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Cardinals get to Zimmermann, Nats


Cardinals get to Zimmermann, Nats

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.

The Nationals still hold the upper hand, needing now to simply win two of three home games. But they'll need a far better performance from starter Edwin Jackson in Game 3 than they got from Zimmermann in Game 2.

"I wanted to go out there and go deep into the game and try to get out of here with two wins," Zimmermann said. "I didn't do my part. I feel like if the starter doesn't go out and do their part, it kind of snowballs with the relievers sometimes, and that's kind of what happened today."

If there was one member of the Nationals rotation who seemed a sure bet to pitch deep into a postseason game, it was Zimmermann. The right-hander failed to complete five innings only once in 32 starts this season and had failed to reach the fourth inning only twice before in 81 career big-league starts.

Both of those three-inning starts came in September 2010, Zimmermann's first month back from Tommy John surgery, when he was on a strict pitch count.

No such restrictions existed today when Zimmermann toed the rubber, the Nationals hoping to get a big-time performance from one of their best young pitchers. Instead, they got one of his worst clunkers at this level.

"That's some of the youth in the pitching staff," manager Davey Johnson said. "He didn't really make a lot of adjustments out there."

This wasn't the first time Zimmermann struggled against St. Louis. In six career starts against the Redbirds, he's now 0-3 with a 9.73 ERA, having allowed 45 hits in only 28 23 innings.

"I just haven't been making my pitches against these guys," he said.

After a quick, 1-2-3 first inning, Zimmermann served up hits to the first four batters he faced in the second. By the time the inning mercifully came to an end, the Cardinals had scored four runs and rendered Zimmermann's earlier RBI single moot.

Needing a bounce-back inning in the third, the right-hander faltered again, serving up a towering homer down the left-field line to Allen Craig and needing a standout play from Ryan Zimmerman at third base to end the inning.

Zimmermann's issue didn't resemble rotation mate Gio Gonzalez's from Game 1. Gonzalez couldn't find the plate at all; Zimmermann might have been finding too much of it. Forty of his 63 pitches were for strikes, and he never walked a batter during his three innings of work. St. Louis' lineup simply put the barrel to the ball with great frequency.

"I just didn't make any pitches," he said. "When you're off a little bit and you're missing some spots and falling behind and then you have to come across the middle, it's going to be a long day."

His team down 5-1 and his starter clearly suffering through an off-day, Johnson decided not to mess around anymore and turned to his bullpen in the bottom of the fourth. Not that the early hook made much of a difference.

Craig Stammen, who looked shaky in his Game 1 relief appearance, again struggled, serving up a leadoff homer to Daniel Descalso and failing to get out of the inning altogether. Michael Gonzalez later served up a 441-foot bomb to Carlos Beltran, adding to the deficit.

Johnson, though, wasn't the only manager to break out a fast hook in this game. His counterpart made the move even earlier, yanking an ineffective Jaime Garcia after only two innings and asking his bullpen to record 21 outs on the second day of the postseason.

Manager Mike Matheny later revealed Garcia was having an issue with the same left shoulder injury that plagued him earlier this season. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the Cardinals will remove the lefty from their postseason roster and add another pitcher for the rest of the series.

"It was obviously a sense of urgency, but Jaime's arm wasn't feeling right at the time," Matheny said. "So that was the deciding factor."

In the end, Matheny's strategy looked like sheer genius. Lance Lynn churned out three innings to bridge the gap, though the big right-hander was tagged for back-to-back homers by Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche in the top of the fifth. Fellow righties Joe Kelly, Edward Mujica and Mitchell Boggs then tossed an inning apiece to get the game in the hands of closer Jason Motte.

Not that the Cardinals needed Motte in the end. Another four-run outburst in the bottom of the eighth off Sean Burnett left this game well in hand and required no closer, sending the Nationals back home with the series now tied up.

"That was our goal," second baseman Danny Espinosa said. "We wanted to get one win out here. That's what we came in trying to do, and we got it last night."

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Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Majestic’s reign as the maker of MLB jerseys are about to come to an end. 

In 2020, Fanatics and Under Armour will be teaming to make on-field jerseys and apparel for all MLB teams, according to a Sports Business Journal report. 

The news outlet also reports that the deal means the MLB’s licensing relations with Nike will be over as well. 

Under Armour will produce the jerseys starting in Spring Training of the 2020 season, and “broad apparel rights” will go to Fanatics. 

New Era will continue to be the maker of MLB hats. 

Given that Maryland native Kevin Plank founded Under Armour, and that the business' headquarters are in Baltimore, it’s sure to be a splash with baseball fans in the DMV.

You can read the full Sports Business journal report here. 

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Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Here is an early look at the biggest questions facing the Washington Nationals as they embark on another offseason in their quest to build a championship team...

What to do with Wilson Ramos and the catcher position?

