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A familiar refrain for the Nationals: Close, but no cigar


The Nationals have been in the postseason in four out of the last six years. They still have yet to win a playoff series. They officially became the Nationals (nee Expos) in 2005, but missed the playoffs up until 2012. After each playoff exit, the club’s manager faced scrutiny. Davey Johnson lasted just one more season after losing in 2012. Matt Williams had one more year after the Nats lost in 2014. Dusty Baker was at the helm each of the last two seasons in which they failed in the playoffs and he’ll be under the microscope for the next week or so in the aftermath of the NLDS.

Nationals fans and detractors alike can pinpoint specific moments of abject failure. In 2012, it was closer Drew Storen giving up two two-run singles to the Cardinals in the ninth inning, erasing a two-run lead and creating a two-run deficit. In 2014, it was Joe Panik scoring the go-ahead run in the seventh inning on an Aaron Barrett wild pitch. In 2016, it was the Nationals’ inability to solve closer Clayton Kershawwhat? — after he relieved Kenley Jansen in the ninth. This time, it was Jose Lobaton straying just a bit too far from the first base bag and being nabbed on a microscopic infraction, popping his foot off the first base bag for a microsecond.

Three of the four playoff series the Nationals have played over the last six years have gone to a decisive fifth game. The Nats have been plenty competitive and they have been able to hang with any team, but a combination of bad luck, bad timing, and bad execution have led to zero playoff series wins. For example, the run differential for the Nationals and Giants in the 2014 NLDS was zero, each team scored nine runs. In the 2016 NLDS, the Nationals outscored the Dodgers 24-19. This year, the Nationals outscored the Cubs 20-17 in the NLDS.

The Nationals made many mistakes in Game 5 of the NLDS on Thursday evening. But so, too, did the Cubs. The Cubs had slightly better timing and as such have earned the right to play in the NLCS. One has to feel bad for Nationals fans, who have come so close to tasting playoff success in recent years but have never actually gotten there. Branch Rickey once said that “baseball is a game of inches” and no team knows that better than the Nationals.

MLBPA: MLB’s ‘demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected’

Rob Manfred and Tony Clark
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On Thursday evening, the Major League Baseball Players Association released a statement regarding ongoing negotiations between the owners and the union. The two sides continue to hash out details concerning a 2020 season. The owners want a shorter season, around 50 games. The union recently proposed a 114-game season that also offered the possibility of salary deferrals.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said that the union held a conference call that included the Executive Board and MLBPA player leaders. They “resoundingly rejected” the league’s “demand for additional concessions.”

The full statement:

In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, Players want nothing more than to get back to work and provide baseball fans with the game we all love. But we cannot do this alone.

Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless Players negotiate salary concessions. The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in Player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon.

This threat came in response to an Association proposal aimed at charting a path forward. Among other things, Players proposed more games, two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals in the event of a 2020 playoff cancellation, and the exploration of additional jewel events and broadcast enhancements aimed at creatively bringing our Players to the fans while simultaneously increasing the value of our product. Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless Players agree to further salary reductions.

Earlier today we held a conference call of the Association’s Executive Board and several other MLBPA Player leaders. The overwhelming consensus of the Board is that Players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well. The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.

Important work remains to be done in order to safely resume the season. We stand ready to complete that work and look forward to getting back on the field.

As per the current agreement signed in March, if there is a 2020 season, players will be paid on a prorated basis. Thus, fewer games means the players get paid less and the owners save more. MLB has threatened to unilaterally set a 2020 season in motion if the two sides cannot come to terms. It should come as no surprise that the union has responded strongly on both fronts.

There have been varying reports in recent days over the confidence in a 2020 season happening. The MLBPA’s statement tonight doesn’t move the needle any; it simply affirms that the union remains steadfast in its goal to avoid a second significant cut in salaries.

As I see it, the ball is in the owners’ court. The owners can strongarm the players into a short season, saving money but significantly increasing the odds of a big fight in upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Or the owners can eat more of a financial loss, agreeing to a longer season than they feel is comfortable. The latter would have the double benefit of not damaging overall perception of the sport and would not disrupt labor peace going forward.

The MLBPA statement included a declaration that the players are “ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions.” If there is no 2020 season, we will have only the owners to blame, not the players.

Update: Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty, who has been quite vocal on social media about these negotiations, chimed in: