Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Nats get Meyers back from Yankees

The Nationals have re-acquired right-hander Brad Meyers after the Yankees sent the Rule 5 draft pick back to Washington following an injury-plagued season.

Meyers, 27, was selected away by New York in last December's Rule 5 draft and was expected to spend the season on the big-league roster (per draft rules). But he landed on the disabled list with a shoulder cartilage injury prior to Opening Day and never returned.

Meyers wound up making only one professional appearance in 2012, giving up eight runs on eight hits in an April 9 rehab start for Class A Tampa that lasted only 1 2/3 innings. He was subsequently transferred to the 60-day DL, where he remained the rest of the year.

Because he spent the season on the DL, Meyers would again have to remain on the Yankees' 25-man roster in 2013 or else be offered

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

LaRoche wins first Gold Glove

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Managers and coaches voted Adam LaRoche the NL's best defensive first baseman.
The best offensive season of Adam LaRoche's career may actually have helped the Nationals first baseman be recognized at long last for his fielding prowess.

LaRoche won his first-ever Rawlings Gold Glove award tonight, selected as the best defensive first baseman in the National League in voting among managers and coaches.

LaRoche has long been considered stellar in the field, but the 32-year-old had never been recognized for it, losing out in previous Gold Glove selections to the likes of Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez and Derrek Lee.

The NL's managers and coaches finally gave LaRoche his due this year, citing his .995 fielding percentage and ability to snatch up

Handicapping award season

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Ian Desmond has a chance to win both a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award.
The regular season has long since ended. The postseason is now over, as well. And the offseason is about to kick into high gear.

But sandwiched in between all of that is another season, one that Nationals fans will need to pay attention to more than any previous year: Award season.

Yes, the time has come to hand out plaques, statues and bats and gloves made out of precious metals. The fun begins tonight with the Gold Glove awards, then concludes Nov. 15 with the MVP awards.

Plenty of Nationals are going to be in the mix for all of the honors. Let's run through each award and handicap everyone's chances...

Announced: Tonight, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Previous Nats winner: Ryan Zimmerman (2009)
Who votes: NL managers and coaches
Two Nationals infielders were named finalists: Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche. Desmond faces stiff competition from three fellow

Monday, October 29, 2012

Desmond, LaRoche: Gold Glove finalists

Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche are finalists to win their first Gold Glove awards.

Desmond is one of four National League shortstops up for the award, joining the Marlins' Jose Reyes, the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins and the Reds' Zack Cozart. LaRoche is one of three NL first baseman named finalists, along with the Braves' Freddie Freeman and the Reds' Joey Votto.

All winners will be announced at 9:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday in an awards show televised by ESPN2.

Gold Glove awards are voted on by major-league managers and coaches, who submit their choices in late-September.

Neither Desmond nor LaRoche has ever won the award. Desmond is coming off a breakthrough season in which he was named an All-Star for the first time while excelling in the field. He was charged with 15

Window with LaRoche closes Saturday

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Adam LaRoche can begin negotiating with other clubs on Saturday.
When Miguel Cabrera took a Sergio Romo fastball down the heart of the strike zone late last night, the 2012 Major League Baseball season came to an end. And the Hot Stove League immediately commenced.

While the Giants are busy celebrating and the Tigers are busy moping, everyone else around the sport is preparing for the official start of the offseason, with some important decisions that will need to be made right off the bat.

All eligible players become free agents this morning, a group that will include Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche, right-hander Edwin Jackson, left-handers Sean Burnett, Michael Gonzalez and Zach Duke and utilityman Mark DeRosa.

Though they'll technically be free agents right away, those players won't have the right to negotiate with other clubs until five full days have passed. Thus, the Nationals have until Saturday morning to

Sunday, October 28, 2012

World Series Game 4: Giants at Tigers

US Presswire photo
Will the Giants enjoy the ultimate celebration tonight in Detroit?
I'm not sure anyone would have guessed the baseball season could end tonight. Then again, I'm not sure anyone would have guessed the Giants could hold the Tigers to three total runs in Games 1-3 of the World Series ... without having sent their ace to the mound.

It's been a stunning Fall Classic so far, and though it's not officially over yet, let's be honest. No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win the World Series. And only three of the 23 teams that have faced a 3-0 deficit have even been able to force a Game 5.

So the Giants will be smelling blood tonight and will try to wrap this thing up at Comerica Park. They'll hand the ball to Matt Cain, who won Game 7 of the NLCS and has been Mr. Consistency for them all season. Detroit's Max Scherzer has been fantastic in the postseason, but it won't matter how he pitches tonight if his teammates can't produce some semblance of offense.

Since there's obviously nowhere to go around D.C. tonight, might as well batten down the hatches and watch Game 4 with the rest of us. I'll again share my thoughts along the way in the comments section...

Where: Comerica Park
Gametime: 8:15 p.m. EDT
TV: Fox
Radio: 980 AM, 92.7 FM, 94.3 FM, XM 178
Weather: Showers, 45 degrees, Wind 16 mph out to CF
CF Angel Pagan
2B Marco Scutaro
3B Pablo Sandoval
C Buster Posey

Saturday, October 27, 2012

World Series Game 3: Giants at Tigers

US Presswire photo
The Fall Classic shifts to chilly Comerica Park tonight.
Is a 2-0 series deficit insurmountable? No, it's certainly happened before. But make no mistake, the Tigers really have their backs against the wall now as the 108th World Series shifts to chilly Comerica Park for the next three nights. A Detroit club that entered this Fall Classic as slight favorites because of ace Justin Verlander and a deep and potent lineup didn't play well at all in Games 1 and 2 in San Francisco and needs to get back on track in a hurry.

