Khris Davis
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Khris Davis, Athletics avoid arbitration with one-year, $16.5 million deal

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Perennial 40-home run hitter Khris Davis avoided arbitration with the Athletics on Friday, per an official announcement from the team. This was Davis’ third and last year of arbitration-eligibility. He’ll make $16.5 million in a one-year pact with the club.

The 31-year-old designated hitter is coming off of one of the most productive seasons of his career to date. He finished eighth in AL MVP voting after slashing .247/.326/.549 in 2018 with a league-best 48 home runs, 123 RBI, an .874 OPS and 2.6 fWAR across 654 plate appearances. While there was some chatter about an extension for the hot-hitting Davis, the two sides have plenty of time to work out the particulars of a long-term deal as he’s not scheduled to enter free agency until the conclusion of the 2019 season.

The A’s also agreed to terms with outfielder Mark Canha ($2.05M), left-hander Sean Manaea (terms not available), and shortstops Jurickson Profar ($3.6M) and Marcus Semien ($5.9M) ahead of Friday’s deadline. According to MLB.com’s Jane Lee, right-handed closer Blake Treinen is expected to go to arbitration with the team.

Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

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In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.