Quick Links

From Teddy's mouth to Nats' ears

teddy-wins-nats-race.jpg

From Teddy's mouth to Nats' ears

In a disconsolate clubhouse following Game 3 of the National League Division Series, Mark DeRosa suggested he might have a few words to say to his Nationals teammates before they took the field the following night with elimination staring them in the face.

So Thursday afternoon, DeRosa turned on the karaoke machine that has sat in his locker most of the season, grabbed the microphone and began reading an inspirational speech he's been reading to himself before big games since he played at the University of Pennsylvania.

Among the salient passages: "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood."

When he finished the famous speech -- with perhaps a couple of unprintable words sprinkled in for maximum effect -- DeRosa paused and uttered the most important line of all.

"You know who spoke these words?" the veteran utilityman said. "Teddy Effin Roosevelt."

Yes, the speech that helped save the Nationals' season was "The Man in the Arena" by none other than the Rough Rider, The Bull Moose, the Trust Buster, the 26th President of the United States and the man whose caricature's futility in the nightly mascot race at Nationals Park for nearly seven years came to embody this franchise's woeful existence. At least, until he finally won the fourth-inning race on the season's final day and has proceeded to win it twice more in the postseason.

"I mean, it's fitting," DeRosa said. "It's perfect."

Hey, whatever works.

And there's no denying the effect the surprise pregame speech had on the Nationals in advance of the most important game they'd ever played. Across the board, players said DeRosa's speech struck the perfect balance between serious motivation and laugh-out-loud hysterics.

And no one was more impressed than Jayson Werth, the eventual hero of a 2-1 victory with his bottom-of-the-ninth homer off Lance Lynn and resident expert on all things Teddy (both the actual president and his racing mascot).

"I actually know that speech real well," said Werth, who was in the training room when he heard DeRosa begin his recitation. "I think it's a good one. It's kind of very parallel to the world we live in today. Not only that, but the fact Teddy gets disrespected for however many years it was. When I did some research on Teddy last year, I ran across that and I found it to be a very powerful segment of that speech. So when I heard D-Ro with some of that stuff, I was like: 'Somebody <i>finally</i> is reading this aloud in our clubhouse. I thought it was good."

Good enough to propel the Nationals all the way to victory in this series and to send them off to the NLCS against the Giants? Perhaps, though credit should probably be given more to the performance of a host of players in Game 4 than to the words that were spoken before they ever took the field.

Make no mistake, the Nationals are still alive because of Ross Detwiler, because of Adam LaRoche, because of Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen and -- most importantly -- because of Werth.

Put that all together and the Nationals now get the opportunity to host a decisive Game 5 tonight against the Cardinals, the momentum having suddenly and forcefully swung back in their favor.

"We knew this was a huge game for us," Clippard said. "We're at home. To get the momentum back, to win this game today and get it tied knowing that a win tomorrow gets us to the next level. The momentum is definitely on our side, and that's how we wanted it to happen."

Momentum in baseball, though, can a funny thing. Managers love to say momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher. So another rocky outing from Gio Gonzalez could kill the positive vibes altogether and tilt the pendulum back to the Cardinals.

The Nationals understand they can't just ride the emotion from Game 4 and assume it will carry them through Game 5.

"You shouldn't discount a win like that," Ryan Zimmerman said. "That's a heck of a win. To come back after yesterday, against a team like that, with a really good pitcher on the mound ... they had everything set up going their way. They blew us out yesterday. They had a 16-game winner on the mound. And Ross matched him. For him to do that and for us to grind out a win like that today and get to tomorrow -- which was the goal -- we'll enjoy it.

"But this win doesn't get us anything tomorrow. We'll wake up tomorrow and forget about this and get back to tomorrow and hopefully win tomorrow."

If anyone knows anything about the power of postseason momentum, it's the team currently occupying the visitors clubhouse at Nationals Park.

