggle with command at this point in his career, but he can really whip a fastball.

While we live in the era of velocity and relievers boasting ridiculous radar gun totals seemingly every day, it’s interesting to note that 100 mph is still an impressive mark to reach. As Simon mentions, only 36 pitchers hit triple digits in 2018, and Rainey was one of them. That’s something any bullpen can use.

When taking a chance on unproven minor leaguers, you might as well take a chance on somebody with a very valuable, very elite skill.

5. He may never end up working out, but that doesn't mean it was a bad trade if he doesn't

Most minor leaguers don’t pan out. The fact that Rainey has thrown a pitch in the Majors makes his career more impressive than millions of players before him. He was ranked in the top 30 (no. 23 to be exact) of the Reds’ prospects according to MLB Pipeline, so he’s clearly talented enough for the Nats to think they can tap into his potential.

If it doesn't happen, however, losing Roark won’t be the difference for this roster in competing or not. With the rotation they have, even as top-heavy as it looks, they can certainly still compete in the division, and if it works out, they’ve acquired a dynamic piece for the back end of the bullpen.

You have to give up something to get something, and this trade could end up looking good for both teams down the road. If the Nats were set on moving Roark, which it appears they were, they could have done worse than a hard-throwing reliever in an era when hard-throwing relievers are more coveted than ever before.

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