Running down the rosters: Washington Nationals

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The Nationals may have disappointed some by failing to make a big run at the top three free agents, but a vastly improved rotation could make them surprise contenders in the NL East.

Rotation
Gio Gonzalez – L
Edwin Jackson – R
Jordan Zimmermann – R
John Lannan – L
Stephen Strasburg – R

Bullpen
Drew Storen – R
Tyler Clippard – R
Sean Burnett – L
Henry Rodriguez – R
Brad Lidge – R
Tom Gorzelanny – L
Ross Detwiler – L

Disabled list: Chien-Ming Wang (R)
SP next in line: Detwiler, Craig Stammen (R), Yunesky Maya (R), Chad Durbin (R)
RP next in line: Ryan Perry (R), Stammen (R), Jeff Fulchino (R), Ryan Mattheus (R)

The additions of Gonzalez and Jackson give the Nationals arguably the game’s deepest rotation. Now they just have to figure out how to make it work. That Detwiler is out of options complicates things; the Nationals aren’t going to try sending him down. A Lannan trade remains a real possibility. The Nationals also have the option of sending Lannan down to Triple-A, though that wouldn’t go over very well. As for me, I’m stashing Wang on the disabled list to help with the logjam. He’s already experiencing some shoulder soreness this spring anyway.

The bullpen should be very strong at the end of games and still pretty good before that. I don’t think the Lidge addition was necessary, but the price was right. A Gorzelanny trade to open up a spot for Perry wouldn’t come as a surprise.

Lineup
SS Ian Desmond – R
RF Jayson Werth – R
3B Ryan Zimmerman – R
LF Michael Morse – R
1B Adam LaRoche – L
2B Danny Espinosa – S
C Wilson Ramos – R
CF Rick Ankiel – L

Bench
C Jesus Flores – R
INF Steve Lombardozzi – S
INF-OF Mark DeRosa – R
OF Roger Bernadina – L
OF Brett Carroll – R

Disabled list: 1B Chris Marrero (R)
Next in line: C Carlos Maldonado (R), 1B-3B Chad Tracy (L), INF Andres Blanco (S), INF Jarrett Hoffpauir (R), INF Carlos Rivero (R), 3B-OF Mark Teahen (L), OF Bryce Harper (L), OF Jason Michaels (R), OF Xavier Paul (L)

While the pitching looks very strong, the lineup is still something of a mess. Werth and Zimmerman should be better this year, but there aren’t any traditional No. 1 or No. 2 hitters to put ahead of them. The team badly needs Desmond to step up.

I decided not to include Harper, even though I had him in my original projected lineup last month. It makes so much more financial sense to send him down for at least a month to start the season, and as good as Harper is likely to be someday, he’s hardly guaranteed to be an upgrade on Ankiel and Bernadina right away this year.

So, I’m sticking Ankiel in center field for now. The Nationals just lost their best stopgap option when Mike Cameron retired. I favor Ankiel over Bernadina, but Davey Johnson will probably just play the hot hand of the two. By July 1 at the latest, I think we’ll see Werth in center field and Harper in right.

My guess is that while the pitching will be strong, the Nationals won’t score enough runs to win 90 games this year. This is a better team, one that’s going to be more enjoyable to watch than anything else the Nationals have put on the field in their brief history. But it’s probably a year away.

Sean Manaea pitches the first no-hitter of 2018

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Athletics southpaw Sean Manaea delivered his first career no-hitter against the Red Sox in a decisive 3-0 victory on Saturday night. Any thought of a perfect game was banished in the first at-bat, when Mookie Betts drew a leadoff six-pitch walk to open the first inning. From there, Manaea was nearly flawless, holding the Sox to four total baserunners and striking out 10 of 30 batters faced — a career record.

Manaea was gifted a three-run lead thanks to RBI doubles from Jed Lowrie and Stephen Piscotty and Marcus Semien‘s solo shot off of Chris Sale in the fifth inning. While the Red Sox managed to draw two walks off of Manaea, they didn’t come anywhere close to plating a run. Andrew Benintendi tried to break up the no-no in the sixth inning with an infield hit down the first base line, but strayed out of bounds and later saw his hit reversed on a call of batter interference.

Entering the ninth inning, the 26-year-old lefty was sitting at just 95 pitches through eight frames of no-hit ball. He quickly deposed Blake Swihart and Mookie Betts with a groundout and fly out, then walked Benintendi on seven pitches. Any threat the Red Sox might have posed was soon eliminated, however, as Hanley Ramirez ground into a force out to complete the no-hitter.

Manaea is the first A’s pitcher to toss a no-no since Dallas Braden’s perfect game against the Rays eight years ago. The last time the Red Sox were on the losing end of a no-hitter was also against an AL West rival, when the Mariners’ Chris Bosio clinched a 2-0 no-no on April 22, 1993. Manaea’s feat is even more outstanding given how dominant the Red Sox have looked this season: prior to Saturday’s defeat, they boasted a 17-2 record and had yet to be shut out during the regular season.