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Nats encouragingdiscouraging


Nats encouragingdiscouraging

PHOENIX -- It's been a while since we compiled one of these things, looking alternatively at some of the more encouraging and discouraging developments involving the Nationals.

So as the Nats head west following a four-game sweep of the Astros and prepare for a weekend series with the Diamondbacks in advance of a big, three-game showdown with the Giants, let's take a look where certain players on this roster currently stand.

ENCOURAGING: Jordan Zimmermann continues to develop not only into a front-line pitcher for the Nationals but into one of the best pitchers in the National League. With last night's demolition of Houston's lineup -- six scoreless innings, 11 strikeouts -- Zimmermann improved to 9-6 with a 2.35 ERA (second-best in the NL). Most impressively, he's getting better as the season progresses. Yes, there was a little hiccup last weekend against the Marlins. But even with that one included, Zimmermann is now 6-0 with a 1.47 ERA over his last nine starts. During that span, he's walked only eight batters while striking out 46.

DISCOURAGING: Bryce Harper's slump has become a significant development, and it's been dragging on for quite a while now. The 19-year-old is batting .176 with a paltry .541 OPS in 26 games since the All-Star break and has seen his season average plummet to .251. Let's forget about any Rookie of the Year talk for now and simply wait to see if Harper can get himself back on track. Davey Johnson gave the rookie last night's game off, and though he'll be back tonight in Arizona, it wouldn't be a shock if Harper takes a seat on the bench with a little more regularity moving forward. That's because...

ENCOURAGING: Roger Bernadina has been playing brilliant baseball now that his role has been reduced. The Nationals gave Bernadina plenty of opportunities to earn an everyday job over the last three seasons, but it looks like they've finally come to realize he can do more damage as a part-timer. Between his speed on the bases and in the field, not to mention a streaky bat at the plate, Bernadina is hitting .367 with a .435 on-base percentage over his last 23 games (14 of them starts). Some guys just seem to perform better when they come off the bench, and Bernadina certainly seems to fit that description.

DISCOURAGING: The Nationals have paid Chien-Ming Wang 7.2 million over the last three seasons. To do what? Well, the veteran right-hander has made 15 big-league stats in a curly W cap. He's made 17 rehab starts in the minor leagues. Wang was once again pitching at Class AA Harrisburg the last few weeks when his injured hip started acting up again. It probably was no coincidence Wang's 30-day rehab assignment was due to end this weekend, leaving the club with no choice but to put him back on the big-league roster ... unless he remained hurt. The Nats will string this thing out a few more weeks, at which point they can put Wang on the expanded September roster without costing someone else a job. But really, at this point, who has any confidence in the guy being able to pitch effectively against a big-league lineup in the middle of a pennant race? It's a shame how much time and energy and money they've invested in Wang over three seasons. But at some point, the Nationals just need to admit it ain't gonna happen with this guy.

ENCOURAGING: MLB released its postseason schedule yesterday, and for the first time in a really long time, baseball fans in Washington have reason to pay close attention. Here are the important dates to remember: The one-game wild-card "series" will both be played Friday, Oct. 5, two days after the regular season ends. The Division Series begin either Saturday, Oct. 6 or Sunday, Oct. 7. The League Championship Series begin either Saturday, Oct. 13 or Sunday, Oct. 14. And the World Series opens (in a National League city) on Wednesday, Oct. 24.

DISCOURAGING: Two aspects of this new postseason format are particularly troubling: 1) The teams with better records won't get to host Games 1 and 2 of the Division Series. They'll instead have to open on the road before returning home for Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary). Still, that seems to give an unfair advantage to the wild-card winners and the division champs with the third-best record in their league. (For what it's worth, this format will only exist in 2012. MLB has vowed to finagle the schedule in 2013 to allow for the traditional 2-2-1 format in the Division Series. 2) A potential Game 7 of the World Series (again, in a National League city) won't be played until Thursday, Nov. 1. Again, baseball says it wants to make sure the season doesn't extend into November in the future. But at least this year, we may very well get it.

ENCOURAGING: Thanks to their current six-game winning streak, the Nationals now own baseball's best record by a full three games. They're also on pace to finish 100-62.

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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]