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Nats still feel no love in Philly


Nats still feel no love in Philly

PHILADELPHIA -- For all the agony they have suffered in this town, the lopsided losses and the taunting fans and especially the division titles clinched against them, the Nationals arrived in Philadelphia on Tuesday knowing they could leave town Thursday having celebrated on enemy turf.

First things first, though. They needed to win their series opener against the Phillies, which proved perhaps a more daunting task than hoped.

A two-inning meltdown by Ross Detwiler left the Nationals in a deep early hole. Then, despite knocking out ace Cole Hamels after five innings, they couldn't touch a parade of relievers that trotted out of the Philadelphia bullpen.

Combine this 6-3 loss with the Braves' simultaneous walk-off, 4-3 victory over the Marlins and suddenly the Nationals' path to the NL East crown looks a bit bumpier. Their lead is down to four games with eight to play. Their magic number remains five. And they can no longer clinch here in Philly. The celebration can't take place until Friday night in St. Louis at the absolute earliest.

"You take a lot of pride getting a win down the stretch like this," Detwiler said. "That's what we all play for. It could have been a big step. We could have celebrated on their field, like they have on our field, and I didn't let that happen."

The notion of the Nationals dancing in the middle of the diamond at Citizens Bank Park -- just as the Phillies did at Nationals Park upon clinching the 2010 NL East title and just as they did right here with the Nats in attendance in 2007 and 2008 -- maybe was too perfect. The poetic symmetry might have been too much to expect.

But if they couldn't wrap this thing up in front of their own fans on South Capitol Street, the Nationals would have loved to do it in South Philly. Just one problem: The local ballclub may not reach the postseason for the first time since 2006, but it's still a mighty tough club to beat.

Indeed, the Phillies remain a major thorn in the Nationals' side. Washington owns a 33-21 record against everyone else in the division but is now 5-8 against the five-time reigning champs.

"They've got a lot of quality players over there," manager Davey Johnson said. "Great pitching staff. Good team."

They also possess several potent bats, especially with Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz all healthy at the same time at last. But opposing pitchers know they can be beat, provided they aren't simply handed free bases.

That's what left Detwiler kicking himself at the end of this night. He could've been most upset about the two home runs he surrendered: one to rookie Darin Ruf, an old college adversary in the Missouri Valley Conference, and one to Ruiz, who tattooed a third-inning fastball into the left-field stands for a three-run homer that blew the game wide open.

The home runs, though, were less of a concern to Detwiler than the three walks he issued over a four-batter span in the second and third innings. The first was a four-pitch walk to Hamels; the second two opened the next frame and set the stage for Ruiz's homer.

"When I don't even have a fastball, that's what happened," he said. "I was kinda out there throwing the ball the other batter's box. It wasn't even close. You can't even expect a swing and miss at that point."

Unable to get ahead in the count with his fastball, Detwiler couldn't then turn to his offspeed pitches to finish off hitters, frustrating his manager.

"He's got a great fastball, but he's also got a good changeup and good curveball," Johnson said. "He's got to learn to pitch with them instead of just trying to overthrow. And that's what he was doing, just trying to overthrow. What'd he walk, five guys or something? You've got to learn. That's that learning process."

Detwiler did manage to right his ship and retired the last nine batters he faced following the Ruiz homer. At that point, the Nationals trailed 5-1, though they still liked their chances after knocking out Hamels (who threw a whopping 99 pitches in only five innings) and forcing Phillies manager Charlie Manuel to go to his suspect bullpen early.

The Nationals, though, couldn't touch that relief corps. They went 1-for-13 against Josh Lindblom, Justin DeFratus, Antonio Bastardo, Phillipe Aumont and Jonathan Papelbon and never seriously threatened to mount a comeback.

"You definitely want to get to the bullpen, especially in those middle innings," catcher Kurt Suzuki said. "But sometimes you can't do it."

As this was all playing out, the Nationals might not have been able to help but notice the out-of-town scoreboard along the right-field wall. The Braves were three outs from a 3-2 loss to the Marlins, then suddenly came back to life and won in dramatic fashion on Freddie Freeman's game-winning homer off Mike Dunn.

Thus Atlanta officially clinched a playoff berth, while also trimming the Nationals' lead in the division to four games, the smallest margin they've owned since August 28.

"I think the worst thing you can do is look at the standings," Suzuki said. "A loss is a loss. Losses always hurt. You definitely want to win more games than you lose. But it's just one of those games. Put it behind you, look forward to tomorrow and give us a chance to win the series."

The Nationals still control their own destiny, with even some margin for error. If they go 4-4 the rest of the way, the Braves would need to go 8-0 to force a one-game tiebreaker to determine the NL East champ and the Wild Card.

An Atlanta loss or two wouldn't be frowned upon, either.

"All year long, we've won, they've won, we've won, they've won," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "For them to get one up on us today, it's no big deal. We've still got eight games to go, and I think we feel pretty good about ourselves."

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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]