Nats rotation will be stacked again

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Nats rotation will be stacked again

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...

RHP STEPHEN STRASBURG
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.

LHP GIO GONZALEZ
Stats: 21-8, 2.89 ERA, 199.1 IP, 1.129 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 3.4 BB/9
5.4 WAR
2012 salary: $3.25 million
Contract status: $6.25 million in 2013, $8.5 million in 2014, $11 million in 2015, $12 million in 2016, $12 million club option in 2017, $12 million player option in 2018 (guaranteed with 180 IP in 2017)
Where he fits in: Though he led the majors in wins in 2012, Gonzalez will almost certainly play second fiddle to Strasburg in 2013. That's the role the Nationals intended all along for the left-hander, who while brilliant at times is still prone to the occasional hiccup (as we saw in the postseason). Another year wiser and more comfortable against National League lineups, Gonzalez should continue to develop as a front-line starter and give the Nats as good of a 1-2 punch as there is in baseball right now.

RHP JORDAN ZIMMERMANN
Stats: 12-8, 2.94 ERA, 195.2 IP, 1.170 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, 2.0 BB/9
3.5 WAR
2012 salary: $2.3 million
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2016
Where he fits in: Actually, make that as good of a 1-2-3 punch as there is in baseball right now, because Zimmermann deserves to be lumped in with Strasburg and Gonzalez as front-line starters. The right-hander took another big step forward this season, throwing more innings than he ever has and showing he still had enough left in the tank to dial his fastball up to 97 mph during his surprise relief appearance in Game 4 of the NLDS. Though they still control his rights for three more years, the Nationals are going to seriously consider locking up Zimmermann to a long-term deal this winter. They've already got Strasburg and Gonzalez for at least four more years; they'd love to ensure they've got Zimmermann at least that long as well.

LHP ROSS DETWILER
Stats: 10-8, 3.40 ERA, 164.1 IP, 1.223 WHIP, 5.8 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
1.8 WAR
2012 salary: $485,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2016
Where he fits in: Perhaps the most pleasant development from the entire Nationals pitching staff this season was Detwiler's long-awaited emergence after years of teasing everyone with his potential. The left-hander proved he can get through big-league lineups three times with success, proved his arm could hold up over the long haul and proved he could thrive under pressure (witness Game 4 of the NLDS). In the process, he locked up the fourth starter's job for next year and several years to come, though his price is going to go up now that he's reached arbitration eligibility.

RHP EDWIN JACKSON
Stats: 10-11, 4.03 ERA, 189.2 IP, 1.218 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
2.7 WAR
2012 salary: $11 million
Contract status: Free agent
Where he fits in: Signed to provide veteran influence, eat up innings and help fill the void when Strasburg was shut down, Jackson was brilliant times, downright ugly at others. He'd love to return in 2013, but the Nationals appear ready to look elsewhere, leaving the enigmatic right-hander to hope another club offers him the long-term deal he couldn't procure last winter.

LHP JOHN LANNAN
Stats: 4-1, 4.13 ERA, 32.2 IP, 1.439 WHIP, 4.7 K/9, 3.9 BB/9
0.5 WAR
2012 salary: $5 million
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2014
Where he fits in: After a bizarre season, most of it spent at Class AAA Syracuse waiting just in case the Nationals needed his services, Lannan is going to once again find himself in an uncomfortable position this winter. He's still under the Nationals' control for another year, but they don't appear committed to giving him the fifth starter's job. And because he's now out of options, he can't be stashed away in the minors again. Mike Rizzo will hope Lannan's strong performance when called upon late this season prompts some trade interest. But the more plausible scenario would have the Nationals electing not to tender the lefty a contract before the Nov. 30 deadline, making him a free agent.

RHP CHIEN-MING WANG
Stats: 2-3, 6.68 ERA, 32.1 IP, 2.010 WHIP, 4.2 K/9, 4.2 BB/9
-0.4 WAR
2012 salary: $4 million
Contract status: Free agent
Where he fits in: The Nationals invested three years and $8 million in this reclamation project, hoping he could make it all the way back from a major shoulder injury and recapture his 19-win form from 2006-07. In the end, Wang made more rehab starts in the minor leagues (21) than starts in the big leagues (15). They won't feel the need to take another chance on him next year.

IN THE MINORS
Last December's trade for Gonzalez stripped the Nationals of some upper-level pitching depth -- Yunesky Maya (remember him?) and Zach Duke were their best Class AAA starters -- but there is another wave of power arms creeping up the organizational ladder. Unfortunately, several of them have been sidetracked by injuries, including left-handers Matt Purke (shoulder) and Sammy Solis (elbow) and 2012 first-round draft pick Lucas Giolito (elbow). The best of the healthy bunch is Alex Meyer, a tall right-hander selected in 2011 with one of the compensation picks the Nats received for losing Adam Dunn to free agency. Meyer went a combine 10-6 with a 2.86 ERA at low-Class A Hagerstown and high-Class A Potomac. He'll probably start 2013 at Class AA Harrisburg and could theoretically be in the big leagues by September. One of the most successful starters in the system early this season was Danny Rosenbaum, though the lefty faded significantly during the second half at Harrisburg. One interesting name to keep an eye on: Ryan Perry, who appeared out of the bullpen in D.C. during the season but was sent to Class AA to convert into a starter and wound up posting a 2.84 ERA in 13 games. Another bright spot was right-hander Nate Karns, who returned from a torn labrum to go 11-4 with a 2.17 ERA at Hagerstown and Potomac and was named organizational pitcher of the year.

