Nats willing to spend to get even better

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Nats willing to spend to get even better

The Nationals have won four straight and have the best record in the National League at 48-32. The offense is starting to come around and they look like one of the league's most balanced teams heading into the All-Star Break. Their chances to contend are good and Nationals' owner Mark Lerner says he will do anything to preserve their shot at the ultimate goal of a World Series.

Lerner told FoxSports.com's J.P. Morosi that money is no object in the quest for a championship.
Weve never let dollars get in the way of us making decisions that will help this organization," he said."That will always be our philosophy. We dont look at it like a 100 million benchmark, or 90 million, or 120 million. We try to do smart things. Theres never been a question of this organization spending money. It was when to spend it. You dont spend it when you have 59 wins."

The Nationals have the league's 20th highest payroll at about 81.4 million. They are also winning despite the absence of Jayson Werth and his 13 million salary.

The Nats have money to spend relative to their peers and while they weren't active in last year's free agency period, it could mean they will make calls at the July 31 trade deadline. Their ace Stephen Strasburg, after all, is expected to be shut down in early September. They could look to rent a starter for the pennant race or add offense to a lineup that has struggled at times this year. But whatever happens later this month, Nats fans can feel assured that their baseball team will do anything to sustain their newfound success.

Podcast - 'Baseball in the District' - Are Nats better than the Mets?

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Podcast - 'Baseball in the District' - Are Nats better than the Mets?

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The Nationals just wrapped up their series against the Mets, making this a good time to discuss where they stand in the NL East and what they still need to work on.

Tim Murray and I went into the Mets series and what we learned. We also gave our thoughts on the Matt Harvey disaster and whether he should have spoken to the media.

Tim and I compared Daniel Murphy's numbers to those of Brandon Phillips and Ben Zobrist, the other two players the Nats targeted this offseason to play second base. We also wondered the best way to use Michael Taylor and whether he should be dangled at the trade deadline.

Feel free to share your opinions with us on Twitter @ChaseHughesCSN and @1TimMurray.

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

Nats Stock Watch: Strasburg establishing himself as one of game's top arms

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Nats Stock Watch: Strasburg establishing himself as one of game's top arms

Each week this season, we’ll take the temperature of the Nationals roster to see which player's stock is rising or falling.  

Record: 4-3

Team slash: .256/.326/.415

Team ERA: 2.61

Runs per game: 4.42 

 

STOCK UP 

Daniel Murphy, 2B: .393 AVG, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 1.076 OPS

It was just another ho-hum week for the sizzling Murphy, who posted five multi-hit efforts in the last seven games. In fact, in 46 games played this season, he's now logged more than one hit an astounding 24 times. So we're way past the point of this being considered merely a hot streak; this is nearly two months' worth of consistency from the Nats' second baseman. Dusty Baker said recently that he believed Murphy has been the acquisition of the year in baseball. There's not much room to argue. 

Ben Revere, CF: .450 AVG, 5 RBI, 5 R, 2 SB

You know things are going well for Revere these days when he's trotting around the bases after hitting a rare home run. His solo shot in Tuesday's 7-4 win over the New York Mets was just another sign that the Nats' leadoff man is starting to regain his pre-oblique injury form. But aside from the long ball, he's starting to do all the things a prototypical table-setter is supposed to do: see pitches, hit line drives into the gaps and be a pest on the base paths. That's what the Nats thought they were getting when they acquired Revere last winter from the Torono Blue Jays, and it looks like that's what he's becoming once again. 

Stephen Strasburg, SP: 2-0, 12.2 IP, 3 ER, 21 K

He doesn't get mentioned with the likes of Jake Arrieta and Clayton Kershaw, but Strasburg is putting together the type of season that unequivocally cements his status as one of the game's top arms. He's now 8-0 with a 2.79 ERA, and his 86 strikeouts on the season are second in the majors to the aforementioned Kershaw.

So what's the difference for the 27-year-old right hander this year? For one, he's stayed healthy and continued the momentum that was established late last year after he came off the disabled list. He's also added a slider/cutter to his repertoire to keep hitters off balance, especially in fastball counts.

However, you don't get to 8-0 without a little bit of good fortune, either, and Strasburg has certainly that: In his 10 starts this season, the Nats offense has averaged 6.7 runs per game. Still, he's undoubtedly pitched well, so there's not much one can do to try to cheapen his fast start.

STOCK DOWN

Bryce Harper, RF: .190 AVG, .507 OPS

When the Nats' skipper feels the need to give Harper a "mental rest day" against a chief division rival like the Mets, that's a telltale sign that things aren't going so well for the reigning NL MVP. Harper's frustration has been quite evident for the last week; he apparently took extra batting practice immediately following Monday's 7-1 loss, and then the next day went out onto the field early — a rarity for 23-year-old slugger — to take even more hacks.

Harper's slump is unique in that, despite his struggles, opposing teams are still pitching around him. He's hitting .195 in May despite a .454 on-base percentage, a very Barry Bonds-ian gap between his average and OBP. And like Bonds, Harper is only getting about one or two pitches he can work with per game, but he's been unable to take advantage of those of late. 

Despite lopsided games, Nats and Mets remain closely matched

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Despite lopsided games, Nats and Mets remain closely matched

After waiting six long weeks for the first matchup between the Nationals and Mets of 2016, they played six games all within a stretch of nine days with each team taking three of them. 

That leaves them at .500 against each other, which is as close a head-to-head record as you can possibly get. Yet despite that fact, consider this: three of their games have been blowouts, two were shutouts and one - Tuesday's 7-4 Nats' win - was never really that close.

The season series has been an eventful one so far, yet none of their six contests has provided the late-game thrills we witnessed last year, at least when it comes to testing the Nationals' bullpen. Now we wait another full month before they square off again on June 27.

Because of the unusual results, the Nationals could only really draw conclusions from the overall record when asked about the rivalry after Wednesday's 2-0 loss.

"We've gone 3-3, .500," former Met Daniel Murphy said. "It's a good club. I think this is the way everybody kind of drew it up at the beginning of the year."

"It makes us about even," manager Dusty Baker said. "We've matched up good against them and they've matched up good against us."

The Nationals and Mets remain close in the NL East with just a half-game separating them in the standings, the Nats sitting just ahead of the reigning division champions. As Murphy said, both teams are about where they were expected to be.

How they got there, though, has perhaps been unexpected. The Nationals have paced a 28-19 record despite Bryce Harper hitting just .245 and Ryan Zimmerman batting .236. Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth have come around lately, but have not been themselves for the majority of this season. Given how healthy the Nats' lineup has been, it may come as a surprise they rank about average as an offense.

The Nationals' starting rotation has been as good as any in baseball, but their lineup is working to find consistency. And until we see Jonathan Papelbon and others in more high-pressure games, the jury is still out on their bullpen.

The Mets are in second place despite going through a whole lot more than that. Their pitching staff has seen Matt Harvey stumble through the worst stretch of his career and Jacob deGrom deal with velocity issues. The Mets are 23rd in runs scored and just lost Lucas Duda for who knows how long with a stress fracture in his back. 

For the Mets to be where they are is impressive all things considered. And, like the Nationals, it still feels like we haven't seem them at their best.

Neither team has fully hit their stride and neither truly separated themselves in the few times they've played.