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.

Masahiro Tanaka to throw off a mound this weekend

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Earlier this month Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka strained both of his hamstrings while running the bases in an interleague game against the Mets and was sent to the 10-day DL. Today it was announced that the beginning of the end of most DL stints for pitchers — throwing off of a mound — is in Tanaka’s immediate future.

Tanaka is scheduled to throw off a mound Sunday, which will be his first real (well, fake real) pitching action since the June 9th injury. Assuming the session goes well, Tanaka is expected to return to the Yankees’ starting rotation sometime in early-to-mid July. With the All-Star break coming the week of July 16, it would not be hard to imagine the Yankees giving him a few extra days to get right.

Tanaka is 7-2 with a 4.58 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 73/19 in 72.2 innings on the season.