Bryce Harper

Nationals’ nine-game winning streak is “absolutely epic”


This shouldn’t be happening, not like this. It’s not that the Nationals have won nine straight games. And it’s not that they’ve won in walk-off fashion four of the last five nights. It’s that they’ve won three of the last four nights after blowing a lead in the eighth or ninth inning.

Really, who does this?

“I mean, just absolutely epic,” Bryce Harper said. “That’s the best word I can put on it for you. It’s been incredible.”

The events taking place each evening on South Capitol Street are beginning to defy explanation. Four nights after rallying from 3 runs down to beat the Pirates, three nights after watching Rafael Soriano melt down in the ninth before they came back to win in the 11th, two nights after watching Tyler Clippard blow his own ninth-inning lead before they again came back to win in the 11th, they did it yet again.

Leading by two runs in the eighth, the Nationals saw Clippard surrender another game-tying homer, only to pick up their All-Star reliever by producing another winning rally in the ninth, beating the Diamondbacks 3-2 for their ninth consecutive victory.

At this point, it sure looks like Matt Williams is drawing them up this way, going for maximum drama at the expense of everyone’s blood pressure.

“No, no. Not even close,” the rookie manager insisted. “That’s not the way you draw them up. But they don’t stop fighting, that’s for sure.”

The Nationals find themselves in this position — winners of nine straight, owners of a 7-game division lead, an NL-best 19 games over .500 — thanks to an elite rotation (starters have given up 10 total earned runs during these nine games) and an opportunistic lineup that thrives in pressure situations late (they’ve scored 27 runs from the sixth inning on during the streak).

They got both Wednesday night, with Tanner Roark tossing seven scoreless innings despite some early command struggles and then Harper, Kevin Frandsen and Anthony Rendon combining to produce the winning rally in the bottom of the ninth.

Harper ignited things with a base hit up the middle (his third of the game) after battling Arizona reliever Evan Marshall to a full count.

“Great at-bat,” Williams said.

After Wilson Ramos struck out on three pitches, Frandsen sent a sharp grounder up the middle, just past Aaron Hill’s diving attempt. Harper, seeing the ball trickle into shallow center field, never broke stride and wound up on third base without drawing a throw.

That brought a familiar face to the plate in an unfamiliar role. Rendon was supposed to have the night off after 62 consecutive starts at either second or third base, but here was the 24-year-old being asked to pinch-hit for the first time this season, with the game on the line.

Rendon had spent the evening shadowing Scott Hairston, watching how the veteran bench player prepared for the possibility of late action.

“I followed Scotty throughout the whole game pretty much,” Rendon said. “I was like: ‘Alright, what do I do? Do I do this? Do I do that?'”

Rendon also remembered advice he got earlier this summer from former teammate Greg Dobbs, a pinch-hitting specialist for many years.

“He said to just get up like it;s your first at-bat of game. That’s what Dobbs told me,” Rendon said. “And that’s what I actually remembered from earlier in the year. So I was like: ‘Alright, I’m going to go up like it’s my first at-bat of the game and go up there and try to barrel the ball like I always do.'”

Rendon took ball one from Marshall, then turned on the next pitch. The ball was scorched down the third-base line, giving Harper a leisurely stroll home with the winning run while everyone else mobbed Rendon near first base, impressed (but not surprised) by his latest offensive exploits.

“A lot of guys around here will sing his praises all the time, because he is so levelheaded,” Frandsen said. “For him to finally get a day off today, you’d never know, because he was out there doing everything, coming off the bench. There’s one thing I think he was born to do, and it’s hit.”

And there appears to be one thing these Nationals know how to do right now: Win ballgames, no matter how much drama it requires.

