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Daniel Murphy strikes again vs. Mets with second career grand slam

Daniel Murphy strikes again vs. Mets with second career grand slam

If you can’t be with them — beat them.

That seems to be the slogan Daniel Murphy has lived by since leaving the Mets in 2015.

Tonight’s game started off with a bang… a grand slam by Murphy himself. This helped launch the Nationals to a 4-0 lead.

Just like these boys in the tweet, we “give a five” to Murphy as it was also the second grand slam of his career, both hit while playing under the Nationals. This follows his career night where he helped the Nats knock off the Cardinals

Murphy has absolutely owned the Mets since joining the Nationals. He has recorded at least one base hit in all 19 head-to-head games.

RELATED: DOES MIKE RIZZO SEE THE NATS HAVING A CLOSER BY COMITTEE?

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Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia ranked as the Nationals' top prospects

Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia ranked as the Nationals' top prospects

One of the biggest challenges to major-league front offices and scouting departments of winning organizations is to continue developing prospects into contributing players despite picking low in the draft each year.

The Nationals have finished with a winning record in eight consecutive seasons dating back to 2012, never picking higher than 16th overall. Since drafting Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper with back-to-back No. 1 overall picks in 2009 and 2010, Washington has slowly drained its farm system of all the players it acquired while rebuilding in the second half of the 2000s decade.

However, the Nationals have still found a way to replenish its minor-league depth with a couple promising prospects each year. Their farm system has been top-heavy in recent years, but the talent at the top has panned out more often than not.

That once again will be the approach in 2020, as the Nationals only had two players who appeared on the top-100 prospect rankings that were released over the past few weeks.

Carter Kieboom, who will have an opportunity to compete for the starting third base job in Spring Training, came in at 11th (Baseball Prospectus), 15th (Baseball America) and 21st (MLB Pipeline). Joining him on Baseball America’s list (91st) and MLB Pipeline’s rankings (97th) was infielder Luis Garcia. He was unranked by Baseball Prospectus.

Washington gave Kieboom a taste of the big leagues last season, but he struggled to the tune of a .128 batting average with 16 strikeouts and four errors in 11 games. He spent the rest of the season with AAA-Fresno and prepared all offseason to make the switch from his natural position of shortstop over to third base.

“I’m as ready as I possibly can be,” Kieboom said at the Nationals’ annual WinterFest event. “I think as a player if you get an opportunity to go up there and it doesn’t work out and you get another opportunity to be able to go up there, you can’t really beat that. So I’m really excited, this is the best I’ve ever felt in an offseason.”

On the Baseball America podcast, evaluator Kyle Glaser explained that Kieboom was originally slated at No. 13 but was moved back behind Casey Mize (Detroit Tigers) and Brendan McKay (Tampa Bay Rays) “based on some front-office feedback.” However, Kieboom was ranked 41st by Baseball America in 2019, so the 15th-overall spot still represents a sizeable jump.

Garcia, 19, was a unanimous top-100 prospect last season, ranking as high as 61st and as low as 81st between the three evaluators. He made his first stint at AA-Harrisburg in 2019 and struggled both drawing walks and hitting for power. His .280 on-base percentage was a steep dive from the .336 mark he posted between High-A Potomac and A-Hagerstown the year prior, while he hit just 30 extra-base hit (four homers) in 129 games.

But given his young age, Garcia still presents plenty of upside if he can take a step forward in 2020. Washington sent him to the Arizona Fall League in October and he showed signs of improvement, posting a .276/.345/.382 slash line in 87 plate appearances.

He’s rated as a good fielder, grading out at 60 for both his arm and his glove on the 20-80 scale by MLB Pipeline. Although a natural shortstop, Garcia played 38 games at second base last season and didn’t record a single error. If Trea Turner remains entrenched at short, Garcia will likely be moved over to second long term.

With Kieboom representing the Nationals as the lone consensus top-100 prospect, the Nationals joined the Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds as the only teams with just one consensus top-100 player. The Milwaukee Brewers were the only team with none.

