The Week Ahead: Nats face deadline on Strasburg

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It’s a game of chicken. A staring contest. A battle of wills.

Will the Washington Nationals sign Stephen Strasburg?

If they don’t ink the San Diego State phenom by midnight Eastern time on Monday night, then they lose the rights to the savior of the franchise. The man who can single-handedly inspire Nats fans to shed their comforters and get out of bed in the morning, to make them believe that, yes, it doesn’t have to be dark and cold and gloomy in the middle of summer.

And yet, Washington faces a dilemma. Do the Nats give in to the demands of the evil Scott Boras, the agent all too happy to hold their feet to the fire, cackling wickedly as the clock ticks closer to the deadline?

If Washington doesn’t pull the prize into the boat, the team’s already comedic reputation will be … well, actually, I’m not sure it can get any worse. It certainly won’t help, anyway.

But does Strasburg really want to turn down the record millions being offered ($17 million according to one report, with some easy incentives to push it past $20 million)?

Would he really rather return to college, or play in the independent leagues, or in Japan, putting himself one year further away from free agency?

Not even his mother seems to know, according to the Washington Post.

“It’s his decision. I know he wants to play baseball. I don’t know what else to say.”

It’s a gunfight at high noon, and it will be interesting to see who blinks first. Of course, if a deal isn’t reached, it could happen all over again next year, as the Nats currently have a 3½-game “lead” on the Royals for worst record.

Other top draft picks who have yet to sign as of Sunday night are (courtesy of Jim Callis of Baseball America), No. 2 pick Dustin Ackley (Mariners), No. 3 pick Donavan Tate (Padres), No. 6 pick Zack Wheeler (Giants) and No. 9 pick Jacob Turner (Tigers).

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Cardinals at Dodgers, Aug. 17-19:
The Cardinals have won eight of 10 to build a 5-game lead atop the NL Central. The Dodgers, while scuffling of late, still maintain the best record in the NL. This has all the makings of a heavyweight bout.

Cubs at Dodgers, Aug. 20-23: The Cubs follow the Cardinals into Chavez Ravine, making this a big, big week in the NL Central.

Yankees at Red Sox, Aug. 21-23: The Red Sox are picking a bad time to struggle, falling 7½ games behind New York and surrendering the wild card lead to the Rangers. This is a big one for Boston. Maybe they can bring back Pedro Martinez and Don Zimmer just for this series.

Phillies at Mets, Aug. 21-23: So much for this rivalry. After all the trash talking over the last couple of years, all New York has to fight for now, sadly, is pride.

Rangers at Rays, Aug. 21-23: Texas enters the week with a 3 ½-game lead over Tampa Bay in the AL wild card race. The Red Sox are sandwiched in between, and you know they’ll be watching this series with interest.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 10:10 p.m. ET: Cardinals at Dodgers (ESPN2)
Wednesday, 7:07 p.m.: Red Sox at Blue Jays (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Yankees at Red Sox (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Cubs at Dodgers (FOX)
Sunday, 1:30 p.m.: Rangers at Rays (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Yankees at Red Sox (ESPN)
*Check local listings

If you Twitter, you can find me there at @bharks.

Steve Delabar among three suspended after testing positive

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Three players were suspended on Monday after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. They are: Indians pitcher Steve Delabar, Mariners pitcher Jonathan Aro, and free agent pitcher Jeffry Hernandez. Aro got a 50-game suspension while the other two were handed 80-game suspensions.

Delabar, 33, hasn’t pitched yet this season after signing a minor league deal with the Indians back in January. He spent last year with the Reds as well as the Hiroshima Carp in the Japan Central League. The right-hander has struggled over the last few seasons.

Aro, 26, also hasn’t appeared yet this season in the minors. He’s worked mostly in relief. The right-hander appeared briefly in the majors with the Mariners last season and logged 10 1/3 innings in the show with the Red Sox in 2015. Aro went to the Mariners along with Wade Miley in the trade that brought the Red Sox Carson Smith and Roenis Elias.

Hernandez, 22, is a free agent and his suspension will be effective if and when he signs with a new team.

Phillies place Aaron Nola on the disabled list

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The Phillies announced on Monday that starter Aaron Nola has been placed on the 10-day disabled list, retroactive to April 21, with a lower back strain.

Nola, 23, compiled a 4.50 ERA with a 15/6 K/BB ratio over his first three starts spanning 16 innings. He felt some back soreness during his last start on Thursday against the Mets, and it lingered when he had a side session on Sunday.

CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury hears that the Phillies are likely to call up Nick Pivetta from Triple-A Lehigh Valley to take Nola’s place in the rotation. Nola was scheduled to start on Wednesday.

Pivetta, 24, was acquired from the Nationals in the Jonathan Papelbon trade in July 2015. At Triple-A so far, Pivetta has given up only two earned runs on 12 hits and two walks with 24 strikeouts in 19 innings.