The Cardinals pulled off a similar feat in last fall's World Series, storming back to beat the Rangers in a dramatic Game 6 capped by David Freese's walk-off homer at Busch Stadium. They returned the following night for Game 7 and cruised to a 6-2 victory and a champagne celebration.

"I think you wipe it clean," Storen insisted. "I think we had a great approach today that you don't let the last couple days affect you. You can say that's great, we had a good time. We know how we got there. But tomorrow when we show up, we've got a new approach and we're going to be ready to battle. Because it's going to be ugly tomorrow, but it's going to be a lot of fun."

Indeed, there's nothing quite like a winner-take-all ballgame. Gonzalez and Adam Wainwright may be given the ball to start the game, but it'll be all hands on deck for both clubs.

That applies, of course, to the field of play. Does it apply to the choice of pregame speeches?

Will DeRosa offer a repeat rendition from Teddy?

"I don't think," he said. "I mean, if we don't realize what's at stake tomorrow..."

Don't worry, Mark. Everyone realizes what's at stake now.

Quick Links

Trea Turner is ready to step in and play center field for Nats if needed

Trea Turner is ready to step in and play center field for Nats if needed

With the expected return of first baseman Ryan Zimmerman on Tuesday, there will be some shuffling on the Nats roster, most notably with Trea Turner getting bumped from their infield.

Zimmerman, despite his .221/.284/.402 slash this year, is going right back into the starting lineup. He's a proven veteran, went 5-for-12 on his rehab assignment and manager Dusty Baker has already confirmed that plan, not that it needed to be done.

"I've got to get Zim back in the lineup. He’s a big part of our offense. And certainly, if I get Zim back in the lineup, that means [Daniel] Murphy is at second base," Baker said.

Turner will be out of the infield mix, but with Michael Taylor going back to Triple-A Syracuse, the door may be open for Turner to play some in the outfield. A lifelong middle infielder, Turner has been learning center field recently. He played six games there at Syracuse and has been doing outifled drills for several weeks now. 

Turner has shown in recent games the impact he can make offensively. He has 11 hits and four steals in his last nine games and in his last five outings alone has three triples and five runs. The Nats have seen the worst production of any team from their leadoff spot with a dead-last .586 OPS collectively. Taylor's now gone and Ben Revere's still hitting just .216 through 61 games.

"Now we've just got to try to find [Turner's] place with Zim coming back, find a place for him to play," Baker said.

If that is in center field, Turner feels ready to step in. 

"I did it in Syracuse and I'll do it here if they need me to," he said. "It's something that I've embraced, I guess. It's something that I'll do if they need me to. I'll continue to work out there whenever they give me the chance. On days I don't play, I go out there and shag some balls just to make sure I'm staying on top of it. It hasn't happened yet, but if it does I'll be ready."

Six games in Triple-A, of course, is not a lot of action at a brand new position. Whenever Turner does play in center field, there will be a learning curve and perhaps a noticeable drop-off from Revere. But Turner feels he did well in those six chances and can build off that experience.

"[I did] fine. I think I got a couple tough balls hit at me, line drives, and I made the right decisions at the time. I made all the plays that came to me. At the same time, I know it's not as easy as that. You've gotta play balls off the wall. In big league ballparks, it's going to be a lot different everywhere you go. Guys are a lot stronger, so they hit the ball a little bit farther. You've gotta take all that into account as well and learn," he said.

Baker himself has expressed confidence in Turner's ability to transition to the outfield. Earlier this month he offered a comparison to Robin Yount, a Hall of Famer who began his career as a shortstop before moving to center field. Yount won MVPs at both positions.

Zimmerman's return could simply mean Turner is heading back to the bench, ready to step in to give a Nats infielder a day off or wait for pinch-run opportunities. If that's the case, Turner believes he can still make an impact.

