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Wrapping up an eventful weekend for the Nats

Wrapping up an eventful weekend for the Nats

If you were out of town over the holiday weekend, you sure missed some eventful stuff at the ballpark. The Nationals took three of four from the Cardinals, informed Stephen Strasburg he'll make only two more starts this season, called up John Lannan, Eury Perez, Sandy Leon, Zach Duke and Christian Garcia from Class AAA Syracuse and lost Sean Burnett, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse for a brief period of time due to injuries.

Oh yeah, and they won their 82nd game of the season, most for any D.C. ballclub since 1969.

Since there's a decent chance you missed some or all of that, let's recap the biggest stories of the weekend, with some links back to the original articles...

-- Yesterday's 2-1 victory over the Cubs was the Nationals' 82nd of the year, ensuring the club's first-ever winning season. While the consensus opinion around most of the clubhouse involved shrugs and talk of accomplishing even greater things, there were a few folks (particularly those who have been in the organization a while) who noted the significance of this win. "I think that's huge for the city and everything," Ross Detwiler said. "Obviously we're not done yet, but somebody like Ryan Zimmerman, who's been here the whole time and he's been on losing teams year in and year out ... I'm just happy for him to be on a winning team."

-- After Stephen Strasburg tossed six scoreless innings during Sunday's win over the Cardinals, manager Davey Johnson revealed the right-hander will make two more starts before he is shut down: Friday night against the Marlins at Nationals Park, then Sept. 12 at the Mets. Then on Monday, Strasburg sat down for a long conversation with Johnson, Mike Rizzo and Steve McCatty, during which he made it clear he wants to pitch through the remainder of the season. That, of course, wasn't going to happen no matter what Strasburg said, but let the record show he is opposed to the shutdown.

-- Yesterday's win also featured Tyler Clippard escaping a self-created jam in the top of the ninth to record his 30th save. That's no small accomplishment, considering the only other Nationals relievers to save that many games are Chad Cordero (2005, 2007) and Drew Storen (2011). It's also no small feat considering Clippard didn't get his first save opportunity this season until May 22. That means he's saved 30 games in less than 3 12 months. "It's a nice feather on the cap," he said. "I think more importantly, it's been fun to contribute to a lot of the wins we've had this year. That's the most fun part for me."

-- The Nationals may need Clippard, Drew Storen and others to continue to make big contributions late in games, because Sean Burnett is dealing with elbow discomfort again. The lefty had this earlier in the season and pitched through it with only minimal issues, but his numbers of late (16 hits allowed in his last six innings) suggest the elbow has become a real factor in his performance. Johnson said he'll probably hold Burnett out for a couple of days; we'll see if it turns into anything more significant than that.

-- Perhaps in part because of Burnett's situation, the Nationals added two more pitchers from Class AAA Syracuse yesterday: Zach Duke and Christian Garcia. Each will pitch out of the bullpen for the rest of the month, and each made it to D.C. through perseverance. If you haven't read the full story on both guys from yesterday, I encourage you to click on the link and appreciate just how much this means for each of them.

-- Meanwhile, Michael Morse was mysteriously pulled from yesterday's game during the fourth inning. Is he having a problem with his thumb? His hand? Or was something else going on? I'll let you all try to interpret what both Morse and Johnson said after the game.

-- The minor-league season ended yesterday for most of the Nationals' affiliates, and the club announced its organizational player and pitcher of the year: Matt Skole and Nathan Karns. Skole, 23, led all players in the organization with 27 homers and finished second with 102 RBI, splitting his season between low-Class A Hagerstown and high-Class A Potomac. The third baseman, a fifth-round pick in last summer's draft out of Georgia Tech, hit .292 overall with a .427 on-base percentage. Karns, 24, went 11-4 with a 2.17 ERA in 24 games (18 starts) between Hagerstown and Potomac. A 12th-round pick in 2009 out of Texas Tech, the right-hander was shut down after pitching 116 innings, during which he allowed only 70 hits. Both Skole and Karns will be honored at Nationals Park before Friday night's game against the Marlins.

-- Finally, while yesterday's win marked a milestone for the Nationals and D.C. baseball, it also marked the end of a long streak for yours truly. You see, I hadn't covered a team (in any sport) with a winning record since 1996, when as a student at Northwestern I covered the 9-3 football team. Since then, it had been nothing but .500 or worse seasons for me: the 1997 Cubs and 1998 Diamondbacks as interns, the 1999-2000 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi basketball teams, the 2001-02 Orioles, the 2003-04 Redskins and then 2005-11 Nationals. As a reporter, I've obviously got no rooting interest in any team I cover, but I think it's fair to say it's a tad more enjoyable covering a winning team than a losing team. Which has made this season particularly enjoyable to chronicle.

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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.

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