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Making sense of a rare sweep for the first-place Nats

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Making sense of a rare sweep for the first-place Nats

After winning nine consecutive series to tie a franchise record, the Nationals took a step back over the weekend by getting swept by the Reds. The Nationals arrived in Cincinnati as one of the hottest teams in baseball, while the Reds had lost 10 of their previous 11 games. So, what happened?

Well, it's tough to make too much of three games in a long season, but the weekend may have highlighted some things that could be concerning in the short-term.

For one, the Nationals are dealing with a significant amount of injuries. The disabled list is now a crowded group with Stephen Strasburg joining Doug Fister, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon. Bryce Harper also missed Saturday's game with a sore back. Take all those names out of the mix and the Nats look like a much different team.

Denard Span was also removed from Sunday's game in the eighth inning with a sore right knee, as Matt Williams revealed to reporters afterwards. It sounds minor, but it's something to watch.

With all the injuries they've had this season, it's a wonder how the Nationals have been so good at scoring runs. Even after scoring nine runs in three games this weekend, the Nats remain atop the NL in run production. The Reds, meanwhile, are 26th in baseball with a 4.24 team ERA. And that's after putting on a solid pitching display against the Nats.

Given the Nationals' otherwise very impressive track record, offense shouldn't be too much of a worry. And Rendon seems like he's close to returning, which will be a huge boost.

The weekend sweep also showed some cracks in the Nats' bullpen, however. It was a series to forget for the Nats' pitching staff as a whole, but the bullpen in particular gave up 14 runs in 11 2/3 innings.

Casey Janssen, Aaron Barrett and Matt Grace got the worst of it against the Reds. Janssen gave up four earned runs on four hits and two walks in the eighth inning on Saturday. Barrett gave up two runs in 1/3 of an inning pitched on Sunday. And Grace allowed four runs on three hits and two walks without retiring a batter in the seventh inning on Sunday.

Janssen is just getting started this season, but Barrett now sports a 5.19 ERA through 25 games this year and Grace has a 5.25 ERA through 17 appearances. All three figure to play big roles on the Nats' pitching staff this year and will certainly hope to be better moving forward.

The Nationals should be fine in the long-run and are returning home at a convenient time. They begin a series with the 23-29 Toronto Blue Jays at Nats Park on Monday.

The Blue Jays are also a team with a poor pitching staff, much like the Reds, and sit 28th in baseball with a 4.59 ERA. Seeing them for three straight games could help get the offense back going.

The Blue Jays are, though, the best scoring team in baseball. They average 5.15 runs per game hold a .768 team OPS. Only three Nats players - Harper, Span and Danny Espinosa - have been better this season individually. That could provide a big test for a banged up rotation and a struggling relief staff.

Fortunately for the Nationals, the Mets failed to take advantage this weekend. New York lost two of three to the 20-31 Miami Marlins while the Nats were in Cincy. Up next for the Mets is a West Coast road trip through San Diego and Arizona.

The Nationals remain in first place and still look like the best team in the NL East by a good margin, despite the sweep. The Reds series may have pointed out a few concerns, but it's likely just a minor wakeup call for a team that was cruising for the previous five weeks.

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Nationals set to bring back Matt Adams

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Nationals set to bring back Matt Adams

The Nationals just checked another box.

They have reached an agreement to bring back first baseman Matt Adams, pending a physical, NBC Sports Washington has confirmed.

The deal is for one year with a mutual option in 2020.

Adams flourished last season with the Nationals when he delivered an .842 OPS with an 118 OPS-plus in 306 at-bats as a part-time player. He was crucial since Ryan Zimmerman spent the middle of the season on the disabled list.

The Nationals later flipped Adams to the St. Louis Cardinals for “cash considerations”, which made him little more than a waiver claim for St. Louis. The Nationals just saved the remainder he was owed on his contract following the Aug. 21 transaction.

Adams, a quiet professional, fit well in the clubhouse. One on-field tear earned him a T-shirt homage to his nickname: “Big City doing Big City things” that several of his teammates wore pregame.

His role will be the same as last season: insurance for Zimmerman, as well as a power left-handed bat off the bench who will receive the occasional start if Zimmerman is healthy.

Adams’ return also enables the Nationals to shop for a true second baseman as opposed to a hybrid player like Marwin Gonzalez. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has continually moved the needle from standing pat to hunting for a starting second baseman. For now, a platoon of Wilmer Difo and Howie Kendrick is in place.

The Nationals' largest gap remains in the rotation following the trade of Tanner Roark. They need to find 180 innings in a thin free agent pitching market to replace Roark’s production from the last three seasons.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic first reported the agreement with Adams.

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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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