A couple of signs that may point in the Tigers' favor tonight for Game 3: 1) They fared much better against right-handers (62-49) than left-handers (26-25) during the regular season, 2) Anibal Sanchez has posted a 2.07 ERA over his last nine starts and 3) Detroit gets to use its regular lineup (with Delmon Young as DH) while San Francisco is forced to use backup catcher Hector Sanchez in the DH role.

One big sign, however, that points in the Giants' favor: Ryan Vogelsong has been dominant this month, going 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in three postseason starts.

So, how will this pivotal Game 3 play out? If you're the Tigers, you've got to jump out to an early lead (their first of the series). If you're the Giants and you get ahead first, all the momentum remains on your side. Enjoy the game, and enjoy the discussion in the comments section (I'll be participating again myself)...

Where: Comerica Park
Gametime: 8:07 p.m. EDT
TV: Fox
Radio: 980 AM, 92.7 FM, 94.3 FM, XM 178
Weather: Partly cloudy, 46 degrees, Wind 11 mph out to CF
CF Angel Pagan
2B Marco Scutaro
3B Pablo Sandoval
C Buster Posey

Friday, October 26, 2012

Is Zimmerman injury-prone?

US Presswire photo
Ryan Zimmerman has played in an average of 139 games over seven full seasons.
The news yesterday that Ryan Zimmerman had arthroscopic surgery to repair the right shoulder sprain that hampered him all season didn't come as much of a surprise. All along, Zimmerman and the Nationals knew offseason surgery was probable.

But it did raise a question that has been posed a few times over the years: Is Zimmerman injury-prone, and is that a concern for the Nationals considering they've got him under contract for seven more seasons and more than $100 million?

To be sure, Zimmerman has dealt with his share of injuries since he was drafted by the Nationals in 2005.

-- He broke the hamate bone in his left wrist following the 2007 season and required surgery to remove it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

World Series Game 2: Tigers at Giants

US Presswire photo
Does Pablo Sandoval have more heroics in store tonight?
So, Game 1 pretty much went exactly as expected, right? Right? Guess this is why we love baseball so much, because it never fails to surprise us, even on its grandest stage.

The pertinent question is this: Did the Giants' lopsided Game 1 win over the Tigers fundamentally change the complexion of the series? On one hand, you have to say the answer is yes. Not only did San Francisco take out Justin Verlander in stunning fashion, but history tells us the last 11 home teams that won Game 1 went on to win the World Series.

On the other hand, a big performance tonight from Doug Fister & Co. would get Detroit back on track and even the series up heading back east to Comerica Park. He gets overshadowed by Verlander and others on the Tigers roster, but over his last 17 starts (postseason included) Fister is 8-4 with a 2.52 ERA. That's pretty good.

Just like last night, I'll be hanging out here all night providing my own thoughts and interacting with everyone in the comments section. Please join us as you watch the game...

Where: AT&T Park
Gametime: 8:07 p.m. EDT
TV: Fox
Radio: WTEM (980 AM), XM 178
Weather: Sunny, 62 degrees, Wind 11 mph out to RF
CF Austin Jackson
2B Omar Infante
3B Miguel Cabrera
1B Prince Fielder

Zimmerman has shoulder surgery

US Presswire photo
Ryan Zimmerman's shoulder injury hampered him at the plate and in the field.
Though he managed to make it through the full season thanks to a series of cortisone shots, Ryan Zimmerman knew all along he might need offseason surgery to repair his ailing right shoulder.

The Nationals third baseman indeed had the procedure, undergoing arthroscopic surgery this morning to repair the AC joint sprain that hampered him throughout 2012.

The surgery, performed by Nationals orthopedist Wiemi Douoguih, will require a six-week recovery process. General manager Mike Rizzo said Zimmerman is expected to be fully healed well in advance of spring training.

The Nationals believe Zimmerman initially sustained the injury in April after making several diving attempts in the field and once while trying to score on a play at the plate. He received a cortisone shot shortly after and spent two weeks on the disabled list to rest the

Arizona Fall League update

While the Fall Classic got off to a rousing (and unexpected) start last night, the Fall League is kicking into high gear out in Arizona.

A "finishing school" of sorts, the AFL features upper-level prospects from every organization in baseball, dispersed among six teams for a six-week season. Stephen Strasburg participated in 2009. Bryce Harper was there in both 2010 and 2011.

The Nationals don't boast anyone quite as prominent as those two this fall, but there are several notable names currently playing for the Salt River Rafters. Let's run through everyone on the roster to date...

The Nationals' first-round pick in 2011 (sixth overall), Rendon is off to a bit of a sluggish start. In nine games, he's hitting .212 (7-for-33) with two doubles, three RBI (all of them coming on Oct. 17), six walks and eight strikeouts. He has only one hit over his last 14 at-bats, but the Nationals are less concerned with the 22-year-old's numbers and more concerned that he get significant playing time after missing most of the regular season with a fractured ankle.

Another 2011 draft pick (compensation for losing Adam Dunn to the White Sox), Goodwin has hit well so far in his AFL debut. In nine games, he's batting .286 (10-for-35) with three homers, two

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

World Series Game 1: Tigers at Giants

US Presswire photo
Sparkling AT&T Park hosts Game 1 of the Fall Classic tonight.
It's not the World Series that Nationals fans wanted, but it's still a fantastic matchup between two storied franchises with two rabid fan bases and plenty of big names involved that nobody saw coming. (Oh wait, I actually did predict this exact matchup way back on Opening Day! I trust you'll ignore the 27 other predictions I got wrong in that article.)

