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Nats' offensive issues being exposed

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Nats' offensive issues being exposed

LOS ANGELES -- Bryce Harper strode to the plate late this afternoon, the shadows starting to creep onto the emerald green field at Dodger Stadium, and surveyed the situation.

Top of the ninth. Two outs. Man on first. His team trailing 2-0. A hard-throwing right-hander on the mound.

A home run, you know, would've tied the game.

"I was thinking the same thing," Harper said. "I wanted to hit a bomb, for sure."

What does this say about the state of the Nationals' lineup? Their best hope is for a 19-year-old with less than 24 hours of big-league experience to drive one out of the park with two outs in the ninth.

Harper didn't connect off Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen. He took a couple of mighty hacks, fouled off some tough fastballs, worked the count full and then drew a walk to prolong the Nationals' last-ditch rally.

"I just tried to get something I could drive," he said. "And if I didn't, I was going to draw a walk."

It was a fine at-bat by Harper, certainly given the situation and his lack of experience. Truth be told, though, it left the onus on a teammate (backup catcher Jesus Flores) to come through with the game on the line.

And right now, there aren't many others in the Nationals' lineup swinging the bat well enough to produce in those do-or-die situations.

When Flores swung and missed at Jansen's final offering of the day, a demoralizing 2-0 loss became official and another tepid offensive performance was in the books. Shut out for the first time this season, the Nationals ended this West Coast in frustrating fashion. Over their last four games, all losses, their pitching staff allowed only 11 total runs. Their lineup scored only six.

"We feel terrible," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "They're going out and doing everything they can possibly do. They've thrown some great games, all of them. We're just not pushing runs across."

There is, of course, a built-in excuse. The Nationals' two best offensive players (Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse) are on the disabled list. And today they were also without Jayson Werth, who was sidelined with a severe migraine headache.

Thus manager Davey Johnson was left to fill out a lineup card that featured Danny Espinosa and his two RBI in the No. 3 spot, Xavier Nady and his .140 average in the 5-hole and brand-new rookies Tyler Moore and Harper in the sixth and seventh positions.

Though they're careful not to use the Zimmerman and Morse injuries as an excuse for their lack of offense ... "that's a big part of it," LaRoche admitted.

"And I think everybody knows that," he continued. "When you've got the middle of your lineup missing, the other team sees it. They know it. It gives them a little more confidence. We all know it. It's going to be a grind. It's going to be tough with some of our big sticks out of there. It'd be nice to get Zim for sure and eventually get Mikey back."

The offensive struggles this week overshadowed several more stellar performances from the Nationals' pitching staff. Gio Gonzalez was the latest victim, suffering a hard-luck loss despite allowing only two runs on three hits, though the left-hander was not as sharp as he had been in previous outings.

Having compiled a team-record, 25-inning scoreless streak on the merits of his pinpoint command, Gonzalez labored to find the strike zone today. He issued five walks, including three in a row during the bottom of the sixth. That set the stage for James Loney to loft a two-run single to center, the hit that produced the afternoon's only runs.

"I kind of beat myself there," Gonzalez said. "I was trying to be too perfect, put my pitches where they were too perfect and it kind of got away from me."

The Nationals actually outhit the Dodgers, 4-3, but two of those hits came from the two recent call-ups: Moore and Harper. Moore, summoned from Class AAA Syracuse earlier in the day when veteran utilityman Mark DeRosa was placed on the 15-day disabled list with an oblique strain, delivered his first career hit with a single to right in the fifth.

"It was good to knock it out of the way and worry about something else now," the 25-year-old slugger said.

Harper, meanwhile, came through with his first hit off a left-hander, singling to right in the seventh to make himself 2-for-6 as a big leaguer.

Throw in a spectacular catch against the center-field fence, and Harper had himself an impressive debut weekend. Not that the 19-year-old phenom was content with the outcome.

"We didn't win two games," he said. "I'm never satisfied about that. Hopefully we can go back to D.C., win a couple games, get on a streak again and get something going."

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Bryce Harper's longtime friend Kris Bryant says Harper isn't headed for Cubs

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USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Harper's longtime friend Kris Bryant says Harper isn't headed for Cubs

After weeks of twists and turns and not enough information for any Nationals fan's satisfaction, the Chicago Cubs seem to be out of the race for free agent Bryce Harper.

Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant seemingly confirmed the news on Friday night from the opening ceremonies of the 2019 Cubs Convention.

"He's not signing here," Bryant said as he sat down with NBC Sports Chicago. 

Though there have been no official reports of whether or not the Cubs are completely out in the race to sign Harper, a word from one of Harper's longtime friends shouldn't be brushed aside.

Bryant and Harper took the field together in the 2016 MLB All-Star game, and faced off in the 2017 NLDS Cubs-Nats matchup. 