The Nationals' biggest question entering this offseason is without a doubt at catcher with All-Star Wilson Ramos on the mend after having the ACL in his right knee repaired on Friday. Not only is the recovery a long one - he could be out until well into the 2017 season - it is the second time he's had the ligament fixed. At 29, his viability as a primary catcher moving forward is a real question. Even Ramos admitted he may have to transition to the American League with his next contract.

If Ramos does leave, behind him will be a significant hole on the Nationals. They have several in-house options, but none that are anywhere close to Ramos, who emerged this season as the best offensive catcher in baseball. Pedro Severino is a nice young player, but has a career .632 OPS in the minors. The drop-off on offense from Ramos to him would be significant. The same can be said about Jose Lobaton.

It won't be easy replacing Ramos with an external option, if that's the way the Nats opt to go. Catchers who can hit and play defense like him are a rarity. Matt Wieters of the Orioles would be the best option in free agency, but he's a year older and is also a step down offensively. Unless they like Wieters - who does happen to be represented by Scott Boras - they may have to trade for a new backstop, and that won't be easy either. 

This is all not to rule out the Nationals re-signing Ramos, but right now it's difficult to project what type of contract he will garner and whether that could fit in their plans. Surely it would be tough for them to offer a long-term deal, but maybe they make sense if he decides to take a short-term contract to reset for free agency either next offseason or the one after that.

Any major upgrades needed?

The Nationals are in an interesting spot, having won 95 games and the NL East, but with yet another disappointing end to their year. General manager Mike Rizzo loves to make big splashes in the offseason. Every single winter he does something aggressive and unexpected. What will he do this year? There aren't many areas where he could potentially upgrade, but that hasn't stopped him in the past.

If Ramos leaves, catcher is obviously the biggest need. But beyond that, the two major problem areas in their lineup this season were at shortstop and first base. Danny Espinosa played solid defense and hit 24 homers, but held an unsightly .209 batting average. His .552 OPS in the second half was worst in baseball among those with at least 165 at-bats. 

Espinosa is always looking over his shoulder this time of the year and just this past winter appeared to be the odd-man out when the Nats traded for Ben Revere and signed Daniel Murphy. Espinosa managed to overcome the odds and play 157 games. He has one year left on his contract, so one way or another the Nats will need to start thinking long-term about his position.

Shortstop is an easier situation to evaluate than first base, where Ryan Zimmerman is due to make $14 million each of the next two seasons and $18 million the year after that. He had the worst season of his career with a .642 OPS through 115 games. Bringing in a first baseman to flat-out replace Zimmerman seems unrealistic, given his contract. But perhaps they can find someone who plays both first base and left field, with Jayson Werth having just one year left on his deal.

Who will be the closer?

The Nationals found success in the ninth inning with Mark Melancon after they acquired him at the trade deadline in a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. But it was just a rental. Now Melancon is due for free agency and the Nats once again have questions at the position. They could opt to re-sign Melancon, or go with another free agent option. Aroldis Chapman, whom they have coveted in the past, will be available. So will Kenley Jansen, who just helped end their season with the Dodgers. It's an unusually deep crop of star closers and it would be a surprise if the Nationals didn't snag one of them. Another option would be to promote Shawn Kelley or Blake Treinen, but that would be out of the Nationals' character.

Are they content with the rotation?

If one were to pick the biggest reason the Nationals lost their NL Division Series against the Dodgers it would have to be the starting rotation. It was their most glaring weakness and it wasn't even close. This is despite the Nats being built on starting pitching and boasting one of the best regular season rotations in baseball. Losing Stephen Strasburg to injury didn't help, but they still had four capable starters left over. Max Scherzer struggled in Game 1, while Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross combined to pitch just 11 1/3 innings in their respective outings. 

If you look at the year as a whole, starting pitching was not a major concern. But the Nats are always aggressive in addressing their needs, whether big or small. They have top prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, but neither distinguished themselves this season. Do they sit tight and hope things improve, or do they try to make another game-changing move? With a weak free agent class, any outside upgrade would have to come through a trade. Also, Gonzalez' $12 million team option is definitely something to watch this winter.

Will extension talks with Harper heat up?

Both the Nationals and Bryce Harper, one could argue, may have incentive to back away from the negotiating table this winter, given the Nats have to be less confident in giving Harper a record-setting contract after his disappointing year, and that Harper may not be wise to sign his new deal when his stock has lowered. But if the Nats and Harper do not come to terms this winter, that sets up a lot more pressure for the following offseason. Harper has two years left on his contract. Heading into next offseason without a deal, with just one year remaining, would create a lot of uncertainty for all sides involved, including the fans who certainly want to see the 2015 MVP remain in Washington for a long time. The storyline would dominate their offseason.

This upcoming winter always seemed like the best time to broker a deal to avoid that scenario, but the timing has not worked out with Harper's production on the field. Also, would anyone be surprised if it turns out Harper was dealing with an injury this season that held him back at the plate? If it were a serious one, he wouldn't have kept playing. But any injury has to be factored in those discussions.

[RELATED: Bullpen, baserunning leads to Nats heartbreak]