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Ugly incident speaks to Nats' organization-wide problem

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Ugly incident speaks to Nats' organization-wide problem

Had Sunday afternoon’s dugout fracas at Nationals Park been a purely isolated incident, it might be easy to shrug it off as one of those unfortunate things that happens every once in awhile in sports. Teammates get into a heated argument, one goes after the other, everybody else rushes in to break it up. This certainly wasn’t the first time that scene has played out, whether in public or private view.

Trouble is, this wasn’t isolated. In hindsight, it kind of feels like it had been brewing for awhile. And worse, the manner in which it was handled — both at that moment and then throughout the rest of the evening — spoke to an even larger problem: The Nationals as an organization are out of touch with reality.

Everyone’s at fault here. Of course it begins with Jonathan Papelbon, who was completely out of bounds in confronting Bryce Harper about a perceived lack of hustle and then in physically attacking his teammate. But it also extends to the Nationals’ clubhouse as a whole lacking in a leader, someone who already would have set a tone for how things should be done.

And then it moves on to Matt Williams, who clearly has to know he’s fighting for his job at this point yet has failed through both his words and actions to display the kind of leadership qualities that would give the front office valid reason to retain him.

But it doesn’t stop there. Keep climbing up the ladder to Mike Rizzo, who made the trade for Papelbon despite obvious red flags that gave just about every outside observer reason to question the deal, and who has too often prioritized individual talent over roster cohesion while building his ballclub.

And then take that final step up to the top, to an ownership group that despite learning many things in its near-decade at the helm still comes across as tone-deaf in matters of both major and minor significance.

Maybe the best word to describe it all is this: Arrogance.

The Nationals have accomplished great things over the last four years. Say what you want about the disappointment of missing the playoffs in both 2013 and 2015, but what qualifies as disappointment around here is 83-to-86 wins. That’s markedly better than any of the franchise’s first six seasons in the District, when the mere notion of a winning record was cause for celebration.

Yet this organization, from top to bottom, too often acts like it has accomplished far more than it really has. The Nationals fly the largest division championship banner in baseball, high above the scoreboard in right-center field. (The 2012 NL East champions banner still resided up there throughout the 2014 season, long after they had ceded the title to the Braves.) They boast no fewer than three highly visible reminders to the world that they’ll be hosting the 2018 All-Star Game, an event that won’t take place for another 34 months. They spent the entire first half of this season playing intentionally annoying slow-jams over the PA system when the opposing team took batting practice, for no reason other than to thumb their noses at the rest of the league. They continue to show replay after replay after replay of Jayson Werth’s walk-off homer in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS — an admittedly wonderful baseball moment — while completely ignoring what happened only 24 hours later to render that moment a mere footnote.

Rizzo has a sterling track record as a front-office exec, and he single-handedly is responsible more than anybody else for turning a 100-loss joke of an organization into one of baseball’s most-competitive franchises. But he also has let ego get in the way of sound baseball decisions at times, whether in trading away Jerry Blevins for taking the club to arbitration over a $200,000 difference in salaries, in assuming a roster of productive-but-oft-injured veterans would somehow be able to stay in one piece all season or in ignoring the domino effects of acquiring big-name players who would bump popular rank-and-file guys from their roles. Yes, the additions of Max Scherzer, Rafael Soriano, Edwin Jackson and Papelbon made the Nationals’ roster stronger, but what ended up happening to Tanner Roark, John Lannan and Drew Storen (twice) as a result? What message did any of those moves send to the rest of the clubhouse?

Williams, meanwhile, has attempted to maintain a veneer of steadiness throughout his tenure as manager. He refuses to look back, look ahead or put any situation into a larger context. But it’s impossible to do that in reality. Every individual situation fits somehow into the bigger picture. What happened last night does impact what happens tonight and tomorrow. Some wins are bigger than others. Some losses most definitely are worse than others. And a manager has to be able to convey that, to recognize that sometimes you bring in your “eighth-inning guy” to pitch the seventh, that it’s OK (actually, it’s necessary) to acknowledge when you’ve been eliminated from the pennant race and admit how disappointing that is to you.

And above all else, a manager has to understand that when your closer physically attacks a teammate in the dugout, he simply can’t be allowed to take the mound again the next half-inning. No matter the score. No matter how many games back you are. No matter how much of the incident you actually saw with your own eyes or not. If Williams truly didn’t see the full extent of Sunday’s incident, he has no excuse for not getting a full and immediate report from one of his coaches (several were right in the thick of it, separating Papelbon and Harper).

If these last few weeks served as an opportunity for Williams to prove himself worthy of the job, to prove himself the kind of leader Rizzo has believed for more than a decade he would be, he hasn’t come close to making the most of it.

As for Papelbon … well, the short-term answer should be simple. He needs to drop his appeal of his 3-game, MLB-imposed suspension for intentionally throwing at Manny Machado’s head. Now. And then he needs to not appear in any of the Nationals’ four other remaining games this season.

The long-term answer isn’t nearly as simple. The Nationals already were facing a major bullpen overhaul this winter before this incident. Now they have no choice but to consider dumping Papelbon, who is under contract for 2016 and owed $11 million. Trouble is, he still has the same no-trade clause that made it difficult for the Phillies to deal him in the first place. His value obviously has diminished. And $11 million is a whole lotta money to flush down the toilet.