In one corner stand the AL champion Tigers, pushed to the brink by the A's in the ALDS before they mowed through the Yankees in a four-game ALCS. Detroit, which reached the World Series in 2006 but hasn't won it since 1984, has the best pitcher in the sport on the mound tonight in Justin Verlander, the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years in Miguel Cabrera and a really deep lineup that also includes $214 million first baseman Prince Fielder.

In the other corner stand the NL champion Giants, who have merely won six elimination games this month to reach the World Series for the second time in three years. They've got a two-time Cy Young Award winner in Tim Lincecum and the NL batting champ (and perhaps MVP) in Buster Posey, but their biggest contributors so far this postseason have been an obscure second baseman named Marco Scutaro and a couple of resurrected veteran pitchers named Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong.

My three keys to the series: 1) Can Verlander be Verlander, which makes him the most dominant pitcher on the planet? 2) Can Posey and Hunter Pence start driving in runs and take the pressure off Scutaro? 3) Will Detroit's shaky closer situation prove significant, or can Verlander and Co. simply finish what they started and leave Jose Valverde out of the equation altogether?

If you're still having trouble getting over the Nats' NLDS loss from nearly two weeks ago, it's time to turn the TV back on and watch baseball again, because there's still nothing like the Fall Classic (no matter your personal rooting interest). I'll certainly be watching, and I'll share my thoughts right here and in the comments section for anyone who would like to join in...

Where: AT&T Park
Gametime: 8:07 p.m. EDT
TV: Fox
Radio: WTEM (980 AM), XM 178
Weather: Sunny, 58 degrees, Wind 10 mph out to CF
CF Austin Jackson
2B Omar Infante
3B Miguel Cabrera
1B Prince Fielder

The ever-changing NL East

US Presswire photo
Ozzie Guillen's firing yesterday completed the latest dismantling of the Marlins.
The NL East was, for a good portion of the season's first half, the toughest division in baseball. All five franchises stood at least three games over .500 on June 1, and all looked poised to stay competitive through the remainder of the season.

That, of course, didn't happen. Though the champion Nationals and runner-up Braves each got better over the final four months, the Phillies fell apart in midsummer before a late surge got them back to the .500 mark, while the Mets and Marlins simply fell apart and never recovered.

Where, though, does that leave things heading into the offseason? The Nationals obviously will return loaded in 2013 and should be favored to repeat as division champs. But the Braves, too, will have the bulk of their 94-win club returning to the fold and will be determined to jump into first place and avoid the one-game playoff that killed their season.

The Phillies may continue to get older, but their strong finish will give team executives and players alike reason to think they can make

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How much is LaRoche worth?

US Presswire photo
Adam LaRoche could have several suitors if he hits the open market.
It's no secret the Nationals' top priority this offseason is to re-sign Adam LaRoche. And it's no secret LaRoche wants to return to the Nationals in search of the first World Series ring of his career.

So it should be a no-brainer for the two sides to come together and work out a new contract before the veteran first baseman ever hits the open market, right?

Sadly, it's never that simple.

LaRoche, coming off the best season of his career, is going to want to be fairly rewarded for his performance. And the Nationals, trying to win now but not wanting to hamstring themselves down the road, aren't going to want to commit too much money or too many years to a mid-30s slugger whose numbers may start to wane.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Would Nats have won NLCS?

US Presswire photo
Bruce Bochy and Mike Matheny will shake hands one final time before Game 7.
If you've been able to muster up the strength to watch this year's NLCS -- and it's perfectly understandable if you haven't, given how Game 5 of the NLDS ended -- you've seen quite a compelling series between the last two World Series champions, each of them making a desperate push to reach the Fall Classic again.

You also might have emerged from all this contemplating a simple, and perhaps painful, question: Would the Nationals have won this thing had they simply not blown a six-run lead to the Cardinals 10 days ago?

There's legitimate reason to believe they would, in fact, have won the pennant and secured a date with the Tigers in the World Series.

There's obviously no way to know how a series that never took place would have played out. But given the way they handled the Giants during the regular season, and given the way that potential NLCS would have set up, the Nationals certainly would have been in a

Friday, October 19, 2012

Position analysis: Bullpen

US Presswire photo
Drew Storen will try to bounce back from his blown save in Game 5 of the NLDS.
As we transition into offseason mode, we'll start by breaking down the Nationals' roster by position (infield, outfield, catcher, rotation and bullpen) this week and examine where things stand at season's end and where things might stand moving forward. Today's position: The bullpen...

Stats: 3-1, 2.37 ERA, 4 SV, 30.1 IP, 0.989 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 2.4 BB/9
0.7 WAR
2012 salary: $498,750
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible (Super 2), free agent in 2017
Where he fits in: Everything was going swimmingly for Storen, who had finally made it all the way back from his elbow surgery and had pitched brilliantly down the stretch. Over a 17-inning stretch from Sept. 3 through Game 4 of the NLDS, he allowed one run on nine hits, walking only one batter while striking out 17. But then came his disastrous ninth inning in Game 5, leaving a bitter taste in his mouth for the winter. Can Storen bounce back from that crushing loss? He certainly seems to have the right mindset to do it. And the Nationals certainly have confidence in the young right-hander to return to form.

Stats: 2-6, 3.72 ERA, 32 SV, 72.2 IP, 1.156 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, 3.6 BB/9

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Position analysis: Rotation

US Presswire photo
Stephen Strasburg won't be on a hard innings limit in 2013.
As we transition into offseason mode, we'll start by breaking down the Nationals' roster by position (infield, outfield, catcher, rotation and bullpen) this week and examine where things stand at season's end and where things might stand moving forward. Today's position: The starting rotation...