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The Nationals have a roster, how about a lineup?

The Nationals have a roster, how about a lineup?

The roster is done.

Ryan Zimmerman needs to pass his physical in order to complete his deal. When he does, the Nationals’ 26-man group quickly becomes clear. At least 23 of the members.

The outfield is known: Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor the fourth outfielder.

Catcher: Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki.

Infield: Eric Thames, Zimmerman, Starlin Castro, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Trea Turner, Carter Kieboom, Howie Kendrick.

Six of the bullpen spots are clear; the front four of the rotation is obvious. So, one bench, one bullpen and one rotation spot remain, or some manipulation therein.

Which means the time to start tossing around lineups is here.

The Nationals will spend spring training touting depth and length in regard to their lineup. It’s a fair claim. They will again have an American League vibe in a National League group.

However, they don’t have a second dominant hitter to pair with Soto. Anthony Rendon left, Josh Donaldson -- the best free-agent option -- went to Minnesota. Washington decided it will gamble with a mix of the rookie Kieboom, Cabrera and Kendrick at third base. Castro will play second, a left-right platoon exists at first, Turner will play shortstop until he drops.

“Thames who absolutely crushes righties,” Davey Martinez said recently, “he’s going to play against right-handed pitching. With that being said, you’ve got Howie. We’re going to give Howie a little more opportunity to play third base and see how he does. I think you’re going to see as much as we can get Howie out there somehow, some way, get Howie out there, Thames, Starlin who doesn’t miss any games.

“We’ll have to see how this plays out. What I do like, with the guys we’ve got, it stretches our lineup out a lot.”

So, what can Martinez do with this group?

He varied little at the top of the order last season when everyone became healthy. Turner is his clear preferred leadoff choice. Rendon and Soto hitting third and fourth, respectively, was a natural fit. But the top four is in flux this season because of the trusty parts approach as opposed to powerful replacements. Which means Martinez will be forced to mix.

Look at Opening Day in New York. The Mets will put back-to-back National League Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom on the mound. He dominates all hitters, making his splits close to negligible: right-handers have a .576 OPS against him, left-handers .636. Since it’s deGrom, and every tiny pushback matters, Martinez could load up with left-handed bats.

Here’s a possible lineup for that day:

Turner
Eaton (L)
Soto (L)
Thames (L)
Cabrera (S)
Castro
Suzuki
Robles
Pitcher

One of the questions there is if Martinez will opt for Cabrera from his more powerful side as opposed to Kendrick in the lineup in a right-on-right matchup. Kendrick’s career splits are almost even. Last season, by far the best of his career and somewhat of an outlier, Kendrick posted a .930 OPS against right-handers. The flipside in this matchup? He can’t hit deGrom. Kendrick is 1-for-20 in his career against him.

How about a difficult left-handed starter? The Nationals, like most teams, are built better for that.

Turner
Eaton (L)
Kendrick
Soto (L)
Castro
Zimmerman
Suzuki
Robles
Pitcher

Soto’s ability to handle left-handed pitching enables this lineup to keep moving. This is also a spot for Eaton to take a break.

But, in general, the Nationals will be facing the non-deGroms of the world and not many left-handed starters. They made 1,622 plate appearances last season against left-handed pitching and 4,645 against right-handed pitching. Building lineups against above-average-and-below right-handed starters will be what most games are about. Which means Martinez will be hunting for a No. 3 hitter as well as deploying some wrinkles.

“We’ll see,” Martinez said about who will hit third. “I thought about Juan. I thought about Howie when he plays. Honestly, I might try Trea there and see how that works out. We’ll see. Like I said, I like the fact that we’ve got a bunch of different options and guys who can put the ball in play.”

Could Robles move up?

“Maybe,” Martinez said. “Might see Thames up hitting second against right-handed pitching and give us some early pop. We’ll play with all those things and see how it works out.”

Martinez knows who is in. Now, he just needs to figure out how to send them out on game day.

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