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Even Nationals starters faltering out of bullpen

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The Nationals’ bullpen was really, really bad during the regular season. Going by ERA, only the Orioles had a worse bullpen, 5.79 to 5.68. It was, to put it succinctly, a glaring issue for the Nationals heading into the postseason.

In the National League wild card game, manager Davey Martinez decided to work around leaning on his bullpen by relying on his starters. After Max Scherzer coughed up three runs in five innings against the Brewers, Stephen Strasburg entered the game in relief for the first time in his career. It worked, as he scattered two hits with no walks and four strikeouts over three innings of work. Daniel Hudson, who went to the Nationals from the Blue Jays at the trade deadline, picked up the save with a scoreless ninth after some heroics by Juan Soto in the previous inning.

The Nationals’ bullpen turned a manageable 2-0 deficit versus the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS into a 6-0 deficit as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow four runs over two innings. In Game 2, after Strasburg held the Dodgers to one run over six innings, Martinez brought in closer Sean Doolittle for the seventh inning. Doolittle gave up a solo homer before handing the ball to Max Scherzer, who struck out all three batters he faced in the eighth. Hudson came on in the ninth, loaded the bases with two outs, and managed to escape by striking out Corey Seager to end the game.

Martinez continued to lean on his starters in Game 3 but it backfired big time. Aníbal Sánchez was terrific over five innings, limiting the Dodgers to one run while striking out nine. Martinez called on lefty Patrick Corbin, pitching on three days’ rest, to start the sixth inning in relief given the plethora of lefties at the top of the Dodgers’ lineup. It did not work out. Corbin allowed a leadoff single to Cody Bellinger, but got back-to-back strikeouts of Seager and A.J. Pollock. The inning continued, however, when pinch-hitter David Freese poked a single into right field. Russell Martin then plated two runs with a double to deep left-center field, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead.

Corbin walked Chris Taylor in what was becoming an interminable sixth inning. Kiké Hernández, pinch-hitting for Pederson, drilled a double to left field to bring home two more runs, making it 5-2. Corbin intentionally walked Max Muncy, who homered in the fifth inning, before being mercifully removed from the game in favor of Wander Suero. The Dodgers continued to swing hot bats as Justin Turner crushed a Suero cutter over the bullpen in left-center field for a three-run homer, bolstering the Dodgers’ lead to 8-2.

It seems that even Nationals starters aren’t immune to the disease that seems to be pitching out of their bullpen. After a seven-run sixth inning, the Dodgers look poised to take a 2-1 series lead in the NLDS. The Nationals will need to have a big turnaround to avoid being pushed out of the Division Series for the fifth time in as many tries since 2012.

Major League Baseball threatens to walk away from Minor League Baseball entirely

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The war between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball escalated significantly last night, with Minor League Baseball releasing a memo accusing Major League Baseball of “repeatedly and inaccurately” describing the former’s stance in negotiations and Major League Baseball responding by threatening to cut ties with Minor League Baseball entirely.

As you’re no doubt aware, negotiations of the next, 10-year Professional Baseball Agreement, which governs the relationship between the big leagues and the minors — and which is set to expire following the 2020 season — have turned acrimonious. Whereas past negotiations have been quick and uncontroversial, this time Major League Baseball presented Minor League Baseball with a plan to essentially contract 42 minor league baseball teams by eliminating their major league affiliation while demanding that Minor League Baseball undertake far more of the financial burden of player development which is normally the responsibility of the majors.

That plan became public in October when Baseball America reported on it, after which elected officials such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren began weighing in on the side of Minor League Baseball. Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball were not happy with all of that and, on Wednesday, Manfred bashed Minor League Baseball for taking the negotiations public and accused Minor League Baseball of intransigence, saying the minors had assumed a “take it or leave it” negotiating stance.

Last night Minor League Baseball bashed back in the form of a four-page public memo countering Manfred’s claims, with point-point-by-point rebuttals of Major League Baseball’s talking points on various matters ranging from stadium facilities, team travel, and player health and welfare. You can read the memo in this Twitter thread from Josh Norris of Baseball America.

Major League Baseball responded with its own public statement last night. But rather than publicly rebut Minor League Baseball’s claims, it threatened to simply drop any agreement with Minor League Baseball and, presumably start its own minor league system bypassing MiLB entirely:

“If the National Association [of Minor League Clubs] has an interest in an agreement with Major League Baseball, it must address the very significant issues with the current system at the bargaining table. Otherwise, MLB clubs will be free to affiliate with any minor league team or potential team in the United States, including independent league teams and cities which are not permitted to compete for an affiliate under the current agreement.”

So, in the space of about 48 hours, Manfred has gone from being angry at the existence of public negotiations to negotiating in public, angrily.

As for Minor League Baseball going public itself, one Minor League Baseball owner’s comments to the Los Angeles Times seems to sum up the thinking pretty well:

“Rob is attempting to decimate the industry, destroy baseball in communities and eliminate thousands of jobs, and he’s upset that the owners of the teams have gone public with that information in an effort to save their teams. That’s rich.”

Things, it seems, are going to get far worse before they get better. If, in fact, they do get better.