Stats: 15-6, 3.16 ERA, 159.1 IP, 1.155 WHIP, 11.1 K/9, 2.7 BB/9
4.3 WAR
2012 salary: $3 million
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2014, free agent in 2017
Where he fits in: Right at the top of the rotation. And straight through September (and into October, should the Nationals get that far). The Shutdown will be a huge topic of discussion all spring, but once the season gets underway, Strasburg will be free to pitch every fifth day with no restrictions (aside from running up pitch counts only Livan Hernandez is allowed to reach). One more year removed from his Tommy John surgery, the right-hander figures to be more consistent from start to start and should feel like he's still got plenty left in the tank late in the year, much as Jordan Zimmermann did this year.

Stats: 21-8, 2.89 ERA, 199.1 IP, 1.129 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 3.4 BB/9

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Video: Strasburg, rotation and Storen

In this latest TV segment from CSN's Geico SportsNet Central, I discuss what -- if any -- restrictions the Nationals will have on Stephen Strasburg next season, what -- if any -- changes Mike Rizzo will make to his starting rotation and what -- if any -- lingering effect Friday night's blown save will have on Drew Storen.

Position analysis: Catcher

US Presswire photo
Wilson Ramos expects to return 100 percent after tearing his ACL in May.
As we transition into offseason mode, we'll start by breaking down the Nationals' roster by position (infield, outfield, catcher, rotation and bullpen) this week and examine where things stand at season's end and where things might stand moving forward. Today's position: Catcher...

Stats: 25 G, 96 PA, 3 HR, 10 RBI, .265 AVG, .354 OBP, .398 SLG
1 E, 17% CS, 0.6 WAR
2012 salary: $491,250
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2014, free agent in 2017
Where he fits in: In his second full year in the big leagues, Ramos looked poised to breakout as one of the game's best young catchers. But his season ended in abrupt fashion May 12 in Cincinnati when he tore the ACL in his right knee, leaving him to start all over again in 2013. The Nationals have every reason to believe Ramos will return 100 percent healthy and pick up where he left off, but there are no guarantees. With Kurt Suzuki now in the fold as well, the club may ease Ramos back into playing shape and have the two split time behind the plate.

Stats (w/WSH only): 43 G, 164 PA, 5 HR, 25 RBI, .267 AVG, .321 OBP, .404 SLG

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Video: On LaRoche, E-Jax, Davey

The Hot Stove League won't heat up for several more weeks, but it's never too early to look at some of the biggest offseason storylines.

In this segment from CSN's Geico SportsNet Central, I discuss three key decisions involving the Nationals: 1) Whether to re-sign Adam LaRoche to a long-term extension, 2) whether to bring Edwin Jackson back or seek another veteran starting pitcher and 3) whether Davey Johnson wants to continue managing in 2013 and beyond.

Position analysis: Outfield

US Presswire photo
Bryce Harper enjoyed one of the best big-league seasons ever by a teenager.
As we transition into offseason mode, we'll start by breaking down the Nationals' roster by position (infield, outfield, catcher, rotation and bullpen) this week and examine where things stand at season's end and where things might stand moving forward. Today's position: Outfield...

Stats: 81 G, 344 PA, 5 HR, 31 RBI, .300 AVG, .387 OBP, .440 SLG
1 E, -12.6 UZR, 1.0 WAR
2012 salary: $13 million
Contract status: $16 million in 2013, $20 million in 2014, $21 million in 2015, $21 million in 2016, $21 million in 2017, free agent in 2018
Where he fits in: After a frustrating debut season and after missing three months this season with a broken wrist, Werth finally got to enjoy playing in D.C. (and D.C. finally got to enjoy watching Werth play). The biggest key to his success: Embracing the leadoff role and becoming a potent force atop the lineup. The question now is whether he'll be back in that role next year or whether the Nationals want to add a more traditional No. 1 hitter. Given his skill-set and the makeup of the rest of the projected lineup, it probably makes sense for Werth to stay right where he is in 2013.

Stats: 139 G, 597 PA, 22 HR, 59 RBI, .270 AVG, .340 OBP, .477 SLG
7 E, 9.9 UZR, 4.9 WAR
2012 salary: $1.75 million

Monday, October 15, 2012

Position analysis: Infield

US Presswire photo
Adam LaRoche could leave via free agency, creating a hole at first base.
As we transition into offseason mode, we'll start by breaking down the Nationals' roster by position (infield, outfield, catcher, rotation and bullpen) this week and examine where things stand at season's end and where things might stand moving forward. Today's position: Infield...

Stats: 154 G, 647 PA, 33 HR, 100 RBI, .271 AVG, .343 OBP, .510 SLG
7 E, 6.1 UZR, 3.8 WAR
2012 salary: $9 million
Contract status: $10 million mutual option in 2013, if declined becomes free agent
Where he fits in: Perhaps the Nationals' team MVP, LaRoche's contributions this season were immeasurable. He was the club's most consistent offensive player, setting a career-high in homers and matching his career-high in RBI. He played Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base, saving his teammates from being charged with countless errors. And he was a calming and popular presence in the clubhouse. For all of those reasons, the Nationals want to bring LaRoche back for 2013. The problem? He's likely to decline the one-year, mutual option, wanting a longer-term deal. The Nationals are open to that, and the two sides have begun preliminary talks. They'd ideally like to get something done before LaRoche is allowed to become a free agent (five days after conclusion of the World Series) so these next couple of weeks could be significant.

Stats: 160 G, 658 PA, 17 HR, 56 RBI, .247 AVG, .315 OBP, .402 SLG
13 E, 7.1 UZR at 2B, 3.8 WAR
2012 salary: $506,000

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Can they make it back?