Yet how do the Nationals move forward with Papelbon as part of the equation? Can they really expect to make another run in 2016 with him holding a prominent position, carrying this kind of baggage?

Here may lie the ultimate test of the organization’s aforementioned arrogance. Can Rizzo, Ted Lerner and Co. admit the colossal mistake they made this summer, no matter how much it stings their pride and their bank account?

If so, perhaps it will serve as the first evidence of a franchise truly committed to changing how it operates. No more arrogance. No more bragging. No more inviting derision from the rest of the baseball world.

It’s time for the Nationals to admit they have not accomplished great things yet. They’ve taken plenty of big steps over the last decade. But they haven’t taken the final step. And until they do, they’re just another franchise trying to join the big boys’ club, required to show some much-needed humility for once.

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Report: Nationals among teams to release minor leaguers amid coronavirus pandemic

Report: Nationals among teams to release minor leaguers amid coronavirus pandemic

The Nationals are among many teams that cut a portion of its minor-league ranks as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, TheScore’s Robert Murray reported Thursday.

According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, "hundreds" of minor leaguers lost their jobs Thursday as talks continue between MLB and its players union over the parameters for a salvaged 2020 season.

Although both sides maintain optimism that an MLB season will be played this summer, the fact that it would begin without fans in attendance is an indication that the minor-league season—of which teams rely almost entirely on ticket sales and concessions for revenue—is likely lost.

MLB teams agreed in March to pay their minor-league players $400 a week through May 31. However, as many teams have announced series of pay cuts, furloughs and lay offs for their employees over the past few weeks, it started to look inevitable that the minor leaguers would be a casualty of the virus’s economic ramifications once the agreement expired.

The last few weeks of spring training leading up to Opening Day typically see a significant number of minor-league players cut loose after failing to make team rosters. Since no team had the chance to narrow down its list of players before coronavirus forced the suspension of spring training, many of the players released may have already been candidates to get let go.

However, the sheer number of players that are now unemployed is unprecedented. While the released players are now free agents and free to sign with any club, it’s unlikely many teams bring on new players while the pandemic continues to grip the country.

At the very least until the league and MLBPA—which doesn't represent players in the minors—reach an agreement on how to proceed with the 2020 season, those minor-league players are going to have to find income through another job.

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New Jersey brewery takes shot at Astros' cheating scandal with new beer

New Jersey brewery takes shot at Astros' cheating scandal with new beer

Even with the baseball world on hold, the digs at the Houston Astros surrounding their sign-stealing scandal persist. The latest may be the most clever, as one New Jersey brewery created a custom beer just to take a shot at the Astros.

Departed Soles' newest drink is named "Trash Can Banger" and is a beer dedicated to slighting the Astros' 2017 World Series championship. The drink itself contains 2,017 grams of hops in each barrel, and the can design mimics Houston's well-recognized striped jerseys.

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Sometimes you need to bend the rules a little to Marwin the day, so we're up and at 'em a little earlier than we should be, getting a fresh new Hazy IPA in cans Justin time for a surprise Sunday release! Some of you may have already gotten the Signs that this was coming today, but beer releases are like a pitcher's arsenal, and you never really know what's coming and when... unless, of course, you cheat. When this pandemic first struck, much of our staff worked from home, while Brian rededicated himself to the Art of Brewing.. rewatching brewing school classes, reading new studies, and pouring over interviews, trying to Luhn(h)ow we could improve our efficiencies and processes. The result is a Fiers new approach to everything we do, from mashing in, to dry hopping, water treatments to canning, and everything in between. And, well, we don't mean to breg, man, but this new beer is Reddickulous, and you won't want to miss it! Brewed with Citra in our whirlpool, and given a touch of milk sugar for complexity, this juice bomb was twice dry hopped... first with more Citra, then with 2017 grams per barrel of Galaxy and Strata Hops... and just like an Asteroid, the flavor is out of this world! Like a craft beer Minute Made orange juice, to enjoy at a Park this fine day! Need some #TrashCanBanger in your life? Maybe Collin a favor with a friend if you're stuck in Correa, to have 'em pick you up some, or Cora ride share from Dallas to the brewery. If all else fails, throw a Belt & ran to the brewery, with a little Springer in your step, to be here at noon when we open up and release it to the world... Assuming our canning run goes off without a Hinch, 4 packs of this new #DefinitelyNotGlutenFree Banger will be available at noon for $17. Set your alarm to buzz, or tape an electrode to your chest to make sure you don't forget! The show Musgrove on! We're open from noon until 8pm, accepting same day delivery orders up until 4pm. Usual minimums, fees, etc. apply! Menu in story.

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Why exactly did Departed Soles decide to make this beer? It was a simple mentality that most would agree with.

“I’m not a fan of cheaters,” Departed Soles head brewer and owner Brian Kulbacki told NJ.com

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Kulbacki noted that the beverage has created some support among Yankees and Dodgers fans who were heavily impacted by the 2017 events, while people in Houston are not too fond of it. That's no surprise, though Kulbacki was taken back by how many Astros fans remain blind to what happened.

The creation of the beer stemmed from the brewery missing live sports; taking a shot at the Astros in the process was an added bonus. 

“We’re all very big sports fans, and we’re all desperate for sports to come back,” Kulbacki said. “We’re desperate for anything to talk about other than a pandemic right now. So we thought it was an opportune time to put out a beer.”

At ballparks or bars, it looks like the Astros won't be escaping the digs anytime soon. 

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