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Nationals lose out on top free agent target Ben Zobrist

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Nationals lose out on top free agent target Ben Zobrist

NASHVILLE — The Ben Zobrist Sweepstakes finally resolved itself Tuesday night at the Winter Meetings, and though the Nationals didn't land the highly coveted free agent, they can at least take solace knowing he's not headed to their biggest division rival.

The Cubs, never considered among the favorites to sign Zobrist, swept in at the last minute and inked the versatile veteran to a 4-year, $56 million contract, a source confirmed to CSNchicago.com. (FoxSports.com was first to report the deal.)

The Nationals, who a source said were willing to give Zobrist four guaranteed years, were in the running for him earlier Tuesday, but the field narrowed to the Cubs and the Mets later in the day. New York had been more aggressive than any other club in pursuit of Zobrist this winter and now is left scrambling to find a starting second baseman (potentially needing to look into re-signing Daniel Murphy).

Zobrist, one of the game's most fundamentally sound and versatile players, was appealing to the Nationals, but the club wasn't desperate to acquire him. With Anthony Rendon, Yunel Escobar, Danny Espinosa and prospects Trea Turner and Wilmer Difo already in the fold, they have multiple options around the infield.

That said, the Nationals' interest in Zobrist was legitimate, and general manager Mike Rizzo met with his representatives multiple times at the Opryland Resort this week.

"We put a nice, hard push to acquire a really good player, and we'll see what place he chooses to play," Rizzo said Tuesday afternoon, before Zobrist made his final selection. "But we put a good effort in place, and we think he's a guy that would help his club."

In the end, familiarity may have been the deciding factor for Zobrist. Having spent most of his career playing for Joe Maddon with the Rays, the 34-year-old now is reunited with his former manager in Chicago.

[RELATED: Appreciating Jordan Zimmermann’s Nationals career]

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Juan Soto breaks out imaginary broom after Nationals complete sweep of Cubs

Juan Soto breaks out imaginary broom after Nationals complete sweep of Cubs

As is customary around the MLB, the moments following a victory usually results in the three outfielders meeting up to celebrate. As they converge toward center field, some sort of dance, handshake or motion is shared between the group.

With the Nationals finishing off a three-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs on Sunday, Juan Soto added a little something extra to mark the occasion.

Mimicking the sweeping motion, the left fielder didn't need a real broom to show Cubs fans what his team had just done.

Soto and the Nats have every reason to celebrate a dominant Players' Weekend in the Windy City. Going against a Cubs team that has been strong at home, Washington came in and took care of business all three days.

After picking up 9-3 and 7-2 wins on Friday and Saturday, the Nationals battled through 11 back-and-forth innings on Sunday to earn a 7-5 victory. Soto played a large part in the outcome, finishing 3-for-6 with an RBI as he continues to rake in 2019.

Getting a sweep in Chicago's NL ballpark isn't all that come, as the weekend was the first time the Cubs were swept at home all season and the first time since 2005 the Nationals have pulled off the feat at Wrigley. To put that in perspective, Soto was only seven years old at the time.

Everything is clicking for the Nats as of late, and the sweep on the North Side is just the latest enjoyable moment. 

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Sleep-deprived Nationals win one they probably shouldn’t have in Chicago behind Aníbal Sánchez

Sleep-deprived Nationals win one they probably shouldn’t have in Chicago behind Aníbal Sánchez

The clubhouse wears have never been packed so quickly. Washington was sprinting as a group to get out of Pittsburgh on Thursday night following another three-hour-plus game with a 1:20 p.m. local start looming in Wrigley Field on Friday.

Max Scherzer finished his postgame comments in less than four minutes, then quickly moved to get cleaned up and join the others. Most lockers were vacant by the time media members reached the clubhouse, which wasn’t long after the game ended. 

Despite the scramble for minutes saved, Friday was supposed to be a loss. Las Vegas knew. The players and management knew. It was a bad spot. Night game, onto a plane, then a day game against a team which played at home the previous afternoon, and was 44-19 there -- the second-best home record in the National League. 

And yet, Nationals 9, Cubs 3, and it wasn’t that close.

Some bloops fell, some situations turned out lucky. Though, Aníbal Sánchez dominated. No voodoo or charms were involved.

He went through 8 ⅓ innings before being removed after 112 pitches. He was provided a shot to finish the game -- just 15 National League pitchers have a complete game this season -- but couldn’t. A rare Anthony Rendon throwing error cost him an out, then his opportunity for a solo close to the afternoon in Chicago.

Sánchez threw 31 four-seam fastballs, 31 cutters and 28 “splitters” among his 112 pitches. He worked as a marionettist, pulling strings to change positions and outcomes throughout the day. Matt Grace finished the game. No high-end reliever was used, resetting a bullpen which had to cover five innings in Pittsburgh on Thursday.

The offense beat up Jon Lester. He didn’t make it out of the fifth inning. Everyone in the lineup -- including Sánchez -- picked up a hit. Trea Turner’s single extended his on-base streak to 30 games.

Sánchez’s work piggybacked on what the other starters did against woeful Pittsburgh. Nationals starters have allowed two earned runs in the first five games of this seven-game road trip. The offense has averaged 8.2 runs in that span. It’s hard to fathom they lost once with both sides operating in such fashion.

All of this is just a continuation of a massive turnaround. Washington is 52-26 since its nadir May 24. Only the Dodgers -- who host the Yankees on Friday night -- have a better record in that span, and by just a half-game. They have won 10 of 12 and 13 of 17. Fivethirtyeight.com now gives the Nationals a 90 percent chance to make the postseason (this includes the wild-card game).

Wins like Friday emphatically move that needle. The Cubs are trying to wind their way into the postseason. They were also set up for a clear advantage thanks to the schedule. Instead, Sánchez, throwing as slow as 68 mph and as fast as 91, controlled the day, the offense rolled through the afternoon and everyone was ready for bed after a surprise win.

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