Nationals have all of the pieces for a longer run in 2013

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Yeah, that was a particularly gruesome way to lose. But that will only make the eventual payoff that much sweeter.

Of course, the Nationals aren’t guaranteed anything going forward after losing in the NLDS to the Cardinals on Friday night. Shutting down Stephen Strasburg early was a move geared towards protecting the future, but the Nationals are far from assured of finishing with the NL’s best record again next year or even making it back to the postseason.

That said, things do look pretty good:

– A top four of Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler is not only a great rotation, but it will also be a cheap one. The quarter will make about $13.5 million total in 2013.

– Bryce Harper is only going to get better, and he appeared to get more adept in center field as his rookie season went on. That means the Nationals can maintain their Michael Morse-Harper-Jayson Werth outfield and re-sign Adam LaRoche to sign play first base if they’d like. And since Morse can play first base, they also have flexibility if LaRoche leaves as a free agent and they want to replace him with a leadoff-type center fielder.

– Wilson Ramos will from his torn ACL to upgrade the catcher spot. Kurt Suzuki would make for a very expensive backup catcher unless the Nats decide to trade him, but they’re cheap enough elsewhere that they should be able to afford to keep him at $6.5 million.

The Nationals should have the payroll flexibility to target a big-name starter if they want one, whether it’s through free agency or trade. Even if LaRoche departs, the offense should be better next year with growth from Harper and more at-bats to Werth and Morse. Ian Desmond may fall off a bit, but he just turned 27 and may simply be hitting his stride.

Having the NL’s best rotation on paper didn’t do the Phillies much good this year, but the Nationals have to be considered the NL East favorites in 2013. They just won 98 games with the NL’s second-youngest team (the Triple-A Astros being the youngest), and barring a major misstep, there will be more talent coming in than exiting this winter.

Watch: Ryan Goins tags Todd Frazier with the hidden ball trick

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The Yankees are facing a convoluted path to the postseason, and they didn’t do themselves any favors after Todd Frazier fell for Ryan Goins‘ hidden ball trick in the third inning of Friday’s series opener. With one out and Frazier on second base, Jacoby Ellsbury skied a deep fly ball to right field, where it was caught by Jose Bautista just shy of the warning track and tossed back to Goins at second. Goins faked the throw to Marco Estrada, then sneakily (or not so sneakily, depending on your vantage point) gloved the ball and caught Frazier off the bag for the third out.

Of course, it helped that Frazier’s back was turned during the throw, so Goins’ fake-out may not have been as obvious as it was when the Yankees reviewed the tape several minutes later.

Goins earned another spot on the highlight reel in the sixth inning, mashing his second grand slam of the season while Frazier — and the rest of the Yankees’ offense, sans one home-run-record-slaying Aaron Judge — scrambled to catch up. The Yankees currently trail the Blue Jays 8-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning, and will need to pull off a comeback (and hope the Astros and Athletics clinch their respective games) before they can lay claim to a playoff spot.

Blue Jays shut down Steve Pearce for the rest of 2017

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The Blue Jays have shut down left fielder Steve Pearce for the remainder of the season following a lingering case of lower back stiffness. Pearce has not appeared in a game since September 8, when he was forced to exit in the first inning after experiencing back pain during his at-bat. Per Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca, he’s scheduled to return to Florida next week, where he’ll receive epidural injections to address the pain.

Pearce, 34, impressed in his first season with Toronto. He battled through a calf injury during the first half of the season and finished the year with a modest .252/.319/.438 batting line, 13 home runs and a .757 OPS through 348 PA. By September, the Blue Jays started testing the waters with outfield prospect Teoscar Hernandez, who shouldered the bulk of the starts in left field after Pearce was sidelined with back issues.

With the Blue Jays all but eliminated from playoff contention, however, there’s no rush to get Pearce back to the outfield. He should be in fine shape to compete for another starting role in spring, and could face stiff competition from Hernandez if the rookie continues building on his .278 average and three home runs this month. The veteran outfielder is slated to receive the remaining $6.25 million on his contract in 2018 and will be eligible for free agency in 2019.