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Yankees get to Nats' bullpen again


Yankees get to Nats' bullpen again

The Nationals were swept by the New York Yankees on Fathers Day Weekend despite a quality start by their starting pitcher each game and an overall ERA of 3.50 from their rotation. Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Edwin Jackson all labored through their starts with high pitch counts, but each left the game with their team in position to win the game. The patience of the Yankees lineup, however, paid off as their offense was able to come alive late in each outing while the Nationals bats continued to struggle.

Jackson allowed just two runs in six innings in Sundays 4-1 loss, but threw 110 pitches along the way. He said afterwards the outing was harder than your usual six-inning start.

They made me work today, I threw 100 pitches in six innings and thats what they are notorious for doing, make the pitcher work the pitch count, he said.

Facing a lineup as deep as New Yorks, you cant really ask for much than what Jackson did. He left the team in good shape moving into the later innings, but the Yankee approach was steady.

Jackson explained what makes them so tough:

They arent afraid to hit with strikes on them, theyre not afraid to hit with two strikes. They make you throw strikes and make you continue to throw strikes, he said.

They get two strikes and they still feel like they are able to come and get a hit off you.

New York broke through in the very next inning after Jackson was relieved. Robinson Cano hit a home run into center field off left-hander Tom Gorzelanny as the second batter. Then, Mark Teixera scored on a passed ball from reliever Ryan Mattheus to catcher Jhonatan Solano. It became the same story seen the two previous games as the Yankees ran away with the victory.

Overall the Nationals relievers allowed eight runs in 14 innings of work in the series, a total ERA of 5.14. Manager Davey Johnson said he had a tough time managing as there really is no letup in the Yankees batting order. Even on a day opposing skipper Joe Girardi played his backup catcher Chris Stewart, the guy got two hits.

They are a little hard to match up against, they have a lot of power and guys that can hit for average, Johnson said.

It is a tough offense. When you try and go create match-ups for your pen, it is a lot tougher.

Johnson said he tried to pitch around Cano for most of the series, but even he got to them in Sunday. Curtis Granderson hit another home run, this time off a right-handed Jackson, but on Friday hit an RBI double and a home run off Nationals lefties. The balance of the Yankee order and their ability to hit all types of pitchers was impressive to Johnson.

Their left-handers are not really susceptible to lefties, they can hit them just as good as right-handers. It is a tough lineup, he said.

The Yankees currently hold the best record in the American League and showed this weekend they are at least a little better than the Washington ballclub. But as an A.L. team, they really have no effect on the Nats moving forward. The only other time they could meet would be the World Series.

But despite all that, Johnson and the Nationals see themselves as in the same category, that they are in a race with all of the leagues best teams.

They got a good ballclub, they will be tough to catch, he said.

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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.

[RELATED: Bullpen, baserunning leads to Nats heartbreak]