BUST! Kris Bryant has struck out in his first three at bats in his big league debut

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Sorry. Been a lot of hyperbole today, so I figured I could add to it to.

But do know that Kris Bryant has finally played in a major league game. It’s not an official game yet — we’re only in the second inning — but he’s seen pitches thrown in anger in the big leagues.

In the top of the first Bryant got his first defensive chance, turning a 5-4-3 double play and lookin’ pretty good doing it. Then, in the bottom of the first, he came to bat with two outs and Anthony Rizzo on first. The cameras panned to Scott Boras and Bryant’s dad in the crowd and several thousand cameras took several thousand pictures. The Future of the Franchise stepped in against Big Game James Shields.

Bryant saw three pitches from Shields. He swung at all three of them, tipping the first one into the catcher’s glove and whiffing on the next two. Watch the at bat here.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

UPDATE: Second step: his second at bat, this in the fourth. First pitch: watched a called strike. Second: hard foul into the dugout. Third: foul to the same place, again, way ahead of the pitch. Fourth: the first ball he ever took as a major leaguer, in the dirt. Another ball low to make it 2-2. He worked the count full on a fastball outside, then  . . .  struck out swinging on a James Shields changeup, which has been fooling everyone today.

You know, for a guy who can hack a bit and who is likely filled with adrenaline today, going up against James Shields and that changeup is pretty unfair.

UPDATE: The top of the fifth just ended when Bryant made a pretty spiffy diving stab of a liner off the bat of Derek Norris for out number three. The bat is still quiet, but the leather is looking good. Thank goodness Bryant had those extra two weeks in the minors to work on that defense.

UPDATE: Bryant came up again with one out in the bottom of the fifth and runners on second and third, Cubs up 4-2. Swing and a miss on the first pitch. A ball nowhere near the zone. He then laid off a fastball super inside. Then he fouled one back to make it 1-2. Then he struck out on a ball low and away. James Shields is toying with the kid in his debut.

UPDATE: Four his fourth at bat, Bryant came up with two on and two out and grounded into fielder’s choice to third. Hey, contact!

Nationals succeeded by spending money

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Throughout the playoffs, the Nationals have been cast as plucky underdogs fighting and scrapping their way into the World Series. It’s somewhat true: the Nats overcame a dreadful start to the regular season after losing their star outfielder in Bryce Harper, and were heavy underdogs in the NLDS against the Dodgers, who won 13 more games. But the Nationals are not David in a David vs. Goliath story. They’re closer to Goliath because they have flexed their payroll muscle to fill the roster with talented players.

The Nationals didn’t come close to matching the 13-year, $330 million contract the Phillies wound up agreeing to with Harper, instead offering a 10-year, $300 million deal of which about $100 million was deferred. Losing Harper has somewhat defined their 2019. But they did sign starter Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 million contract, and they’re paying Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg $38.33 million and $37.4 million, respectively. As we saw in the NLCS, it was the starting rotation that carried them into the World Series.

Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, will not win the award again this year most likely, but he once again ranked among the game’s best pitchers. During the regular season, he posted a 2.92 ERA with 243 strikeouts across 172 1/3 innings. Strasburg led the league in wins with 18 and innings with 209 while authoring a 3.32 ERA with 251 strikeouts. Corbin continued to impress with a 3.25 ERA and 328 strikeouts in 202 innings. As a unit, the Nationals’ 3.53 ERA from starting pitchers ranked second-best in baseball behind the Dodgers. Sounds about right for a rotation collectively earning about $100 million.

We — the royal we — have been quick to point out when an uncommon strategy works, like the Cubs’ and Astros’ rebuilding strategies before they came in vogue or the Rays’ use of the “opener.” It’s only fair to point out that a time-tested strategy, spending money on good baseball players, also works. The Nationals’ current payroll of about $204.5 million is third-highest in baseball, according to USA TODAY.

In September, the Nationals’ NL East rival Phillies were reported by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal to have curtailed efforts to compete for a Wild Card because of a lack of certainty. The front office didn’t want to invest significant resources into grabbing a lowly Wild Card only to have to match up with the behemoth Dodgers in the NLDS. But that’s exactly what the Nationals did. The Nationals also swept the slumping Phillies in a five-game series September 23-26.

The Phillies aren’t alone. We’ve seen in the last few offseasons that teams have become loath to invest in free agents, particularly ones 30 and older. Even Scherzer took notice. Asked about the Nationals’ collective age, Scherzer said via The Athletic’s Rustin Dodd, “It just seems everybody wants younger and younger players. And everybody wants to forget about all the old guys. We see it in free agency, we’re not dumb. And the fact (is) we’re the oldest team and we won the National League.”

Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, and Josh Donaldson will highlight the upcoming free agent class. They could be joined by Strasburg, Aroldis Chapman, and J.D. Martinez if they exercise the opt-out clauses in their contracts. In the cases of Cole and Rendon, at least two-thirds of the league should be actively pursuing them but if the past few years are any indication, the actual interest will be muted and they won’t end up signing until after the new year. Front offices have continued to blindly recite the phrase “aging curve” while pointing at the Rays in an effort to scale back payroll. The Nationals, meanwhile, are putting the “money” back in Moneyball and they might win a championship because of it.