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Still no answer for Strasburg's woes

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Still no answer for Strasburg's woes

There was a time, not terribly long ago, when the sight of Stephen Strasburg taking the mound was a confidence boost for the Nationals, not to mention a daunting prospect for the opposition. He was an intimidating presence on the mound, with a repertoire that left batters quaking in their spikes and fans on the edge of their seats.

How that version of Strasburg has morphed into this version of Strasburg — the guy who was roughed up once again Saturday by the Phillies during an 8-1 loss at Nationals Park, intimidating no one, looking like he had given up — is the greatest mystery facing this franchise right now.

"It looks like he lacks a little bit of confidence out there," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "Maybe he's fighting something mentally. But I have no doubt that he'll shake it off and come back just as good as ever."

The Nationals continue to espouse that same opinion, that Strasburg will bounce back and return to the form that defined his first five seasons in the big leagues.

"We're not concerned," manager Matt Williams said. "He's one of our guys. He been one of our guys. He will continue to be one of our guys. He's going through a rough stretch. It doesn't mean he can't come out of it his next start and be absolutely dominant. He has that capability every time he walks out on the mound."

Trouble is, Strasburg hasn't lived up to that capability in quite some time. He has reached the seventh inning only once this season (April 19). He has failed to get out of the fourth inning three times in his last four starts.

And the overall numbers are downright ghastly. Out of 110 qualifying starting pitchers in the majors as of early Saturday evening, Strasburg's 6.50 ERA ranked 109th, while his 1.69 WHIP, .321 opponents' batting average and 17.95 pitches per inning ranked dead-last.

Opponents have posted a combined .853 OPS against him this season. Three players in MLB history had a career OPS of .853: Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins and Billy Williams. All Hall of Famers.

"It's definitely something that I've never experienced before," Strasburg said. "I think it's a test. It's a test for me, and I'm gonna look at it that way and I'm not gonna quit. I'm gonna keep going."

[RELATED: Strasburg rocked again during ugly 8-1 loss to Phillies]

The Nationals hoped Strasburg had made some progress in his last outing, when he allowed three runs in five innings in San Diego while displaying his best fastball command in weeks. But Saturday's start against the Phillies was a regression, with Strasburg unable to locate pitches and unable to put away hitters in 2-strike counts.

The result were several hard-hit balls in the third and fourth innings, including doubles by Cesar Hernandez, Ryan Howard and Odubel Herrera, plus a towering homer by Maikel Franco on an 0-2 fastball that was shoulder-high and right over the plate.

"A lot of damage with two strikes in the count," Williams said. "The base hit to Howard: fastball up. The homer was a fastball up, but still with two strikes. Just couldn't put them away today."

As the outing progressed, Strasburg looked more and more demoralized on the mound. He failed to back up the plate on multiple occasions, a lack of fundamental effort that wasn't lost on his manager.

"That's worked on more than anything else," Williams said. "And he's got to be in position in case something does get away."

Strasburg wasn't alone in sleepwalking through this game. His teammates were charged with four errors — all while he was on the mound — and could've been charged with more if not for a bizarre, Little League-style play in the sixth inning that was wiped out because Hernandez missed first base after driving a ball to right-center.

Those defensive gaffes typically make Williams' skin crawl, but given the fact his team had been very clean baseball while winning 18 of its previous 22 games, the second-year manager couldn't make too big a deal out of this particular performance.

"It was clunker, but all-in-all over the past couple weeks it's been darn good," he said. "So, I'm not worried about their intensity level, or anything of that nature. It was one of those games. It happens sometimes, but we'll get back at it tomorrow."

What, though, about Strasburg? The Nationals can no longer chalk up starts like this to being "one of those games." Everyone insists his status won't change and he'll be back on the mound for his next turn in the rotation — currently scheduled for Friday in Cincinnati — but with an off-day next week they could potentially skip him and give him extra time to work on things.

Whether any of that is the cure for whatever currently ails Strasburg is anybody's guess.

"He's a great pitcher, really," Desmond said. "I mean, there's not many better in the league than him. Sometimes as players, that's hard for us to believe, in ourselves. We're so hard on ourselves all the time. But especially when you're not getting results. ... He's still got it. He's throwing 96-97. All his pitches look good. It's just hits are falling through right now and mistakes are getting hit hard. That's just a stretch he's going to go through. You'd rather go through it now than later. But like I said before, I've got all the confidence in the world in him."

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How to entice Bryce Harper in to re-signing with the Nationals? With food, of course!

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How to entice Bryce Harper in to re-signing with the Nationals? With food, of course!

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach… and if that leads us to Bryce Harper’s potential landing spot, then I present to you the yummiest reasons he should stay with the Washington Nationals.

