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Is O'Day worth the price tag to the Nationals?

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Is O'Day worth the price tag to the Nationals?

There's no question about the Nationals' most-pressing need this winter: bullpen help. And there's no question about the best-available reliever on the free-agent market: Darren O'Day.

So it shouldn't come as much surprise that the Nationals have significant interest in O'Day. (ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick went so far Sunday as to say the Nats have joined the Dodgers at the "top of the Darren O'Day pack.")

And, according to a source familiar with O'Day's thinking, the veteran right-hander has mutual interest in the Nationals, owing in part to the fact his wife (Elizabeth Prann) is a Washington-based reporter for Fox News Channel. That fact, of course, also makes Baltimore an attractive place for O'Day to stay, but the Orioles to date have offered no evidence they are making a serious attempt to re-sign him.

The real question, though, is whether the Nationals are willing to make the kind of commitment it's going to take to land the best reliever on the market. O'Day is expected to receive at least a 3-year deal, with many believing he'll ultimately command a 4-year contract worth anywhere from $28 million to $36 million.

That's a hefty price, and not only in dollars. A 4-year commitment to any reliever, let alone one who just turned 33, is a risky proposition, and not the kind of thing the Nats have been willing to do in the past.

Yes, they've been willing to spend top dollar on experienced closers — Rafael Soriano got $14 million a year, Jonathan Papelbon is scheduled to make $11 million next year — but neither was acquired with more than two seasons of control guaranteed. Are the Nationals suddenly going to double that commitment in years, especially for a setup man?

They just might. Relievers are notoriously a fickle bunch, with few able to maintain a high level of consistency over multiple years. But O'Day might be one who breaks that mold.

In each of his four seasons with the Orioles, O'Day has made at least 60 appearances with an ERA under 2.30 and a WHIP of 1.00 or lower. He's the only reliever in baseball to do that. And only two others (Craig Kimbrel and Mark Melancon) have done it three times in those four seasons.

An O'Day acquisition would probably increase speculation that the Nationals are going to trade either Papelbon or Drew Storen (or both). Such a move certainly would give Mike Rizzo the flexibility to deal at least one of the other right-handers, even if he wouldn't get full value at this point.

But it wouldn't necessarily force Rizzo's hand. As we've seen in the past, he's perfectly comfortable loading up at one position and trying to assemble one of the deepest talent pools in baseball. It's what he did last winter with his rotation. And it's what he did in 2013-14 with a bullpen that featured Soriano, Storen and Tyler Clippard.

There's certainly some evidence to suggest a dominant bullpen trio can make a huge difference over the course of a season and especially in October — hello, world champion Kansas City Royals — so perhaps the idea of a Storen-O'Day-Papelbon triumvirate is appealing to Rizzo.

If they go that route, though, the Nationals will be spending a whole lot of money on their bullpen. Those three relievers figure to sport a combined 2016 salary in the range of $28 million. That's not a traditional allocation of financial resources.

Then again, consider what this team's biggest problem area was this season, and what a difference a dominant 7-8-9 bullpen combo might have made in the NL East race.

If the Nationals are determined to correct that flaw, O'Day might just be the best available piece, even if the price tag makes them just a bit queasy.

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2018 MLB Wild Card Playoff Race: The Dodgers are back

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USA TODAY Sports

2018 MLB Wild Card Playoff Race: The Dodgers are back

The Los Angeles Dodgers have flipped the National League West, the Tampa Bay Rays are making a valiant run, and the Washington Nationals are hanging in there.

Races heading into the 2018 Major League Baseball Postseason still find a way to stay interesting after 150 games. 

The NL Central, NL West, AL and NL Wild Card battles are all going to be watched under a microscope with less than two week's worth of games remaining. Not too far away either is the NL East. 

Joining the Boston Red Sox, the Cleveland Indians are only the second team to clinch a postseason spot. They claimed the AL Central crown and will make the playoffs as the No. 3 team in the AL Bracket. No one though has clinched a position in the National League yet, and likely will not until the final week. 

Eight spots remain with the Astros and Yankees not being too far away from joining the list. At the rate the Dodgers are winning games (six of their last seven), they probably are not far off either. No matter what, Los Angeles is in a good spot after they once were at risk for missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012. 

One team that has fallen out of that conversation is the Atlanta Braves who were a game and a half from the top seed in the NL. Now they have lost four straight and leave the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals still holding out hope. 

