Felix Hernandez reaches 200 strikeouts for a sixth consecutive season

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Felix Hernandez stands alone. With a second-inning strikeout of Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, the Mariners’ starter became the only pitcher to strike out at least 200 batters in each of the last six seasons. Tigers starter Justin Verlander entered the season with five in a row of his own, but as he currently stands at 118 strikeouts and hasn’t pitched in two weeks, Hernandez will be by himself when the season is over.

Hernandez was rolling until he allowed a sixth-inning, three-run home run to Yoenis Cespedes. It marks the first time he’s given up three-plus runs in a start since May 12. He left with two outs in the sixth, relieved by Brandon Maurer.

Hernandez came into tonight’s start in Boston with a league-leading 1.99 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP. While arguments can be made for some other starters, Hernandez appears to be the current favorite to take home the American League Cy Young award when the season ends. If he does, he’ll have two on his mantle.

Chris Sale of the White Sox is closest to Hernandez in ERA at 2.12, but has pitched 50 fewer innings and it will be close to 60 when tonight’s games are over. Corey Kluber is next in ERA at 2.46, but that’s about a half-run per nine innings ahead of Hernandez. Garrett Richards has the next-best ERA, but he just suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Mark Lerner says Nationals can’t afford both Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg

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The defending champion Washington Nationals may have to replace two star players in third baseman Anthony Rendon and starter Stephen Strasburg as both are free agents. Both are represented by agent Scott Boras and both are expected to command lucrative contracts. As a result, Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner said the club can’t afford to bring back both players, Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington reports.

Lerner told Donald Dell in an interview, “We really can only afford to have one of those two guys. They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with.”

As Dybas notes, there are myriad reasons why Lerner would say this publicly. If Lerner had instead said, “Yeah, we’re filthy stinking rich, especially coming off of a World Series win. We could afford to get every free agent if we wanted to,” then the Nationals would have no leverage in negotiations. Creating artificial scarcity increases the Nationals’ leverage when negotiating with Boras and his clients. And as Dybas also points out, Lerner’s statement also prepares fans for an unsatisfactory outcome not unlike when the club took itself out of the running to bring back outfielder Bryce Harper earlier this year. This not to say Lerner’s statement is justified; it’s just how things work in the current system.

Lerner also defended the Nationals’ approach to free agency. He said, “They think you’re really back there printing money and it’s whoever goes to the highest bidder. It’s not that way at all. You give these fellas — there’s a negotiation that goes on, but…We’ve been pretty successful in free agency over time. You’re not going to get everybody. Certain players may want to go home, closer to where their home is. You never know the reason why people move on. But, we’ve been very successful. Probably one of the most successful teams in free agency the last 10 years. We’re very proud of our record. But, again, I think people have to realize, it’s not all up to us.”

It is true that the Nationals have been one of the most active teams in free agency in recent years. In a league that has otherwise done the opposite, they deserve some credit for that. But the Nationals are also keenly aware of the competitive balance tax threshold, which teams use as a de facto salary cap. They don’t have to, but they choose to because it’s a convenient structure that allows them to limit expenditures.

At the end of the day, it’s baseball’s financial structure that is rotten. It forces constant misinformation out of everyone’s mouths so as to protect their financial interests and leverage, and incentivizes teams to value profits above all. In a perfect world, MLB team owners wouldn’t need to cry poor every offseason, but we don’t live in such a world.