In a video from TMZ, a paparazzi follows Harper to baggage claim and implores him for any hints toward where he is signing this offseason. The only true answer he got was that Harper likes a place called Steak 48 in Chicago. This surf-and-turf hot spot in the River North neighborhood of downtown Chicago has the audacity to serve “Maryland STYLE lump crab cakes.” Really, Bryce? Will the real thing convince you?!

On that note, let’s start off with the seafood we have to offer. This is the Mid-Atlantic, after all.

How can you work here April-September without eating local crabs in some form? I think that’s impossible. You can choose from hard shell or soft shell, but no shame in either game.

Live Chesapeake blue crabs can be bought at Captain White’s Seafood and other vendors on The Wharf off Maine Avenue. Otherwise, you can sit down and have them steamed for you at Quarterdeck, Ivy City Smokehouse, Bethesda Crab House or Captain Pell’s.

If Harper is more of a soft shell guy, all of those places also serve out-of-the-park crab cakes, but you can’t go wrong with Hank’s Oyster Bar, Old Ebbitt Grill, Chris’ Marketplace, or Clyde’s.

If the star really wants to dive in to local taste, he should eat Chesapeake Bay oysters from the largest estuary in America. My personal favorite selection is at Whaley’s (seafood tower on me, Bryce), but Rapphanock Oyster Bar, The Dabney, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace and Black’s Bar & Kitchen can’t be beat.

I find it hard to believe the team hasn't had an outing at The Salt Line, the lively seafood spot just a short throw from Nats Park where teammate Ryan Zimmerman is an investor and co-owner.

Now that we’ve satisfied Harper’s iron intake, let’s break down his protein. In order to keep the superstar here, I want to make sure he knows that D.C. cares about providing a well-rounded diet.

Barbecued meats in general around here are delectable. Sitting in juxtaposition between the north and south, D.C. restaurants bring a mash-up of styles of smoked and sauced meats. Favorites are Federalist Pig, Hill Country, Fat Pete’s and Hardy’s BBQ truck.

However, if Bryce Harper show he’s as invested in authentic Nationals fans as our season tickets are in him, he should really pick up a half-smoke, the district’s original recipe for a spicy, thicker pork and beef dog that’s aggressively seasoned and sometimes served with chili sauce.

Could you imagine Harper making his announcement to stay over a half-smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl? I think even the panda statue would cry tears of joy.

Another hyper-local taste is mumbo sauce. While proven not originally from here, D.C. natives are enthusiastic about the special sauce. Yum’s is pretty well-known for carrying it.

Time for dessert! I think we can all agree that in the past 10 years, cupcakes have become iconic in the district with Georgetown Cupcakes, Baked & Wired and Sprinkles all having a home in Georgetown. To settle the debate, Baked & Wired is best. They are ranked #1 on Yelp if you don’t believe my own palette.

But what if it’s game night, you ask? D.C. has it’s hearty share of restaurants that are open even after extra innings. The Diner, Kramerbooks, Mandu, New Big Wong, Old Ebbitt Grill, Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, Amsterdam Falafelshop and Jumbo Slice are all here to keep you warm at night no matter what you’re craving post-victory. Need I go on?

Bryce reassured Nats fans and TMZ that he is “still a National right now.” Better eat these while you can, Bryce, or you’ll be sorry you didn't sign in one of the best food cities in the MLB.

Do you have any local food or restaurants you think will convince Bryce Harper to stay with the Washington Nationals this offseason? Send them to @NBCNationals or @rmhopmayer. Maybe we can throw together a friends-giving or holiday dinner for those that want him to stay our beloved Guest of Honor.

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Here's why one writer voted for Max Scherzer over Jacob deGrom for NL Cy Young

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USA Today

Here's why one writer voted for Max Scherzer over Jacob deGrom for NL Cy Young

Jacob deGrom could've been a unanimous Cy Young award winner Wednesday. Instead, he won with 29 of 30 first-place votes.

The only voter who chose not to give deGrom a first-place vote was John Maffei of the San Deigo Union-Tribune

"What is stunning to me is the blowback from the fans, especially in New York," wrote Maffei. "Dozens of emails — some venomous — ranging from 'hey dumbass,' 'incompetent,' 'idiot,' 'moron' and 'clown.' Several called for my head, my job."

Shocking. Keyboard warriors furiously typing out their frustration and overreacting to something they didn't like.  

Maffei joined Steve Somers of WFAN in New York as well, which ended up being the shortest interview in the history of interviews.

Maffei points out that he chose to vote for Scherzer over deGrom for many reasons. One being, despite a 1.70 ERA over 217 innings, he had 10 wins and nine losses.

After he talked with other baseball experts, looked at Scherzer's 2.53 ERA and his historic 300-strikeout season — making him one of only 17 pitchers to do that since 1900 — Maffei says his vote was swayed in the direction of the Nats' ace.

One thing's for sure, Maffei may not have made any friends in New York, but he's made plenty of new ones in Washington.