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The Nationals could still make a run without Stephen Strasburg

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The Nationals enter today’s action with the best record in baseball at 85-53. Yet with the attention given to the unique situation involving the shutdown of Stephen Strasburg, one would think they would be doomed without him. That’s just not the case. And it’s really a discredit to a well-balanced ballclub.

Nationals starters are first in the majors with a 3.29 ERA, but as Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post notes, their 3.31 ERA without him would still be the best. Gio Gonzalez (2.98 ERA), Jordan Zimmermann (2.99 ERA), Ross Detwiler (3.15 ERA) and Edwin Jackson (3.63 ERA) are all among the top 20 in the National League in ERA. Having Strasburg available would certainly enhance their chances of making a deep run in the postseason, but they are still pretty stocked in the rotation.

And that’s not even talking about the other areas of the ballclub. Nationals relievers rank fifth in the National League with a 3.34 ERA, even though Drew Storen missed most of the season following elbow surgery. The offense struggled early on due to injuries to Michael Morse, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth, but with their full lineup finally in place, they are first in the National League and second in the majors with 280 runs scored since the All-Star break.

If the Nationals lose during the postseason, this decision will be questioned. If Strasburg gets hurt next year despite the shutdown, this decision will be questioned. If the Nationals never get this close again, this decision will be questioned. And rightfully so. But regardless of your feelings on the situation, it’s important to recognize that this team is about more than one guy.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.