The Nationals have lost six straight, eight of ten and are now under .500

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Back in March the Nationals were everyone’s favorites. They had just signed Max Scherzer to a mega deal which put him alongside Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, and Gio Gonzalez as perhaps the best rotation in baseball. They had a core of guys with both speed and defensive bonafides in Anthony Rendon, Denard Span, Ian Desmond. They had Jayson Werth. They had a healthy Bryce Harper and a healthy Ryan Zimmerman.

They also had, in terms of competition, a Braves team which decided to punt the year and rebuild, a Phillies team which looked like a disaster and Mets and Marlins teams which, while on the upswing, didn’t figure to match the firepower of the Washington Nationals. Simply put, no one in their right mind did anything but pick the Nationals to win the East and win it easily. And they still may win the NL East. There’s a month and a half of baseball to go and anything can happen.

Right now, however, they are looking terrible. They’ve lost six in a row, eight of ten and find themselves at 58-59, four and a half games back of the Mets. Who, by the way, also got swept this weekend, which means the Nats lost a prime opportunity to make up ground. Or, if you’re more of an optimist, saved the Nats from being buried even deeper than they are.

Also, if you’re optimistic, you can say that it was gonna be an ugly road trip to begin with. Yes, they’re 1-6 on the west coast swing and were just shut out for the third time in six games, but those three shutouts came at the hands of Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner, who are probably the three best pitchers in the game. And, after an off-day today, they do get to play the Rockies who are no great shakes. We’ll just forget for a moment that the Nats dropped two of three to the Rockies at home last week.

No matter how you want to spin it, the numbers don’t lie and the numbers are pretty ugly. The Nats are 10-20 since the All-Star break. While four and a half games don’t seem like an insurmountable deficit, it becomes harder and harder the longer time goes on. If the Mets play at their current pace the rest of the way the Nats have to go something like 12-games over .500 for the remainder of the season to beat ’em out. And, because the wild card deficit is so big — nine and a half games — there is no margin for error here. Second place means watching the playoffs from home.

Time to get moving, Nats. You have a lot of expectations to live up to and not a lot of time left to do it.

Jeffrey Springs, Rays agree to $31 million, 4-year contract

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Left-hander Jeffrey Springs became the first of the 33 players who exchanged proposed arbitration salaries with their teams to reach a deal, agreeing Wednesday to a $31 million, four-year contract with the Tampa Bay Rays that could be worth $65.75 million over five seasons.

The 30-year old was among seven Rays who swapped arbitration figures with the team on Jan. 13. He began last season in the bullpen, transitioned to the starting rotation in May and finished 9-5 with a 2.46 ERA in 33 appearances, including 25 starts. He is 14-6 with a 2.70 ERA in 76 outings – 51 of them in relief – since he was acquired from Boston in February 2021.

Springs gets $4 million this year, $5.25 million in 2024 and $10.5 million in each of the following two seasons. Tampa Bay has a $15 million option for 2027 with a $750,000 buyout.

The 2025 and 2026 salaries can escalate by up to $3.75 million each based on innings in 2023-24 combined: $1.5 million for 300, $1 million for 325, $750,000 for 350 and $500,000 for 375. The `25 and ’26 salaries also can escalate based on finish in Cy Young Award voting in `23 and ’24: $2 million for winning, $1.5 million for finishing second through fifth in the voting and $250,000 for finishing sixth through 10th.

Tampa Bay’s option price could escalate based on Cy Young voting in 2025 and 2026: by $2.5 million for winning, $2 million for finishing second through fifth and $500,000 for sixth through 10th.

Springs would get $45.25 million if the option is exercised, $52.75 million with the option and meeting all innings targets and the maximum if he meetings the innings targets and wins two Cy Youngs.

Springs’ ERA last season was the second lowest in franchise history for a pitcher working a minimum of 100 innings. Former Rays ace Blake Snell compiled 1.89 ERA on the way to winning the 2018 AL Cy Young.

In addition to finishing sixth in the AL in ERA, Springs allowed three runs or fewer in 22 of 25 starts and two runs or fewer 17 times. He joined Tampa Bay’s rotation on May 9, gradually increasing his workload over his next six appearances. Springs was 6-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 14 starts after the All-Star break.

Arbitration hearings start next week and the Rays remain with the most players scheduled to appear before three-person panels.

Springs had asked for a raise from $947,500 to $3.55 million and had been offered $2.7 million. Tampa remains scheduled for hearings with right-handers Jason Adam, Pete Fairbanks and Ryan Thompson, left-hander Colin Poche, third baseman Yandy Diaz and outfielder Harold Ramirez.

Tampa Bay also agreed minor league contacts with catcher Gavin Collins and right-hander Jaime Schultz, who will report to major league spring training.

Infielder Austin Shenton and pitchers Anthony Molina and Joe LaSorsa also were invited to big league spring training.