Associated Press photo
Davey Johnson believes his Nationals can return to the postseason in 2013.
The mantra was repeated over and over and over by just about everyone in the Nationals organization: This is a ballclub that expects to be good for a long time and expects to make many trips to the postseason.

And that belief was repeated late Friday night in the aftermath of their soul-crushing National League Division Series loss to the Cardinals.

"We've come a long, long way in a fairly short period of time," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "Like I said all along, we like where we're at. We like the core players on this team. And we're going to be excited to ratchet it up in the spring."

The belief this team just entered a long-term window for success was among the guiding principles behind Stephen Strasburg's shutdown, with Rizzo insisting he wanted the right-hander around for future postseason runs. It's among the reasons nearly every roster move

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Debating the big decisions

Associated Press photo
Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson will face criticism all winter after the Game 5 loss.
As the throbbing pain of a punch to the gut begins to ease and turn into a mere, lingering black-and-blue mark, the outcome of Game 5 of the National League Division Series begins to take a backseat to the decisions that set it up to happen.

In the immediate wake of their 9-7 loss to the Cardinals, the Nationals and their fans were too consumed with emotion to think rationally about what had just transpired. But with sunrise and a new day comes more perspective and an opportunity to revisit the path that led everything to this soul-crushing juncture.

Here, then, is a look back at some of the toughest decisions Mike Rizzo, Davey Johnson and others made leading up to and during the NLDS...

It was inevitable: The only way the Nationals could have avoided subjecting themselves to criticism from around the world about their decision to shut down a healthy Stephen Strasburg in early-September was to win the World Series. (And even then, some would have decried Rizzo for denying the right-hander the opportunity to

Inside Storen's collapse

Drew Storen walks into the dugout after the ninth inning of Game 5. (Photo by AP)
The protective plastic over the lockers, the cart of champagne bottles, all of it was in place.

All Drew Storen had to do was get one strike.

Twice the Nationals had the Cardinals where they wanted them: two strikes and two outs, a two-run lead.

Full count, two outs on Yadier Molina. He walks. Full count, two outs on David Freese. He walks.

Then, with one 94 mile per hour sinker, the Nationals 2012 season began to unravel before the eyes of the largest crowd in stadium history. Daniel Descalso pelted a ground ball off the glove of Ian Desmond, ricocheting into the outfield and scoring two runs to tie the game at seven.

Gone in a flash

Associated Press photo
Drew Storen sits motionless at his locker after taking the loss in Game 5.
Updated at 4:45 a.m.

The remnants of a celebration that was supposed to happen lingered throughout a surreal clubhouse scene, plastic tarps either torn down in haste or left to hang from the ceiling, a temporary carpet covering the majority of the room so the regular flooring wouldn't get ruined amid the jubilee.

Somewhere out of public view, cases of champagne and beer bottles had been stashed away, removed from the premises before the participants could see them. A TV crew that had been in place and ready to broadcast the pandemonium raced to clear out of the room and hustle down the hallway to the visitors clubhouse, where the actual celebration would occur.

All that remained inside the Nationals' oval-shaped office was silence, punctuated by the occasional slap of players and coaches hugging each other and saying their goodbyes for the winter.

Baseball "is designed to break your heart," former commissioner Bart Giamatti once wrote, but the Nationals' 9-7 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series was less about heartbreak and more about heartburn, the sting of a never-been-seen turn of events too fresh in everyone's minds to allow for

Friday, October 12, 2012

NLDS Game 5: Cardinals at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
It all comes down to Game 5 tonight at Nationals Park.
And so it has come to this: A winner-take all, decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series, the Nationals and Cardinals hoping to emerge victorious tonight and advance to face the awaiting Giants in the National League Championship Series beginning Sunday night (either in D.C. or San Francisco).

As was the case for Game 4, Davey Johnson will have an extra arm available in his bullpen: Edwin Jackson. Unlike Game 4, though, Johnson wouldn't use Jackson in a setup role like he did with Jordan Zimmermann. Sounds like the only way Jackson would appear in this game is if it goes extra innings.

Before it ever gets to that point, of course, Gio Gonzalez and Adam Wainwright will take center stage, a rematch of starters from Game 1 in St. Louis and an Aug. 31 encounter here at Nationals Park (a 10-0 blowout win for the Nats). We should have a sense early how both pitchers are going to be, and with the late starting time, there won't be any talk of sun or shadows for this game.

It will, however, be much colder than it's been for any game all season. If you're one of the lucky ones holding tickets, make sure to bundle up. You'll need to with a steady wind blowing in from left field.

Enjoy this game, everyone. You never know when you're going to get to experience another one like it. Plenty of updates and analysis here, as always, throughout...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 8:37 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), WTEM (980 AM), XM 183
Weather: Clear, 52 degrees, Wind 11 mph in from LF
RF Jayson Werth
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche

Nats confident in "our guy" for Game 5

US Presswire photo
Gio Gonzalez hopes to harness his emotions -- and command -- tonight in Game 5.
After their blowout loss in Game 3 of the National League Division Series, multiple Nationals players mentioned how significant a win in Game 4 would be, not only because of the obvious staving off of elimination but because it would allow them to get the ball back in their ace's hand for a decisive Game 5.

"If we win one game," Ryan Zimmerman said, "we have a good chance with our guy on the mound."

"Our guy," of course, is Gio Gonzalez, who now gets a chance to start the final game of this taut series against the Cardinals, erase the memory of his shaky Game 1 outing and propel the Nationals to a date with the Giants in the National League Championship Series.

