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Nationals need Craig Kimbrel

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Every team needs Craig Kimbrel, frankly. But I’m watching the late innings of Wednesday afternoon’s series finale between the Phillies and Nationals. The Nats had a comfortable 6-2 lead that completely disappeared, mostly thanks to the bullpen. The game is now tied 8-8.

Lefty Tony Sipp started the top of the eighth inning for the Nationals with a 6-4 lead. He gave up a single to Odúbel Herrera, then struck out Andrew Knapp. Nationals manager Dave Martinez opted to bring in right-hander Trevor Rosenthal to pitch to Maikel Franco, who has been red-hot to start the year. Rosenthal walked Franco, then walked Scott Kingery to load the bases for Andrew McCutchen. Martinez had seen enough. He lifted Rosenthal to bring in fellow newcomer Kyle Barraclough. McCutchen worked a 2-2 count before drilling a bases-clearing double to deep center field, allowing the Phillies to take a 7-6 lead. Jean Segura added an insurance run with a bloop single to left field to make it 8-6.

It had only been four games, but the Nationals’ bullpen entered Wednesday’s action with a league-worst 12.71 ERA. 16 runs allowed (all earned) on 23 hits and six walks with 10 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings. Hilariously, Wednesday’s effort by the bullpen actually lowered the collective ERA to 11.74 — that’s how bad they have been.

MASN’s Pete Kerzel reported last month that the Nationals were unwilling to exceed the luxury tax (also known as the competitive balance tax) threshold of $206 million. According to Cot’s Contracts, the Nationals currently sit about $8.7 million under the CBT. For those that don’t know, teams that go above the CBT are taxed 20 percent for each dollar above. The penalty increases for repeat offenses on a year-to-year basis. Two consecutive years above the CBT incurs a 30 percent penalty while three straight seasons incurs a 50 percent penalty.

Let’s say the Nationals were to sign Kimbrel to a three-year, $60 million deal. For CBT purposes, the average annual value (AAV) is considered, so this would put the Nationals $11.3 million above the CBT. They were above the CBT in each of the last three seasons as well, so they would incur a 50 percent penalty on $11.3 million, or $5.65 million. That would effectively make the Nationals’ cost to sign Kimbrel, in this hypothetical scenario, $65.65 million. For a team owned by Ted Lerner, with a net worth of about $5 billion, and for a franchise valued by Forbes at $1.675 billion, the difference is a drop in the bucket. For their investment, their team — considered by many to still be the favorites in the NL East even without Bryce Harper — would address a legitimate area of concern.

This isn’t just an irrational reaction to a small sample size. The bullpen was an obvious weakness going into the season. Beyond closer Sean Doolittle, who is terrific, the corps of Rosenthal, Barraclough, Sipp, Justin Miller, Matt Grace, and Wander Suero was anything but a sure thing. Rosenthal missed all of 2018 due to Tommy John surgery. The Nationals picked him up on the relative cheap — one-year, $6 million — because of this. Similarly, the Nationals waited out the market to pick up Sipp on the cheap (one year, $2.5 million). Sipp was dominant in 38 2/3 innings for the Astros last year but combined for a 5.33 ERA in 2016-17. Barraclough, acquired from the Marlins, entered the season with a 14.3 percent walk rate. The only reliever with a higher walk rate since 2015 is the Rangers’ José Leclerc (15.8%). Miller entered the year with a career 4.48 ERA. Grace had struck out only 97 batters in 129 2/3 innings coming into 2019. Suero is in only his second season.

Kimbrel, one of the greatest closers of all time, has somehow made it into April unsigned. He would bolster an otherwise mediocre bullpen, plugging up a leak that threatens to cost the Nationals wins and ground in a highly competitive NL East division.

Yankees place Aaron Judge (strained calf) on IL

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NEW YORK — Yankees star Aaron Judge was placed on the injured list with a right calf strain before Friday night’s game against Boston and manager Aaron Boone is optimistic the outfielder will not miss significant time.

The move was retroactive to Wednesday and Boone described the strain as mild after an MRI revealed the injury. To replace Judge on the roster, Thairo Estrada was recalled from the Yankees’ alternate site in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Judge began Friday leading the majors with nine homers and tied with Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon for the major league lead with 20 RBIs.

“It’s something that I think he really wants to try and work through here and kind of wants to be out here and feels like it’s a day-to-day thing which it may very well be, but I just think obviously it goes without saying how important a player Aaron is to us,” Boone said.

Boone had said last weekend’s series on the artificial turf in Tampa Bay took its toll on the 6-foot-7 outfielder.

Judge joined Giancarlo Stanton as the second Yankees slugger to land on the injured list this. Stanton was placed on the IL with a strained hamstring after getting hurt in the second game of last Saturday’s doubleheader.

“We’ve lost two MVP-caliber players,” Boone said. “Obviously that is a blow, especially two guys that playing well as they are right now.”

Judge was pulled for a pinch hitter during Tuesday night’s win over Atlanta and didn’t play Wednesday. The Yankees were off Thursday.

The 28-year-old All-Star missed time during July’s training camp because of a stiff neck.

The 2017 AL Rookie of the Year hit 27 homers in each of the last two seasons, both of them interrupted by injuries. His right wrist was broken when he was hit by a pitch in 2018 and he went on the injured list for two months last year with a left oblique strain.

Judge was diagnosed with a broken rib in March and would not have been ready for the season opener if the season began as scheduled on March 26.