Can Nationals repeat as champions in 2020?

38 Comments

The Nationals will have three and a half months or so to bask in the glory of winning their first championship in franchise history before getting back to work with the opening of Spring Training. In many ways, the Nationals’ 2019 run was improbable. They were 19-31 on May 23. Manager Dave Martinez was believed to be on the hot seat. Things really couldn’t have gone worse for the Nationals.

From May 24 through the end of the regular season, the Nationals went 74-38, securing home field advantage in the NL Wild Card game against the Brewers. They won, to advance into the NLDS against the Dodgers. Somehow, they upset the heavily-favored Dodgers to win the NLDS in five games. They ran right through the Cardinals in the NLCS with a clean sweep, but found the odds against them once again versus the Astros, who won 107 games during the regular season. The Nationals won the first two games of the World Series, lost the next three, then bounced back to win the final two games to seal the deal.

Winning a Wild Card only to have to face the Dodgers was so unappetizing that it prevented the Phillies’ front office from doing more to compete down the stretch. Yet for the Nationals, it was no big deal. Of course, it helps to have three ace-caliber starters in Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. It helps to have Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto on offense, too.

And that brings up the million-dollar question: Can the Nationals repeat as champions in 2020? The team stands to lose Rendon to free agency. Strasburg could opt out of his contract to become a free agent as well. Losing both players would be huge blows, and recovering from them might force the front office to wade into bidding wars for the likes of Gerrit Cole, or shell out more cash on a short-term deal for a player like Josh Donaldson. It may require trading prospects to recover the talent lost to free agency as well.

Let’s put into context how good Rendon and Strasburg are. This year, the only qualified third baseman who out-valued Rendon in terms of FanGraphs WAR was the Astros’ Alex Bregman, 8.5 to 7.0. The Athletics’ Matt Chapman was third at 6.1. Over the last three seasons, Rendon holds a narrow lead over Bregman, 19.9 to 19.5. José Ramírez is third at 17.9, followed by Nolan Arenado at 17.4. Rendon hit almost exclusively third in the Nationals’ batting order and played stellar defense at the hot corner.

Strasburg, meanwhile, logged 209 innings during the regular season and won 18 games, both of which led the National League. He crossed the 200-inning plateau for just the second time in his 10-year career. He also posted a 3.32 ERA with 251 strikeouts and 56 walks. According to the ERA retrodictor xFIP, found at FanGraphs, Strasburg was the fourth-best pitcher in baseball behind Cole, teammate Max Scherzer, and Jacob deGrom. Justin Verlander had a 3.18 xFIP. Since Strasburg started pitching regularly in 2012, he also ranks fourth in xFIP among pitchers with at least 500 innings, trailing Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, and Cliff Lee. Strasburg has also been money in the postseason, now holding a 1.46 career postseason ERA in 55 1/3 innings.

Beyond the superstars, the Nationals also stand to lose a handful of crucial bench and bullpen contributors: Brian Dozier, Fernando Rodney, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Gerardo Parra, and Daniel Hudson can all become free agents. Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Eaton, Yan Gomes, and Sean Doolittle all have club options. It stands to reason that not all of them will be picked up. This is a team that could look very different coming into Spring Training in February 2020 than it did winning the World Series at the end of October 2019.

To answer that million-dollar question — can the Nationals repeat in 2020? Of course they can. Will they? They will need to have an explosive offseason in terms of both free agent signings and trades to make up for the talent they could potentially lose. It will be an interesting next four months for the Nationals, that much is certain. For now, they will enjoy the sweet taste of World Series champagne.

Marlins clinch 1st playoff berth since 2003, beat Yanks 4-3

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

NEW YORK (AP) Forced from the field by COVID-19, the Miami Marlins returned with enough force to reach the playoffs for the first time since their 2003 championship.

An NL-worst 57-105 a year ago, they sealed the improbable berth on the field of the team that Miami CEO Derek Jeter and manager Don Mattingly once captained.

“I think this is a good lesson for everyone. It really goes back to the players believing,” Mattingly said Friday night after a 4-3, 10-inning win over the New York Yankees.

Miami will start the playoffs on the road Wednesday, its first postseason game since winning the 2003 World Series as the Florida Marlins, capped by a Game 6 victory in the Bronx over Jeter and his New York teammates at the previous version of Yankee Stadium.