Members of the organization have been referring to Gonzalez as "our guy" and "our ace" for weeks now, even before Stephen Strasburg was shut down in early-September and putting the onus on the left-hander to lead this pitching staff down the stretch and into the

Zimmermann's role reversal

Associated Press photo
Jordan Zimmermann showed rare emotion after striking out the side as a reliever.
In an airtight, 1-1 NLDS Game 4 heading into the seventh inning, Nationals manager Davey Johnson called on unlikely arm to relieve starter Ross Detwiler.

After starting Game 2 just three days before, Jordan Zimmermann came in to make the first relief appearance of his career. Zimmermann had taken the loss on Monday after giving up five earned runs in just three innings of work.

Zimmermann had seen his fastball feasted on by the same Cardinals lineup in Monday's game, but showed no hesitation in Game 4. He struck out the side on a total of 12 pitches, seven of them 97 mph fastballs.

Zimmermann ranked third in the National League during the regular season with an average fastball velocity of 93.9, but nobody had ever seen him throw that hard.

"I knew I was only going to be out there for one inning, but I wasn't trying to throw it harder," Zimmermann said. "Adrenaline just took over."

Detwiler dominates to keep Nats alive

Associated Press photo
Davey Johnson hugs Ross Detwiler after a six-inning start in Game 4.
When Ross Detwiler took the mound on Thursday afternoon, he essentially held the Nationals' 2012 season in his left hand. Three straight games the team's starting pitching wasn't what it had been all year, the offense had been putrid and Stephen Strasburg's name was starting to come up in the media.

Detwiler, after all, wouldn't have been pitching Game 4 if Strasburg were on the roster.

It was a lot of pressure for a 26-year-old in his first full season as a regular starting pitcher. He could have easily caved but instead pitched six stellar innings, allowing just three hits and zero earned runs to a scorching-hot Cardinals lineup.

Veteran Jayson Werth, the eventual hero with his ninth-inning walk-off homer, spoke proudly of the young lefty.

"Media can say whatever they want; we know the type of guy Ross is and what he brings to the team,” Werth said. "I said yesterday, I felt good about where we were at. I felt like Ross would handle business."

From Teddy's mouth to Nats' ears

Associated Press photo
A mob scene awaits Jayson Werth at the end of Game 4 last night.
In a disconsolate clubhouse following Game 3 of the National League Division Series, Mark DeRosa suggested he might have a few words to say to his Nationals teammates before they took the field the following night with elimination staring them in the face.

So Thursday afternoon, DeRosa turned on the karaoke machine that has sat in his locker most of the season, grabbed the microphone and began reading an inspirational speech he's been reading to himself before big games since he played at the University of Pennsylvania.

Among the salient passages: "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood."

When he finished the famous speech -- with perhaps a couple of unprintable words sprinkled in for maximum effect -- DeRosa paused and uttered the most important line of all.

"You know who spoke these words?" the veteran utilityman said. "Teddy Effin Roosevelt."

Yes, the speech that helped save the Nationals' season was "The Man in the Arena" by none other than the Rough Rider, The Bull Moose,

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Werth every agonizing moment

US Presswire photo
Jayson Werth rounds the bases following his walk-off homer.
Updated at 10:10 p.m.

At some point, as the at-bat dragged on and on and as he fouled off pitch after pitch after pitch, Jayson Werth lost track and had to sneak a glance at the Nationals Park scoreboard to see just how many times Lance Lynn had wound up and delivered the ball to him in the bottom of the ninth.

The scoreboard read 12 total pitches for Lynn.

"I was like, is that right?" Werth said. "I had to really study the board to make sure that was correct. But I guess it didn't last much longer."

No, it certainly didn't. Seconds later, Lynn delivered his 13th pitch of the pivotal at-bat in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. Like nine of the previous 12, it was a fastball, this one registering 96 mph.

Unlike any of the others, it crossed the plate belt-high, right down the heart of the strike zone. And unlike any of the others, it wasn't fouled off into the stands. Nor, however, did it land anywhere in the field of play.

No, this pitch landed in the back left corner of the left-field bullpen, not to mention the annals of Washington sports lore.

With one mighty swing of his bat, Werth saved the Nationals' season, cemented his place in Nationals history and sent a throng of 44,392 into sheer pandemonium. After launching the home run that gave his team a 2-1 victory in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, Werth will never again have to justify his decision to sign a $126 million contract with a club that had never won anything before.

"This is what you play all season for," the 32-year-old right fielder said. "This is why you work out all winter. This is why you start playing T-ball when you're four. This is baseball, man. This is why you play."
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Howard "happy" for D.C. fans

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Frank Howard threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 4.
Frank Howard was a professional baseball player in Washington for seven years and just once while in town, with the 1969 Senators, played on a winning team. He was on the field for the Sens' final game in the city, a forfeit as fans rushed the field in the ninth inning against the Yankees on Sept. 30, 1971.

As someone who saw baseball in D.C. at its lowest point, the 76-year-old Howard can surely appreciate how far it has come: to host a playoff series in the District for the first time since before he was born.

"They've done a marvelous job here," Howard said prior to today's NLDS game at Nationals Park. "I'm happy for them. I'm happy for the fans. They've finally got something to shout about."

Howard was invited by the Nationals to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 4 against the Cardinals. Wearing his familiar number 33 jersey, his throw was caught by Ryan Zimmerman. (Howard began his Senator career wearing number 9 but gave it to Ted Williams when he became team manager.)
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NLDS Game 4: Cardinals at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nationals need to win today to keep their season alive.
And so it has come to this. A Nationals team that won 98 games in the regular season now must win one game today to keep its season alive and force a winner-take-all Game 5 against the Cardinals tomorrow night. It's not a position the Nats expected to be in, but it's not one they're cowering from.

