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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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Nats get another chance to clinch NL East title in Pittsburgh

Nats get another chance to clinch NL East title in Pittsburgh

Nats (89-64) vs. Pirates (77-76) at PNC Park

With the magic number to clinch a division title still at two, the Nationals will again try to punch their ticket to the postseason Saturday night at PNC Park. Like Friday night, they'll need to defeat the Pirates and hope for a New York Mets loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in order to secure the NL East championship. 

The Nats will send Joe Ross (7-5, 3.48 ERA) to the mound for his second start since he returned from the disabled list. He was limited to just three innings in his previous outing, so it will be important to see how far he gets stretched out against the Pirates. After all, the Nats are in desperate need to identify their third starter for the playoffs, and Ross has a good shot of being that guy if he proves he's capable down the stretch. 

The lineup will be the same as Friday night's, with Daniel Murphy shut down for the weekend with a left buttocks strain. Stephen Drew will take over at second base. 

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Joe Ross vs. Pirates - Ivan Nova

NATS 

CF Trea Turner
LF Jayson Werth
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
2B Stephen Drew
1B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Joe Ross

PIRATES

TBA

CLICK HERE FOR LIVE STATS AND SCORES

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Extra-inning loss puts the Nats NL East celebration on hold

Extra-inning loss puts the Nats NL East celebration on hold

The Nationals were hoping that Friday night would be the moment they could finally pop champagne in celebration of an NL East title. All they had to do was win and hope for a New York Mets loss.

Neither happened. As a result, the Nats’ magic number remains at two entering Saturday.

Here are a few takeaways from Friday night's game: 

Melancon’s first blown save: Entering Friday, Mark Melancon was a perfect 12-for-12 in save opportunities as the Nats’ closer. And as the baseball gods would have it, his first blown save with Washington comes against his former Pittsburgh teammates. Of the four blown saves Melancon’s had all season, one is against the Nats (when he was still with the Pirates), and the other against the Pirates. Baseball is a funny game.   

Turner still learning center field: Though Trea Turner has done just about everything in his short time in the big leagues, he’s still a work in progress as a center fielder. That inexperience bit the Nats in a critical moment on Friday night. With Washington clinging to a 5-4 ninth-inning lead with two outs and a man on, the Pirates’ Sean Rodriguez drilled a Melancon fastball to left-center. Turner didn’t appear to get a great jump after contact, and and got to the ball a tad late. He lunged, but it landed over his head, allowing the tying run to score. It's moments like those that make one wonder if Dusty Baker might consider realigning his defense late in games come October.

Zim reaches milestone: With his run-scoring double in the second inning, Zimmerman notched career RBI No. 1500. The accomplishment is one of the bright spots in an otherwise down season for the veteran first baseman. Though he’s struggled for most of 2016, the Nats are hoping he heats up as the playoffs begin. Case in point: he’s got hits in seven of his last nine games.

Ramos heating up? After an early late-August and early-September swoon, it appears Ramos has found his power stroke once again. He now has six extra-base hits in his last eight games. With the offense scuffling a bit of late, the Nats need Ramos to return to his early-season form. 

Up next: The Nats will look to wrap up the division Saturday night as they send Joe Ross (7-5, 3.48 ERA) to the hill to oppose Ivan Nova (12-7, 4.19 ERA).