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Report: Bullpen help is Nationals’ ‘top priority’ at trade deadline

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MLB.com’s Bill Ladson, quoting an unnamed source, reports that bullpen help is the Nationals’ “top priority” heading into the upcoming August 1 non-waiver trade deadline. In particular, the Nats have their eyes on the Yankees’ Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman.

As Craig noted earlier today, the Yankees’ front office is split as to whether to attempt to fight for a playoff spot or rebuild for future years. Owner Hal Steinbrenner and president Randy Levine still think the Yankees are contenders, while Brian Cashman and the club’s entire baseball operations department are convinced the club should sell.

The Nationals have the third-best bullpen ERA in baseball at 3.11. However, closer Jonathan Papelbon has been good but not dominant. Adding a lights out reliever like Miller or Chapman would certainly make an impact.

Miller, 31, will open the second half with a 1.37 ERA and a 69/6 K/BB ratio in 39 1/3 innings. He’s owed the remainder of his $9 million salary for this season as well as $9 million in each of the next two seasons.

Chapman, 28, served a 30-game suspension starting at the beginning of the season due to an offseason domestic violence incident. Thus far, he’s compiled 17 saves with a 2.49 ERA and a 38/6 K/BB ratio in 25 1/3 innings. Chapman is owed the remainder of his $11.325 million salary for the 2016 season and can become a free agent after the season.

Umpire Cory Blaser made two atrocious calls in the top of the 11th inning

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The Astros walked off 3-2 winners in the bottom of the 11th inning of ALCS Game 2 against the Yankees. Carlos Correa struck the winning blow, sending a first-pitch fastball from J.A. Happ over the fence in right field at Minute Maid Park, ending nearly five hours of baseball on Sunday night.

Correa’s heroics were precipitated by two highly questionable calls by home plate umpire Cory Blaser in the top half of the 11th.

Astros reliever Joe Smith walked Edwin Encarnación with two outs, prompting manager A.J. Hinch to bring in Ryan Pressly. Pressly, however, served up a single to left field to Brett Gardner, putting runners on first and second with two outs. Hinch again came out to the mound, this time bringing Josh James to face power-hitting catcher Gary Sánchez.

James and Sánchez had an epic battle. Sánchez fell behind 0-2 on a couple of foul balls, proceeded to foul off five of the next six pitches. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sánchez appeared to swing and miss at an 87 MPH slider in the dirt for strike three and the final out of the inning. However, Blaser ruled that Sánchez tipped the ball, extending the at-bat. Replays showed clearly that Sánchez did not make contact at all with the pitch. James then threw a 99 MPH fastball several inches off the plate outside that Blaser called for strike three. Sánchez, who shouldn’t have seen a 10th pitch, was upset at what appeared to be a make-up call.

The rest, as they say, is history. One pitch later, the Astros evened up the ALCS at one game apiece. Obviously, Blaser’s mistakes in a way cancel each other out, and neither of them caused Happ to throw a poorly located fastball to Correa. It is postseason baseball, however, and umpires are as much under the microscope as the players and managers. Those were two particularly atrocious judgments by Blaser.