Quick Links

Hard hits not enough for Nats


Hard hits not enough for Nats

MIAMI -- If not for the giant scoreboard above the center field fence at Marlins Park, the Nationals might never have known they only scored three runs Monday night. As many balls as they hit hard as a team, as many strong individual offensive performances as they got, surely they must have put up a nice, crooked number on that scoreboard.

Nope. At the end of the night, the Nationals were on the wrong end of a 5-3 decision that left more than a few people inside their clubhouse baffled given the way they felt they swung the bat.

"Yeah, but I guess that's better," Ryan Zimmerman said. "We're putting ourselves in a position to score runs each game. A month ago, you couldn't really say that. As long as we keep giving ourselves opportunities like we hit the ball today, I think it's going to even out."

This was a game designed to support sabermetricians who stress the inability of pitchers or hitters from accounting for where the ball goes once it strikes bat. Nationals players couldn't have been much more pleased with the contact they made; and they couldn't have been less pleased with the end results.

They collected 11 hits in total, at least one in every inning save the fifth (which still featured a leadoff walk). Miami's pitchers seemed to be working out of the stretch the entire night, yet they consistently were bailed out by well-struck balls that happened to be hit directly at one of their fielders.

That included an incredible four double plays in the first six innings, two of which came on line drives smoked by Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper, another on a scorched grounder up the middle by Jesus Flores that still turned into a 6-4-3 twin-killing.

"We hit the ball on the button," manager Davey Johnson said. "I don't know how many, three double plays we hit into? Four? But we did swing the bats good. We just didn't get the big hit."

Despite all that, the Nationals held a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third, thanks to Flores' sacrifice fly that scored Danny Espinosa and Zimmerman's seventh homer in his last 18 games (a bomb that landed in the Clevelander night club beyond the left-field fence.

But starter Edwin Jackson gave both runs back, and then two more in rapid-fire succession. It began with a leadoff single to opposing pitcher Carlos Zambrano, continued with a single by Jose Reyes and then featured a two-run single by Carlos Lee on a slider at his shoelaces.

"It was down, but clearly not down enough," lamented Jackson, who was working on 11 days rest through the All-Star break. "He could still hit it good enough to get it in. I was trying to throw it down. I guess I should have bounced it."

The game now tied, Jackson fell into his most troublesome tendency: Letting an already shaky inning get worse.

This has happened to him several times this season. In fact, of the 46 total earned runs Jackson has allowed in 2012, 17 of them have come in only four of his 106 13 innings: a five-run first inning against the Astros on April 19, another five-run first on June 28 at the Rockies, a three-run run first on July 4 against the Giants and Monday night's four-run third in Miami.

Throw out those four ugly innings, and Jackson's season ERA is a sparkling 2.55 instead of its actual 3.89 figure.

"The game of baseball is damage control," he said. "Whether one inning is one run, two runs or three runs, it's just staying out of the big inning. It's a matter of making pitches when you have to."

Jackson couldn't make the pitch when he had to during Monday's third inning. After falling behind 1-0 to Hanley Ramirez, he grooved a fastball over the heart of the plate, and the Marlins third baseman tattooed the ball off the gaudy home run sculpture beyond the fence in left-center.

Little did Jackson or the Nationals realize at the time those four runs would be enough for the Marlins to win the game. Though they got one of them back in the sixth on Zimmerman's double and Michael Morse's RBI single, they watched as yet another rally was quashed by a heartbreaking double play.

With the bases loaded and two outs, Flores sent Zambrano's final pitch of the night on a beeline up the middle. If it squirted through, two runs would have scored and the Nationals would have taken the lead. Instead, Reyes made a lunging grab to his left and set in motion a 6-4-3 double play: the fourth the Nationals hit into over the course of six innings.

"I'm trying to look for a good pitch to hit and drive those runs in," Flores said. "Unfortunately, I hit it back to someone."

It was the story of the night for a Nationals club that was hoping to leave town with a series victory over a division rival but instead had to settle for a four-game split heading into a crucial homestand against the Mets and Braves.

"Yeah, but I like the way everybody's playing," Johnson said. "We're playing hard, we battled back. We gave ourselves every chance to win that ballgame. That's what good teams do."

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]