"You can't take it for granted at any time, whether you're up or down or whatever, that it's over," Davey Johnson said this morning. "That room over there, the guys I've got, they have that mindset. You take nothing for granted. We don't feel like we are out of this by a long shot, believe me."

Johnson didn't believe it was appropriate to make any changes to his lineup for this do-or-die game, but he admitted he will have a different managing strategy than he's had all year. Ross Detwiler will have a very short leash, and if the left-hander gets into any trouble early, Johnson will turn to a surprising face out of the bullpen: Jordan Zimmermann, who is available four days after throwing 63 pitches at Busch Stadium.

Johnson doesn't plan to hold any team meeting before the game, but veteran Mark DeRosa suggested last night he might have a few words for his teammates, underscoring the need to play with some urgency today. Whether any of that makes a difference on the field remains to be seen.

Either way, it's going to be an eventful late afternoon and early evening at the ballpark. If you can't attend in person, we've got you covered right here with live updates and analysis throughout...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 4:07 p.m. EDT
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), WSPZ (570 AM), XM 186
Weather: Sunny, 61 degrees, Wind 6 mph out to CF
RF Jayson Werth
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche

Down to Detwiler

US Presswire photo
Ross Detwiler will be asked to keep the Nationals' season alive.
For a club that relied so much on its deep starting rotation for six months, it's perhaps appropriate that the Nationals' season now rests on the left arm of the young man who best represented the organization's pitching depth.

Ross Detwiler wasn't projected to make the Nationals' rotation out of spring training, and even after earning the fifth starter's job on Opening Day, he still was bumped to the bullpen in May after Chien-Ming Wang returned from a hamstring injury.

Along the way, though, Detwiler proved his worth to the Nationals and proved himself a quality big-league starter during a breakthrough season that saw him go 10-8 while posting a 3.40 ERA.

That season-long performance earned Detwiler a spot in the Nationals' postseason rotation, and now it's earned him the right to start a win-or-else Game 4 for his team.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Backs against the wall

Associated Press photo
Bryce Harper, Michael Morse and Co. face a surprising elimination game Thursday.
For six months, they could stake claim to the title of "Best Team in Baseball." And after they won their first-ever postseason game Sunday afternoon, the Nationals had every reason to continue crowing about themselves.

Then they got beat up in St. Louis on Monday. Then they got beat up again on Wednesday, this time in front of a record-setting home crowd that gave the first playoff game in Washington in eight decades into a true playoff atmosphere.

And now, in the span of 72 hours, the "Best Team in Baseball" finds itself 27 outs from elimination before many on the roster have even had a chance to process what is going on.

"This isn't the situation we wanted to be in," shortstop Ian Desmond said following an 8-0 drubbing at the hands of the Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLDS. "But we're here and we're going to deal with it, just

Party poopers

Associated Press photo
Pete Kozma's second-inning homer gave the Cardinals a 4-0 lead.
Updated at 7:25 p.m.

They turned out in record numbers to witness the first postseason game played on District of Columbia soil in 79 years, and perhaps coax the home ballclub to victory in the pivotal third game of this five-game National League Division Series.

The 45,017 who crammed themselves into Nationals Park on a gorgeous Wednesday afternoon, though, could yell, scream and sing along to "Take on Me" when Michael Morse stepped to the plate until their vocal chords were damaged.

That still wouldn't have prevented Edwin Jackson from digging his team into another early hole, wouldn't have prevented a pressing Nationals lineup from continuing to strand runners in scoring position and wouldn't have prevented a previously air-tight bullpen from turning a manageable deficit into an 8-0 thumping at the hands of the Cardinals.

"To see the stadium full and people excited, it's a long time coming," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "Unfortunately, we didn't give them too much to cheer about."
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Robinson's moment in the sun

Associated Press photo
Frank Robinson received a rousing ovation upon throwing out the first pitch.
The gait was perhaps a bit slower, the gray hair perhaps a bit thinner, the No. 20 Nationals jersey perhaps a bit more snug. But there was something both familiar and comforting when Frank Robinson walked to the mound this afternoon before a sellout crowd at Nationals Park, invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the franchise's first-ever home playoff game.

Today's game was first and foremost a celebration of the 2012 Nationals and their NL East title. But it was also a celebration of how the organization reached this point, and surely an appropriate opportunity to recognize this team's first manager.

"It was delightful, quite an honor," Robinson said later during a visit. I enjoyed doing it. And I thanked the Lerner family for asking me to do it."

Though he had made a couple of unofficial visits to Nationals Park over the last five seasons, Robinson had never formally returned or appeared on the field in front of fans, the result of lingering

NLDS Game 3: Cardinals at Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The postseason comes to Washington at last this afternoon.
Eighty-eight years ago today, Earl McNeely doubled to left field in the bottom of the 12th inning at Griffith Stadium, bringing home Muddy Ruel from second base with the run that gave the Washington Senators a 4-3 victory over the New York Giants in Game 7 of the World Series, the one and only major-league baseball championship in District of Columbia history.

About three hours from now, the postseason returns to Washington, with Edwin Jackson delivering the first pitch of Game 3 of the National League Division Series to Jon Jay as a sellout crowd on South Capitol Street roars with approval. It's an event so many people in this town have looked forward to experiencing for so long, but the mood will be dampened significantly if the Nationals don't emerge victorious.

How important is the outcome of this game? Well, there have been 39 five-game series in baseball history that were tied 1-1. The team that won Game 3 proceeded to win the series 30 times, losing only nine times. So, there you go.

