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.

Brewers on the brink of their first pennant in 36 years

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A series that had swung back and forth twice already swung back in Milwaukee’s favor last night with a convincing win. That it was convincing — it was not at all close after the second inning — is a key factor heading into today, as Craig Counsell has his bullpen set up nicely to shorten the game if his Brewers can get an early lead.

Josh Hader — who, if you are unaware, has not allowed a run and has struck out 12 batters in seven innings of postseason work — did not pitch yesterday or in Game 5. As such, he’s had three full days off. Given that this is a win or go home day and, if they win, he’s guaranteed two more days off before the World Series, he’s good for two innings and could very well go for three. That’s not what you want if you’re the Dodgers.

But it gets worse. Jeremy Jeffress pitched last night but it was only one pretty easy inning, so he could go two if he has to. Corey Knebel pitched an inning and two-thirds but he could probably give Counsell an inning of work if need be. Joakim Soria didn’t pitch at all yesterday. Between those guys and the less important relievers, all of whom save Brandon Woodruff are all pretty fresh, the Dodgers aren’t going to have any easy marks.

But the thing is: Counsell may not need to go that deep given that Jhoulys Chacin, their best starter of the postseason, gets the start. So, yes, in light of that, you have to like the Brewers’ chances tonight, and that’s before you realize that the home crowd is going to be louder than hell.

Not that the Dodgers are going to roll over — it’ll be all hands on deck for them with every pitcher except for Hyun-Jim Ryu available, you figure — but if they’re going to repeat as NL champs, they’re going to have to earn it either by bloodying Chacin’s nose early and neutralizing the threat of facing Hader and company with a lead, or by marching through the teeth of the Brewers bullpen and coming out alive on the other side.
NLCS Game 6

Dodgers vs. Brewers
Ballpark: Miller Park
Time: 8:09 PM Eastern
TV: FS1
Pitchers:  Walker Buehler vs. Jhoulys Chacin
Breakdown:

The most important part of this breakdown — the stuff about the Brewers’ pen — has already been said and, I presume anyway, the starters here will have the shortest of leashes. Chacin’s will be longer, as he has not allowed a run over 10 and a third innings in his first two postseason starts, making him the Brewers’ defacto ace. Every inning he goes tonight makes things much, much harder for the Dodgers once he’s gone as it means Milwaukee will be able to rely more and more on Hader and Jeffress, so the Dodgers had best get to him early.

Buehler has come up weak so far this postseason, having allowed nine runs in 12 innings, including surrendering four runs on six hits over seven innings in Milwaukee’s Game 3 victory. Still, it’s not hard to remember how dominating he was in the second half of the season. If that Buehler shows up and can keep things close, we’ll have a ballgame. If L.A. finds itself in an early hole once again, theirs will be the tallest of orders.