The pair have known each other since grade schoool, and played for rival high schools in Las Vegas. But despite their history, Bryant says that they haven't chatted much about the situation otherwise, choosing to focus on preserving their friendship.

"I never bring it up to him," Bryant admitted. "I try to be a good friend to him, and not talk about baseball when he doesn't want to talk about baseball."

"Whatever happens, I wish [him] the best."

You can see more of Bryant's interview with NBCSC below.

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What's it like for MLB players when their big contract money hits? Some advice for Bryce Harper

What's it like for MLB players when their big contract money hits? Some advice for Bryce Harper

An old friend of Max Scherzer’s came up with an idea: The new buy-in for their longstanding and hyper-competitive fantasy football league would be 10 percent of the participant’s salary. As an assistant baseball coach at a midwest Division I university, this would be a significant risk. However, he believed the chance was worth it since Scherzer had just signed with the Washington Nationals for $210 million.

Scherzer enjoyed the humor and emphatically nixed the idea. But, the point remains. Things change when finances increase to unfathomable levels. In the case of Bryce Harper, the world is about to change for generations of Harpers once he finally signs a new contract.

The idea of signing a single contract which guarantees such gargantuan sums is a strange one. Even to those signing. The 2016 Census pegged average annual American income at $57,617. If Scherzer averages 32 starts per year during the course of his seven-year deal, he’ll earn $937,500 per start. Informed having such financial clout is inconceivable to 99.9 percent of the population, Scherzer laughed in agreement.

“I know, I know,” Scherzer told me. “It’s inconceivable to me, too.”

So, what’s it like when money of that level hits? Harper’s next contract is expected to be north of Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million extension. For this extrapolation exercise, let’s call it $350 million coming up for Harper. That should be enough to cover eight generations of Harpers at $100,000 annually for 80 years each with plenty left over. Crazy, right?

Scherzer and Ryan Zimmerman were both wealthy by any standard before signing their large deals. Scherzer banked nearly $30 million worth of contracts prior to the giant haul with the Nationals. Zimmerman cashed almost $20 million ahead of his six-year, $100 million contract extension in 2012.

They share similar views on the path to the money, why it exists and what happens (or should) after it hits.

“I think a lot of us work our whole lives, sacrifice a lot of things, [but] not for that,” Zimmerman told NBC Sports Washington. “Like, when you first start doing something, you don’t do it to make $100 million. But once you get into the business and start to do what you have to do -- it doesn’t, at least for me, I think you hope it doesn’t change who the person is. I think you come to realize, or at least I was always taught, you receive that or earn that because of the person that you are or the work that you do and you should just continue being that same person. You shouldn’t change. You’re just really fortunate to get paid that much money and play a game, but you have to remember why you got to that point.

“It’s hard to comprehend what it does to your life, because you’re in it. I think you’ll understand that more when you’re done playing. But you have the ability to obviously take care of your children and their children, and that’s the life side of it. I think that’s pretty cool. When you sign that, you realize I just took care of -- not just yourself, you don’t care about yourself -- you think about generations if you correctly take care of it.”

Scherzer was in agreement.

“Look...I think a lot of us, at the end of the day, would play this game out of love,” Scherzer said. “The money’s just a bonus on top. The money aspect of it really is just a fight for what -- the game generates all this type of money and it’s a fight for who rightfully deserves it, whether it’s the owners or the players. Who actually gets the fans to come out to the games? That’s where the business side of the game gets ugly because it turns into you’re actually having to argue what you’re actually doing on the field. That’s why it’s never a fun thing to actually talk about or have to explain, but every player understands it at the end of the day.

“Free agency exposes everything in your life. All your friends, your family. Just exposes every single circle that you have. You find out more about yourself going through that process, about the people around you, about how stable your life is. So that when you do actually sign a contract that sets you up for life, you know you’ve been down a road that you’ve had to fight for and you can just compartmentalize what’s going on, that you now have money for the rest of your life. That, at the end of the day, that is not the reason you play the game of baseball. The reason you play the game of baseball is because you want to win. For me, that was something I was able to grasp onto.”

Scherzer went on to point out there are no rule changes on the field because you own an enormous contract. The ball doesn’t care, the mound doesn’t care, the parameters of the game between the lines don’t care.

He also mentioned he still has the same favorite televisions shows. He continues to root for his favorite non-baseball teams just the same. His year-old daughter, Brooklyn, is unconcerned, as is the horde of rescue animals patrolling the house.

“Money doesn’t buy happiness,” Scherzer said. “It buys comfort and convenience.”

Zimmerman had to think for a minute when asked if he made any nonsensical purchases following his large extension. He bought a Land Rover (“or something like that”) and paid off his parents’ house. He also eventually bought a new house for his family.

“That was really it,” Zimmerman said. “... I don’t do anything crazy. I don’t know. I try not to be real stupid with anything.”

He laughed at the final line. Though it seems like sound advice, no matter income level.

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