National League Postseason Picture:

Central: Chicago Cubs 89-62

West: Los Angeles Dodgers 84-68 

East: Atlanta Braves 83-68 

National League Wild Card Standings (Games remaining against Wild Card teams): 

Milwaukee Brewers: 86-66         +3.5 (3)
Ramaining:
vs. Cincinnati (1)
@ Pittsburgh (3)
@ St. Louis (3)
vs. Detroit (3)
St. Louis Cardinals: 84-68         +1.5 (3)
Remaining:
@ Atlanta Braves (1)
vs. San Francisco (3)
vs. Milwaukee (3)
@ Chicago Cubs (3)
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Colorado Rockies: 82-69            -1.5 (10)
Remaining:
@ LA Dodgers (1)
@ Arizona (3)
vs. Philadelphia (4)
vs. Washington (3)
Philadelphia Phillies: 77-73        -6.0 (4)
Remaining:
vs. NY Mets (1)
@ Atlanta (4)
@ Colorado (4)
vs. Atlanta (3)
Arizona Diamondbacks: 78-74    -6.0 (3)
Remaining:
vs. Chicago Cubs (1)
vs. Colorado (3)
vs. LA Dodgers (3)
vs. San Diego (3)
Washington Nationals: 77-75      -7.0 (3)
Remaining:
vs. NY Mets (4)
vs. Miami (3)
@ Colorado (3)

Since the last update, the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals have not done much to add to their leads in the Wild Card. Milwaukee playing against lower teams at home in the division, only won two games in their past two series, with one being Christian Yelich's cycle. St. Louis lost three out of four to the Dodgers, but rebounded to take two against Atlanta.

Still, they hold the final two spots and have benefited with the Dodgers running through the NL West.

While the Dodgers jumped past the Rockies for the lead in the division, if Colorado can rebound it will make for an interesting finish in the National League as a whole.

However, the Rockies can't even beat the lower tier teams, shutout twice in the Bay. The Rockies will have a say in how the remainder of the season plays out, especially in the NL East, playing the Phillies and the Nats as both are grasping for straws with the Braves sinking. 

Once again the Nationals are on the way out, looking in. They remain in the update only because they have a slight chance in the division (6.5 games back), and a real favorable schedule. At the same time, write-off the Arizona Diamondbacks, they are 4-13 in their last 17.

American League:

East: Boston Red Sox: 103-48 -- clinched postseason spot

West: Houston Astros: 95-56 

Central: Cleveland Indians: 84-66 -- clinched division

American League Wild Card Standings (Games remaining against Wild Card teams):

New York Yankees: 92-58      +8.0 (4)
Remaining:
vs. Boston (2)
vs. Baltimore (3)
@ Tampa Bay (4)
@ Boston (3)
Oakland Athletics: 90-61        +5.5 (0)
Remaining:
vs. LA Angels (2)
vs. Minnesota (3)
@ Mariners (3)
@ LA Angels (3)
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Tampa Bay Rays: 84-66          -5.5 (4)
Remaining:
@ Texas (1)
vs. Toronto (4)
vs. NY Yankees (4)
vs. Toronto (3)

Just when it looked like the Yankees and the Oakland Athletics were going to be in a footrace for the top Wild Card spot, it evaporated. Losing once to the Baltimore Orioles, twice to the Tampa Bay Rays and another to the Los Angeles Angels, the Athletics faded. On the flip side New York got a huge win at home against the MLB-leading Red Sox.

The remaining schedule for each remain polar opposites as the calendar winds down. A race will still likely present itself.

Tampa Bay missed a golden chance to give themselves an outside shot. A sweep against Oakland, combined with the other results would have got them within 4.5 games. An extra-inning loss at home essentially ended their far hopes. Their record post All-Star break? 35-19.

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Strasburg fans 11, Nationals top Marlins 4-2

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Strasburg fans 11, Nationals top Marlins 4-2

Stephen Strasburg matched his season-high with 11 strikeouts and Bryce Harper tied a career-high with five walks as the Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins 4-2 Tuesday night.

Anthony Rendon drove in two runs for the Nationals (77-75), who entered Tuesday's game 7 games behind the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves and 7 games back in the race for the final wild-card spot.

Strasburg (9-7) pitched six innings and allowed two runs and five hits with two walks. At one point, he struck out six consecutive batters.

Sean Doolittle pitched a perfect ninth for his 25th save in 26 opportunities.

Peter O'Brien hit his third home run of the season and J.T. Realmuto had two hits and knocked in a run for the Marlins.

Adam Eaton and Trea Turner had consecutive RBI singles in the second inning to give the Nationals an early lead.

O'Brien's solo homer off Strasburg cut the Marlins' deficit to 2-1.

Rendon's sacrifice fly pushed the lead to 3-1, but Realmuto pulled Miami within 3-2 with a base hit in the fifth.

Rendon's single in the sixth pushed Washington's advantage to 4-2.

Sandy Alcantara pitched four innings for the Marlins and allowed six hits, six walks, and three runs.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (17-7, 2.53 ERA) will begin a four-game series against the New York Mets on Thursday.

Marlins: RHP Jeff Brigham (0-2, 7.36) will take the mound on Thursday when Miami begins the final home series of the season, a four-game set against Cincinnati.

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