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Should the Nats go for broke in '13?

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Should the Nats go for broke in '13?

Throughout their history in Washington -- and most definitely in the four years since Mike Rizzo became general manager -- the Nationals have adhered to one simple philosophy when it comes to player acquisitions and roster building: All moves must be in the best long-term interests of the organization.

It's a philosophy that has done the Nationals well, allowing them to build a team that not only reached the postseason for the first time this year but is built to keep on winning for years to come.

Might it be an appropriate time, however, to tweak that philosophy? For the first time in their history, might the Nationals sacrifice long-term potential in exchange for short-term satisfaction?

This might be the most compelling, over-arching question of the offseason. Clearly, this is a team that will enter 2013 with a real shot at winning the World Series, no matter what moves Rizzo makes before pitchers and catchers report for spring training. But there are moves Rizzo could make to bolster his club's chances of immediate success, if he's willing to perhaps hinder his chances of winning down the road.

It starts, really, with Adam LaRoche, the most-pressing offseason question facing the Nationals. Both Rizzo and the free agent want to continue their marriage, hoping to build off a fantastic 2012 that saw LaRoche win both the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove at first baseman while finishing in a sixth-place tie for NL MVP.

There's no question LaRoche's return would give the Nationals a better chance of winning the World Series in 2013. But the only way LaRoche will be playing in D.C. in 2013 is if he gets a long-term contract, most likely with at least three years guaranteed.

The Nationals may be willing to meet those demands, but doing so could hamstring them down the road. With LaRoche locked up through, say, 2015, there might be no spot on the diamond for young slugger Tyler Moore, or no vacant spot that would permit Michael Morse or Ryan Zimmerman to some day make a position switch. And, of course, there's no guarantee LaRoche would still be a 30-homer, 100-RBI threat at age 35 in year three of a contract that could turn into an albatross.

Speaking of Morse, he figures into this dilemma as well. Signed for one more season at a reasonable salary of $6.75 million, he'll be poised to strike it rich next winter as a free agent. Given all the other long-term financial commitments the Nationals already have on the books (Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez) and those they would like to add in the very near future (Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann) there probably isn't enough money left over to re-sign Morse.

Which is why you've heard some speculation the slugger could be traded this winter. Rather than lose him via free agency and receive a draft pick as compensation, Rizzo could be inclined to seek a deal now that would bring a larger return back to Washington.

That would certainly be a wise long-term strategy. But if the Nationals are more interested in going for broke in 2013, they'd much rather keep Morse one more season and then let him walk away after that.

And then there's the dilemma in center field, a longstanding issue for the Nationals that could easily be resolved this winter if they're willing to pony up for one of two big-name free agents on the market: Michael Bourn or B.J. Upton. Either would make a nice addition to the lineup, particularly the leadoff-hitting Bourn.

But the cost to acquire either free agent could be a five-year contract, one that would certainly have long-term ramifications for the organization. Would Bourn help the Nationals win right now? Absolutely? Would he still be as helpful in 2017, more than someone the Nats could promote from their own farm system like Brian Goodwin? That's debatable.

Put this all together, and it becomes clear Rizzo faces quite an interesting dilemma this winter. He could decide to go for broke, play all his cards and assemble a roster that has the very best chance of winning a championship in 2013. Or he could decide to stick with the plan that has worked so well to this point, making calculated additions that give the Nationals a chance to win now but not at the expense of winning in the future.

It's a dilemma the Nationals have never faced before, but it's certainly one worth considering now that they suddenly find themselves in a position they've never held before.

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Gio Gonzalez has plenty to work on before Nats playoffs begin

Gio Gonzalez has plenty to work on before Nats playoffs begin

Gio Gonzalez' seesaw 2016 regular season is officially in the books. Next stop: the NL Division Series where he will face the L.A. Dodgers, likely in Game 3 and possibly with one of the two teams' season on the line. Either way, it will be important.

Over the years, teams have trotted out far less accomplished pitchers in playoff games, ones with nothing close to the track record of Gonzalez. And for long stretches this season, he has been effective, like in July and August when he held a 3.16 ERA across 11 starts.

But a lot has happened since August for Gonzalez, both on the field and off of it. In his five starts since, he's given up 19 runs in 23 innings. That stretch includes his 3 2/3 innings on Wednesday night against the Diamondbacks, when he gave up three runs on eight hits and three walks and threw a whopping 100 pitches.

Just in time for the playoffs.

The Nationals have an unenviable situation without Stephen Strasburg, who is rehabbing a right flexor strain, and with Joe Ross still building his workload. They better hope the version of Gio Gonzalez they see in the NLDS is better than the one they have witnessed over the last several weeks.

“It wasn’t that good, but we didn’t score any runs either. He had a lot of pitches in a short period of time," manager Dusty Baker said after the Nats' 3-0, rain-shortened loss.

"They ran his pitch count up. They didn’t swing at very many balls and it looked like they were trying to wait on his fastball."

Gonzalez will now have to make adjustments in bullpen sessions over the course of the next 12 days. He will have to do that with a lot on his mind. Gonzalez heads to the funeral of close friend Jose Fernandez on Thursday and was pitching with extra emotion against Arizona. 