"Just keep it simple and do your job, whatever they ask," he said. "I'm still learning. I think you can always figure out ways to come off the bench and take advantage of those opportunities. If I have to do that, running is going to be a huge key. I think that's just a matter of stretching and paying attention by watching video on pitchers in case you get a stolen base opportunity, or whatever it may be."

[RELATED: For Giolito: 'It’s back to the drawing board']

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES

 

Quick Links

What Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs means for the Nationals

What Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs means for the Nationals

After a weekend full of rumors and speculation, it appears as if Yankees' flamethrower Aroldis Chapman is in fact headed to Chicago to join the Cubs.

The Yankees will reportedly send the closer to "The Windy City" in exchange for highly prized 19-year-old shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres as well as outfield prospects Billy McKinney, Rashad Crawford and reliever Adam Warren, according to multiple reports

The Nationals were one of the other two teams in the mix for Chapman's services, but the organization was not willing to give up the amount of young talent the Yankees wanted in return.

RELATED: WHO SHOULD THE NATIONALS TARGET AT THE TRADE DEADLINE?

With Chapman — and his 105 MPH fastball — off the table, there are two questions that need to be addressed: 1) Where do the nationals go from here and 2) Did the Cubs just become unstoppable?

The market for elite or even high-end pitching at the trade deadline is at an all-time low this season.

Chapman was the top prize, and after him, the drop off is quite significant.

Both of the Nationals' playoff appearances have ended with late-game pitching blunders and it has become clear that Jonathan Papelbon, while competent as a closer, is far from a shutdown reliever, and a patchwork unit of Sammy Solis, Shaun Kelly, Felipe Rivero and Oliver Perez doesn't yet appear to be stable enough to handle an entire postseason run.

The issue for the Nationals is that in order to acquire a closer like, Wade Davis of the Royals, the team will have to be willing to give up at least two of their highly prized young stars like Trea Turner, Joe Ross, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez.. If the team was unwilling to do so for Chapman, would the do it for Davis? 

If the Nationals do think they are just "one piece away," they could give up far less for someone like Brewers' closer Jeremy Jeffress, who has a 2.23 ERA with 23 saves and 30 strikeouts this season.

But again, the playoffs.

Jeffress is in just his second full season in the big leagues and what the Nationals need isn't just a talent closer, but one who won't get rattled in big moments and can close the door when the pressure is on.

As for the Cubs, getting Chapman is expected to be the final piece to the 108-year puzzle.

If the Nationals want to make the World Series, they will — more likely than not — have to go through Wrigley Field. The Cubs made it very clear during their early Mary series that they will not let Bryce Harper beat them. They also made it very clear that opposing pitchers cannot make more than a single mistake.

Now that the Cubs solidified their bullpen with the hardest-throwing pitcher in professional baseball, no matter how good the Nationals are — and they are very good — they may need some October magic to stop the Cubs from representing the National League in the World Series.

RELATED: UPDATED MLB POWER RANKINGS

Quick Links

MLB Trade Rumors: Who should the Nationals target before the deadline?

MLB Trade Rumors: Who should the Nationals target before the deadline?

BY JEREMY FIALKOW (@JeremyFialkow)

The Nationals may be good — very good — but they're not perfect, not yet. 

With the trade deadline fast approaching, GM Mike Rizzo's hunt to turn the roster he assembled into a legitimate World Series contender will grab the spotlight.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE NATIONALS' TOP TRADE DEADLINE TARGETS

There's speculation around the league that Rizzo's plans start and end with adding a commanding bullpen arm, capable of shortening each game by three outs, at least.

Nevertheless, Washington has the assets on hand and in their farm system to secure anyone they fancy, whether it's an arm, a bat ... or both.

Fortunately for baseball fans (but unfortunately for the Nats) the 2016 season has been competitive all around, leaving teams deemed surefire sellers few and far between.

Still, Rizzo's team is in a desirable position with the always appreciated ability of flexibility, so which players will the Nats target before the July 31 trade deadline.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE NATIONALS' TOP TRADE DEADLINE TARGETS