Quick Links

An eventful All-Star win for Nats


An eventful All-Star win for Nats

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Sure, there was that routine flyball Bryce Harper never saw amid the Kansas City twilight, a botched play that will show up on All-Star blooper reels for decades to come.

"It didn't hit me in the head," Harper cracked. "So I think I'm doing OK."

He's doing more than OK. So what if the 19-year-old's first All-Star Game was less than his finest hour on a baseball field? Those few hiccups paled in comparison to his overall experience over a whirlwind 48 hours.

And considering teammates Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez did their part to help lead the National League to an 8-0 drubbing of the American League in the 83rd Midsummer Classic -- thus ensuring home-field advantage for the NL champion in this year's World Series -- there wasn't much anyone wearing a curly W cap could be upset about at the end of the night.

"That's huge for any team that's in there, and hopefully it's us," Harper said. "But we're a long ways away. We're in first place right now, but we've got a long season ahead of us. ... Hopefully we can keep it going in the second half, in the playoffs, and keep it going deep into October and November."

What would have been a ludicrous notion during any of the previous six All-Star Games was very much a factor during this exhibition at Kauffman Stadium. Thanks to Tuesday night's NL victory, Game 1 of the World Series cannot be held at Yankee Stadium. But it could be held at Nationals Park.

"No comment on that one," Gonzalez said with an impish grin. "I'm just going to smile about it and wave. That's it."

If the previously unthinkable does happen, the Nationals can thank a surprisingly explosive NL lineup that scored five runs off Justin Verlander in the top of the first and then added three more off Matt Harrison in the top of the fourth.

But they can also thank their co-aces, who each churned out a scoreless inning of relief to aid the over cause. Gonzalez and Strasburg aren't used to pitching out of the bullpen, and the sight of the two of them watching the game's first two innings from behind the right field fence was odd.

Once each hurler reached the mound, it was all business. Gonzalez cruised through the bottom of the third, retiring the side on 11 pitches and striking out Mike Napoli on a wicked curveball. Strasburg followed him in the bottom of the fourth, and though he surrendered a leadoff single to Robinson Cano and then issued a two-out walk to Jose Bautista, he emerged unscathed thanks to a double-play grounder off Josh Hamilton's bat and a lineout to left from Prince Fielder.

Cano. Hamilton. Bautista. Fielder. That's as fearsome a foursome as any pitcher can face in succession in today's game. Not that Strasburg was daunted by it.

"I love the challenge," he said. "It was great. Gio finished up a good inning, and I knew I was going to be going in there facing the middle of the lineup guys. It was great to get the opportunity to face them. Me being in the National League, I don't know when I'll be able to face them again."

Moments after Strasburg finished his one inning of work, Harper stepped to the plate for the first time, in the process becoming the youngest position player ever to appear in an All-Star Game. His evening got off to a positive start when he drew a walk off Harrison and then tagged up from first base on a flyout to deep left field.

Then things began to turn sour for the rookie outfielder. He was caught in a rundown off second base. He struck out looking at an 0-2 pitch from Athletics rookie Ryan Cook in the seventh inning. And, of course, there was that mishap in left field, with Harper throwing his arms out in confusion as Napoli's routine fly ball landed 10 feet behind him.

It wasn't the first time that's happened to Harper. He misplayed a similar ball in right field in Cincinnati earlier this season.

"Nothing you could do about it," he said with a shrug. "It happens. I wasn't really bummed out. I don't even care. It's going to happen probably 40 more times in my career, so ... whatever."

Harper's final boxscore line will show he went 0-for-1 with a walk and a strikeout. It won't show the misplayed fly ball. It also won't show all the fun he had meeting George Brett and Frank Robinson and hanging out with Chipper Jones and receiving words of wisdom from Tony La Russa.

That, in the end, is what Harper will remember most. Along with the feeling of pride he experienced when he stood along the third-base line, next to Strasburg and Gonzalez, introduced for the first time as an All-Star.

"I think that's when it started sinking in a little bit," he said. "It was a lot of fun to come out and be able to be around here and be around the best guys in baseball and really take it in."

Quick Links

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. 

Quick Links

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]