Be sure to get here early for the pregame festivities, which include the full introductions of both teams, plus Frank Robinson throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. And for those not fortunate enough to be able to attend in person, you of course can get plenty of updates and analysis right here...

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:07 p.m. EDT
TV: MLB Network
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), WTEM (980 AM), XM 183
Weather: Sunny, 66 degrees, Wind 9 mph out to CF
RF Jayson Werth
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Home sweet home

Associated Press photo
Nationals Park is ready to host its first-ever postseason game.
Though there was legitimate optimism surrounding the Nationals when this season began, it took some time before the city fully bought into the notion this team could win big in 2012.

Indeed, six of the Nationals' first 13 home games this season drew crowds under 20,000 to South Capitol Street.

Slowly but surely, though, the town bought into this team. And by the time the Nationals were wrapping up the regular season -- and their first-ever NL East title -- a ballpark that had never been known as a particularly rowdy venue had turned into something not seen around these parts in a long time.

"It doesn't go unnoticed," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "You could tell early on, it was almost more of a social gathering: Come out, nothing else to do, we'll just go hang out at the park. And now it's turned into some die-hard fans, some people probably skipping work and skipping school to come see the Nats. Our last few regular season home games, I think we're about as close to playoff

Will experience be key for E-Jax?

Associated Press photo
Edwin Jackson starts Game 3 of the NLDS tomorrow afternoon.
A veteran of 10 major-league seasons, Edwin Jackson has helped lead a young Nationals pitching staff all year. He's helped show them what it takes to pitch every fifth day, how to slow down when an inning gets out of hand and how to prepare day after day throughout a 162-game season.

But on Wednesday Jackson will face his toughest test yet: Put the Nationals in position to win a pivotal Game 3 after two games where their starting pitching all of a sudden wasn't sharp. A strong start from Jackson could set the tone and sway the momentum of the series back in Washington's direction. It's a place he has been before and hopes to draw from the experience.

"The thing about postseason baseball is, the game can speed up real quick," he said. "You have to kind of control the pace and control the tempo. And having experience in that, it definitely helps when you get in those situations, being able to slow the game down and kind of take the crowd out of the equation and just think about concentrating on what you have to do."

Jackson has pitched in seven postseason games in his career, including twice in the World Series. Wednesday might not be an elimination game, but Jackson understands what is at stake for the young Nationals. Most of his teammates have never been in the playoffs, much less had to battle from behind in a series.
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Remaining start times announced

The Nationals and Cardinals will once again have deal with the "Sun Monster" in Game 4 of the NLDS, but if the series requires a fifth and decisive game, the two teams will finally get a chance to play in primetime.

Major League Baseball announced starting times for the rest of the series this afternoon, revealing that Game 4 is tentatively scheduled to begin at 4:07 p.m. Thursday, with a potential Game 5 scheduled for 8:37 p.m. Friday.

There's a strong chance the start time for Game 4, however, will be pushed back one hour to 5:07 p.m., a change that will be enacted if the Tigers clinch their ALDS against the A's without needing a Game 5. Detroit leads that series 2-0 entering Game 3 late tonight in Oakland, with Game 4 late tomorrow night.

Thus, the first four games of the Nationals' first-ever playoff series will all begin in daylight, with Game 3 tomorrow afternoon scheduled for a 1:07 p.m. start. The early first pitch and the forecast of clear

Videos from the Nats' Game 2 loss

The Nationals head home for Game 3 after a lopsided 12-4 to the Cardinals in St. Louis. Despite splitting the series before their home field advantage kicks in, the Nationals have to correct some mistakes if they are to win the series. One of those problem areas is pitching as Mark reported on in last night's Geico SportsNet Central:

Monday, October 8, 2012

Tied up, but heading home

US Presswire photo
Bryce Harper is 1-for-10 with six strikeouts so far in this series.
ST. LOUIS -- As much as the one-time-only format change to MLB's Division Series this year -- with the lesser team getting to host Games 1 and 2 -- has been criticized, there was one scenario in particular in which a team like the Nationals would actually benefit.

Sure, you could argue it wasn't fair for the team with baseball's best regular-season record to have top open the playoffs on the road in a hostile environment. But by merely winning one of the first two games of their NLDS against the Cardinals, the Nationals put themselves in a position where they now go home knowing they just need to take care of business to advance to the next round.

"With the two games on the road, I think it's almost fairer," right fielder Jayson Werth said. "It's like I said: Our job coming in here was to split the series, and we did that."

That they did. Oh, make no mistake, a 12-4 debacle in Game 2 at Busch Stadium was an ugly spectacle to behold, whether you were among the crowd of 45,840 in St. Louis or back home watching on

Am-Busched by the Cards

US Presswire photo
Jordan Zimmermann reacts as Allen Craig rounds the bases.
Updated at 10:15 p.m.

ST. LOUIS -- He's been their most consistent pitcher all season, a no-nonsense right-hander who just wants to be handed the ball every five days and give his team a chance to win.

Jordan Zimmermann insisted he wouldn't be nervous to make the first postseason start of his career. And truth be told, there weren't really any signs this afternoon that the young hurler was nervous for Game 2 of the National League Division Series.

Zimmermann's biggest obstacle, as it turned out, wasn't October nerves but a Cardinals lineup that carves him up and feasts on whatever scraps are left. With another bludgeoning of the right-hander, St. Louis stormed out to an early lead and never let up to win this game 12-4 and tie this series at one game apiece.

There was no dramatic rally by the Nationals this time, only a lopsided loss that quickly erased memories of Sunday's 3-2 thriller and perhaps put the onus back on Washington to right its ship when the series reconvenes on South Capitol Street Wednesday afternoon.
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