“He’s an emotional-type guy," Baker said. "I talked to him a little bit about Fernandez and he was pitching for him and for us. Just wasn’t a very good night."

Now Gonzalez will have plenty of time to grieve and recalibrate before he sees the Dodgers. Whether that hurts or helps has yet to be determined.

“It can [help]. Just depends on, not only can it reset him, but after things have subsided some… they say time heals all wounds, but some wounds take longer to heal," Baker said.

"It probably won’t really set in until after the season when he’s back in Miami and around and Jose’s not around. Hopefully, he can have a couple good ‘pens and get it back together because we’re certainly going to need him come playoff time."

Gonzalez does have some success against the Dodgers to build off of. He holds a 1.69 ERA across 32 innings vs. L.A. since 2012 and held them to one run through six earlier this season.

Gonzalez is also just ready for a fresh start.

"You start the postseason with a zero ERA. It's a new series. New way to look at it," he said.

[RELATED: Podcast: Can Nationals win without Wilson Ramos?]

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Gio Gonzalez bounced early as Nats fall to Diamondbacks

Gio Gonzalez bounced early as Nats fall to Diamondbacks

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 3-0 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday night at Nationals Park.

How it happened: The Nationals will be starting Gio Gonzalez in the NL Division Series against the Dodgers whether it's their preference or not. That's not to say they aren't at all comfortable with having him on the mound in the playoffs. He's been there before and happens to have plenty of recent success against the very team he'll face.

It's just that with Stephen Strasburg injured and Joe Ross not yet stretched out since returning from the disabled list, Gonzalez is essentially their third starter by default. And with how inconsistent he's been lately, that produce an interesting dynamic in the postseason. It's Gio Gonzalez roulette: who will take the ball and stare down Corey Seager and Adrian Gonzalez, Good Gio or Bad Gio?

The latter was on display Wednesday night in the Nats' 3-0 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, a game shortened to 6 1/3 innings by unrelenting rain. He managed just 3 2/3 innings on 100 pitches. That's not an MLB record for pitches in such a short start, but it's not far off. Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia, for instance, threw 107 pitches in 3 2/3 just five years ago.

Gonzalez' latest outing may not go down in the annals of history, but it was a troubling sight for the Nationals. The next time he will pitch is against the Dodgers, either in L.A. or Washington. And given the nature of a five-game series, their season could be on the line.

Gonzalez needed 24 pitches to get out of the first inning and was fortunate to give up just one run in the frame, that on a groundout by Paul Goldschmidt. Gonzalez needed 24 more in the second after giving up a single and a walk, but no runs. 

He threw 29 more in the third, including an RBI double to Brandon Drury. In the fourth, he tossed 23 more pitches and was pulled after Goldschmidt landed an RBI single, Gonzalez' third run of the evening. He allowed eight hits and three walks in total.

Gonzalez has been bounced after 4 1/3 innings or less in four of his last nine starts. In his last five outings, he's surrendered 19 earned runs in 23 innings. He's trending in the wrong direction after a strong July and August, and it's not good for the Nats.

Gonzalez didn't go deep in his start, but he wasn't necessarily terrible either. The Nats' offense fell closer to that description. They managed zero runs on five hits and one walk against Arizona starter Shelby Miller. His 6.15 ERA through 20 starts this season makes his 2015 All-Star nod seem like a distant memory.

The Nationals lost their second game of this series against the Diamondbacks and will now hope for a four-game split on Thursday. Washington has dropped seven of their last 11 games.

What it means: The Nationals fell to 92-65 not the year with four games remaining. Their magic number to clinch home field advantage in the NLDS stands at three thanks to the Dodgers' loss to the Padres.

Rendon lands two: Anthony Rendon was once again a standout for the Nats on offense with a pair of singles in two plate appearances. That came one night after he led the Nats to victory with a three-run homer. Rendon now has six hits in his last five games and appears to be heating up as the Nats enter the final four games of the regular season. With Wilson Ramos out, Rendon is even more important as one of the Nationals' most potent right-handed bats.

Belisle keeps it up: He may not pitch in high-leverage spots, and he may not bring electric stuff out of the bullpen, but veteran Matt Belisle just continues to produce in whatever role the Nats ask of him. He replaced Gonzalez in the fourth inning on Wednesday and tossed 1 1/3 perfect frames. He got four outs on seven pitches, a nice change of pace from the 100 pitches Gonzalez needed to record 11 outs. Belisle was even checked on by trainer Paul Lessard before he began the fifth inning, but he didn't show any problems afterwards.

Gio playing with a heavy heart: Gonzalez was pitching with a lot on his mind Wednesday night following the death of his friend Jose Fernandez over the weekend. Gonzalez was in tears while warming up in right field before the game and plans to fly to Florida in the morning to attend the funeral services of the late Marlins star. 

Up next: The Nats and Diamondbacks finish of their series with a 1:05 p.m. start on Thursday afternoon. Joe Ross (7-5, 3.48) will pitch opposite former Nats prospect Robbie Ray (8-14, 4.77).

[RELATED: Podcast: Can Nationals win without Wilson Ramos?]

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