“For me, it’s just a very good ethic that these guys have,” Williams said, who with one more win Thursday would have to make good on his pledge to break out his old Babe Ruth impersonation. “They believe in each other. They believe that we can stay in a game, that we can win a game, that we’re never out of a game. That’s a trait that you can’t force on folks. They get that amongst themselves in that clubhouse, and it’s enjoyable to watch. Sometimes it’s not a whole lot of fun, but it’s enjoyable to watch the way they go about it. So I’m proud of them.”

Braves sign Bud Norris to one-year contract

Bud Norris

Bud Norris has found a home for his attempt at a bounceback season, signing a one-year deal with the Braves. Jon Heyman of says it’s worth $2.5 million, which is a huge cut from his $8.8 million salary this year.

Norris had established himself as a solid mid-rotation starter from 2009-2014, but had a brutal 2015 season split between the Orioles and Padres with a 6.72 ERA in 83 innings and a late-season move to the bullpen.

In announcing the signing the Braves referred to Norris as a starting pitcher, so joining the rotation for a rebuilding team gives him a chance to get his career back on track with an eye on hitting the open market as a free agent again next offseason. And if he fares well, the Braves could use him to add a prospect or two at the trade deadline.

The Cubs acquire Rex Brothers from the Rockies

Rex Brothers Rockies

The number of people who, if you held a gun to their head, would say that “Rex Brothers” was a game show host and/or local TV news personality from the late 1970s or early 80s is not insignificant. But if you’re a Rockies fan or if spend all day thinking about baseball you know that he’s a reliever who has played in Colorado for the past five years. Now you know him as a reliever for the Cubs:

Brothers — a former Best Shape of His Life All-Star — was pretty good until he hit a brick wall in 2014 and spent most of 2015 in Triple-A. He had something of a bounceback after being called up when rosters expanded in September, but that’s not the sort of thing to excite anyone. He could be useful for the Cubs or just spring training cannon fodder and organizational depth.

Cabrera just turned 18 a couple of weeks ago and pitched a grand total of 14 games in the Dominican Summer League. He’s young and was a $250,000 signee from the Dominican as a 16-year-old so, by definition, he’s a project. Worth giving up Rex Brothers for him if you’re the Rockies, worth risking for some depth in the pen if you’re the Cubs.

Diamondbacks hire Dave Magadan as hitting coach

Dave Magadan Rangers
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Steve Gilbert of reports that the Diamondbacks’ new hitting coach is Dave Magadan, who “parted ways” with the Rangers last month after three years filling the same role in Texas.

Magadan also previously was the Red Sox’s hitting coach and his teams have generally done pretty well, including the Rangers scoring the third-most runs in the league this year.

He’ll have plenty of talent to work with in Arizona, as the Diamondbacks scored the second-most runs in the league led by Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, and David Peralta. Turner Ward, who had been Arizona’s hitting coach, chose to leave the team two weeks ago.

A’s reacquire Jed Lowrie in trade with Astros

Jed Lowrie

Jed Lowrie, who was traded from the Astros to the A’s in 2013 and then re-signed with the Astros as a free agent last offseason, has now been traded back to the A’s.

Lowrie got a three-year, $23 million deal from the Astros with the idea that he’d play shortstop in the first season and then move to another position whenever stud prospect Carlos Correa arrived. Instead he got hurt right away, Correa became an immediate star, and the Astros weren’t so keen on paying him $15 million over the next two seasons.

He could resume playing shortstop for the A’s, who watched rookie Marcus Semien make an absurd number of errors there this year. Lowrie hit .271 with a .738 OPS in two seasons in Oakland, which is similar to his career totals and makes him a solidly above-average offensive shortstop. There’s a decent chance the A’s will have a Lowrie-Lawrie double-play duo in 2016.

In return the Astros get minor leaguer Brendan McCurry, a 24-year-old right-hander who split 2015 between high Single-A and Double-A with a 1.86 ERA and 82/17 K/BB ratio in 63 relief innings. He was a 22nd-round draft pick in 2014 and doesn’t have exceptional raw stuff, but McCurry’s numbers are incredible so far.