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.

Little things killed the Dodgers in Game 1

Associated Press
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There’s an old proverb that explains how a very small thing can lead to a big, loss. It goes like this:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
for want of a shoe the horse was lost,
for want of a horse the knight was lost,
for want of a knight the battle was lost,
for want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
So a kingdom was lost . . . all for want of a nail.

The Dodgers did not lose it all tonight — they still have as many of six battles left to save the kingdom — but a series of very small things caused them to lose the battle that was Game 1 of the 2018 World Series.

Sure, You can look at the box score here, see that the Red Sox won 8-4 in a game which was broken wide open with a three-run homer and say that Boston’s win was a definitive one. And, to be clear, it was a definitive one in every way that mattered. The Red Sox beat Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, won by four and now lead the series 1-0.

But if you wanted to, you could look at Game 1 in a slightly different way and see how some very, very small things caused this one to get away from the Dodgers. Small things that, but for a couple of inches here or there and a bit more concentration on their part, could’ve broken differently and could’ve led to a very different outcome.

For example, one could look at the first inning, when the Red Sox took a 2-0 lead and wonder what might’ve happened if David Freese had caught the foul ball off of Mookie Betts‘ bat that, somehow, eluded him despite it remaining well within play. Instead, it kept Betts alive, allowed him to reach base, allowed him to steal second and, eventually, allowed him to score on Andrew Benintendi‘s single to make it a 1-0 game.

One can also ask what might’ve happened if Yasiel Puig had not made an ill-advised throw home on Benintendi’s hit, allowing Benintendi to take second. If Puig had simply thought for half a second, realized he had no shot at Betts and hit the cutoff man, Benintendi stays at first and does not score on J.D. Martinez‘s single. A small thing — a matter of execution that all outfielders work on from the first day of spring training — but a thing which Puig just neglected to do properly. Put those together and one missed foul ball and one brain lock turned what could’ve been a zero run first inning into a two-run first inning for the Red Sox.

One could also look at the bottom of the third inning when, with one on and one out Steven Pearce hit into what was initially called an inning-ending double play. Replay review got the call right — Pearce beat the throw to first — but there were just a few inches separating the would-be twin-killing from the was-actually fielder’s choice which kept the inning alive. A long J.D. Martinez double to the triangle in left-center gave the Red Sox their third run of the game and their third run that, had the Dodgers executed more crisply and if an inch or two was gained here or there, would not have scored.

One could look at the top of the fifth, when the Dodgers put two runners on, chasing Chris Sale from the game and bringing in Matt Barnes. Freese came up at that point, a righty facing a righty. Throughout the playoffs, Dave Roberts would pinch hit Max Muncy for Freese in this situation but, for whatever reason, Roberts let Freese hit. He promptly struck out. Later, in the seventh, Muncy would pinch hit when a righty was called in and he would smack a solid single to right-center. If he had been in and done that in the fifth, would the Dodgers have scored more than the one run they actually scored that inning? Dave Roberts will be asking himself that one for a while, I presume.

One could look at the bottom of the fifth, when Ryan Madson came in in relief of Clayton Kershaw. Madson would load the bases, but then strike J.D. Martinez out on three pitches before inducing a grounder to short from Xander Bogaerts. 6 . . 4 . . . nope, just a bit slow once again. Instead of an inning-ending double play which would’ve left things tied at three entering the sixth, Mookie Betts scored and then Andrew Benintendi would score on a Rafael Devers single to make it a 5-3 game. Two more runners that, but for mere inches, would not have crossed home plate.

That takes us to the bottom of the seventh, which featured Eduardo Nunez‘s big pinch-hit three-run homer. Is it even worth noting at this point that the inning began with Joc Pederson, substituted into the game the previous inning, just barely missing a fly ball down the left field line that went as a double but just as easily could’ve been caught? Once that dinger went over the Green Monster it didn’t really matter, but let the record reflect that it could’ve been a two-run shot instead of a three-run shot.

The Red Sox won this game by four runs, but mere inches gave them three or four of those runs. A couple of mental mistakes by the Dodgers gave them at least another and, perhaps, cost the Dodgers a run or two of their own.

None of which is to take a thing away from the Red Sox. One cannot assume that which did not happen would, in fact, happen, and many plays in baseball are decided by mere inches. This exercise was not aimed at discounting the Red Sox’ victory. They hit Clayton Kershaw pretty hard, managed clutch hits on numerous occasions and executed on both offense and defense while getting some dominating relief work in a game that could’ve very easily gotten away from them early thanks to a less-than-sharp Chris Sale. They won this game and won it convincingly.

But the Dodgers had their chances. They had their chances and they blew them, all for want of a nail, as it were. And that had to make them feel pretty dang bad as they left the field tonight.