OFFSEASON NEED?
Though it remains the backbone of this team and its biggest strength, the Nationals rotation still needs a boost during the offseason. With Jackson likely headed elsewhere, Rizzo will look to add another veteran arm to the mix, perhaps offering a multi-year deal for the right pitcher. That yet-to-be-determined No. 5 starter will take up the back end of what should by all rights be the majors' best rotation in 2013, with an unfettered Strasburg leading the charge.

Papelbon's blown save snaps Nats' win streak against Royals

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Papelbon's blown save snaps Nats' win streak against Royals

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 7-6 walkoff loss to the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium: 

How it happened: The Nationals were on the brink of their fifth straight win when Jonathan Papelbon took the mound Tuesday night, but waiting for him was the middle of the Royals' order in a lineup that can grind out at-bats and make their own luck as well as any team in baseball. They got to Papelbon and they did it their way: a soft infield single to beat a shift, a stolen base by a pinch-runner and two RBI singles to finish the job. The Royals didn't need a single extrabase hit to erase a two-run deficit and steal a win from the Nationals.

Mike Moustakas tied the game with his RBI single in the bottom of the ninth and Lorenzo Cain ended it on a walkoff line drive to center field, as the Nationals fell to 18-8 on the season. Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Chris Heisey homered, Wilson Ramos returned with three hits and Tanner Roark made it 7 1/3 innings. But it wasn't enough with Papelbon's second blown save of the season.

What it means: The Nationals have to still feel great about their road trip so far despite Tuesday's loss, but the Papelbon failure in the ninth has to be concerning. It was his second blown save this season in 11 attempts. That puts him on a troubling pace.

Papelbon's drop-off: Speaking of Papelbon. He now sports a 4.50 ERA on the season after allowing three runs on five hits on Tuesday. It was a tough night for the Nats' closer, who has blown four saves now in 35 outings since getting traded to Washington last July.

Ramos picks up where he left off: Ramos hadn't played since April 24 due to the death of his grandfather, but he had quite the return on Tuesday night. Ramos had three hits including two doubles, the first to score a run in the sixth inning. It was Ramos' sixth multi-hit game this season and his first since April 15. The Buffalo is now batting .344 through 16 games.

Rendon finally gets a homer: One of the biggest surprises this season so far for the Nationals has been the lack of power numbers for Rendon, who two years ago was one of the best players in the NL. He entered Tuesday night slugging just .290 and had yet to hit a home run in in 100 at-bats. Well, that homer finally came in the first inning off Chris Young, a solo blast to left field. It was Rendon's first home run in 191 at-bats dating back to Sept. 14 of last season. Rendon hit 21 homers in 2014 and has the potential for even more. Perhaps that swing can get him going.

Murphy goes yard: Murphy hit his third homer of the season on Tuesday, a solo shot to right field off Young to make it a 3-2 game. Murphy now has three homers in 26 games with the Nats, which puts him on a 19-homer pace over a full 162 game season. That's a notch or two ahead of the 14 homers he hit in 130 regular season games in 2015, which was a 17-homer pace over 162 games.

Harper keeps scuffling: With all the talk this week about who should star in Space Jam 2, Harper has looked in recent days like he's auditioning for a role. Maybe somewhere in the galaxy right now a Nerdluck is blasting homer after homer into the oblivion. Okay, maybe not. But the real life Harper had another rough night Tuesday with zero hits in five at-bats and three strikeouts. Harper has multiple Ks in three straight games and is now batting .256 on the year. 

Up next: The Nats and Royals close out their series in Kansas City with a 2:15 p.m. start. Stephen Strasburg (4-0, 2.25) will look to continue his excellent run to begin the season. Right-hander Kris Medlen (1-2, 4.87) will take the mound for the Royals. After Wednesday, the Nats move on to Chicago for a four-game series at Wrigley against the Cubs.

Nationals minor league affiliate to play rare tripleheader

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Nationals minor league affiliate to play rare tripleheader

Here's something you don't see every day. The Single-A Potomac Nationals, an affilliate of the Washington Nationals, will play three games on Wednesday in a rare tripleheader.

Doubleheaders in baseball are common. The Nationals have one coming up in just over a week on Saturday May 14. Three games in one day, though? That's a lot of baseball.

Here's how it will work. The P-Nats and the Lynchburg Hillcats will play their first game at 3 p.m. in Lynchburg. It's a continuation of Monday's game that was suspended in the fifth inning due to rain. That game will go nine innings. They will then play two seven-inning games to close out their series.

So, barring extras, that means 19 innings of baseball. That's about the same as a doubleheader of two nine-inning games, but this day will have three different game results. 

A tripleheader, by the way, has not been played in the majors since 1920. It has been almost a hundred years and it may never happen again.

For more on the tripleheader, click here.

 

Podcast: 'Baseball in the District' - Projecting Harper's USA super team

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Podcast: 'Baseball in the District' - Projecting Harper's USA super team

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On this week's episode of 'Baseball in the District,' we examined the Nats' resurgence in the Midwest, Bryce Harper's surprising struggles and how the suspension of Dee Gordon could affect the NL East. We also projected what Harper's idea of a U.S.A. super team for the World Baseball Classic would like.

This week's episode also featured a very special guest: D.C. Washington, the national anthem extraordinnaire that has become a fan favorite around town. How did he get his name? How did he get his start singing anthems? Does he still get nervous before them? D.C. answered those questions and more in what turned out to be a very fun interview.

You can listen to the show on ESPN 980's website or download the show on iTunes.