“We play loose. We got nothing to lose. We’re playing with house money.,” said Brandon Kintzler, who got DJ LeMahieu to ground into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded after Jesus Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th. “We are a dangerous team. And we really don’t care if anyone says we’re overachievers.”

Miami (30-28), second behind Atlanta in the NL East, became the first team to make the playoffs in the year following a 100-loss season. The Marlins achieved the feat despite being beset by a virus outbreak early this season that prevented them from playing for more than a week.

After the final out, Marlins players ran onto the field, formed a line and exchanged non socially-distant hugs, then posed for photos across the mound.

“I can’t contain the tears, because it’s a lot of grind, a lot of passion,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “It wasn’t just the virus. Last year we lost 100 games. But we came out this year with the hope everything was going to be better. When we had the outbreak, the guys who got an opportunity to help the organization, thank you for everything you did.”

Miami was one of baseball’s great doubts at the start of the most shortened season since 1878, forced off the field when 18 players tested positive for COVID-19 following the opening series in Philadelphia.

“Yeah, we’ve been through a lot. Other teams have been through a lot, too,” Mattingly said “This just not a been a great situation. It’s just good to be able to put the game back on the map.”

New York (32-26) had already wrapped up a playoff spot but has lost four of five following a 10-game winning streak and is assured of starting the playoffs on the road. Toronto clinched a berth by beating the Yankees on Thursday.

“I don’t like any time somebody celebrates on our field or if we’re at somebody else’s place and they celebrate on their field,” Yankees star Aaron Judge said. “I’m seeing that too much.”

Mattingly captained the Yankees from 1991-95 and is in his fifth season managing the Marlins, Jeter captained the Yankees from 2003-14 as part of a career that included five World Series titles in 20 seasons and is part of the group headed by Bruce Sherman that bought the Marlins in October 2017.

Garrett Cooper, traded to the Marlins by the Yankees after the 2017 season, hit a three-run homer in the first inning off J.A. Happ.

After the Yankees tied it on Aaron Hicks‘ two-run double off Sandy Alcantara in the third and Judge’s RBI single off Yimi Garcia in the eighth following an error by the pitcher on a pickoff throw, the Marlins regained the lead with an unearned run in the 10th against Chad Green (3-3).

Jon Berti sacrificed pinch-runner Monte Harrison to third and, with the infield in, Starling Marte grounded to shortstop. Gleyber Torres ran at Harrison and threw to the plate, and catcher Kyle Higashioka‘s throw to third hit Harrison in the back, giving the Yankees a four-error night for the second time in three games.

With runners at second and third, Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly.

Brad Boxberger (1-0) walked his leadoff batter in the ninth but got Luke Voit to ground into a double play, and Kintzler held on for his 12th save in 14 chances.

Miami ended the second-longest postseason drought in the majors – the Seattle Mariners have been absent since 2001.

Miami returned Aug. 4 following an eight-day layoff with reinforcements from its alternate training site, the trade market and the waiver wire to replace the 18 players on the injured list and won its first five games.

“We’re just starting,” said Alcantara, who handed a 3-2 lead to his bullpen in the eighth. “We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing.”

TOSSED

Yankees manager Aaron Boone was ejected for arguing from the dugout in the first inning. Plate umpire John Tumpane called out Judge on a full-count slider that appeared to drop well below the knees and Boone argued during the next pitch, to Hicks, then was ejected. Television microphones caught several of Boone’s profane shouts.

“Reacting to a terrible call and then following it up,” Boone said. “Obviously, we see Aaron get called a lot on some bad ones down.”

ODD

Pinch-runner Michael Tauchman stole second base in the eighth following a leadoff single by Gary Sanchez but was sent back to first because Tumpane interfered with the throw by catcher Chad Wallach. Clint Frazier struck out on the next pitch and snapped his bat over a leg.

SLOPPY

New York took the major league lead with 47 errors. Sanchez was called for catcher’s interference for the third time in five days and fourth time this month.

REMEMBERING

Mattingly thought of Jose Fernandez, the former Marlins All-Star pitcher who died four years earlier to the night at age 24 while piloting a boat that crashed. An investigation found he was legally drunk and had cocaine in his system. The night also marked the sixth anniversary of Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium.

UP NEXT

RHP Deivi Garcia (2-2, 4.88) starts Saturday for the Yankees and LHP Trevor Rogers (1-2, 6.84) for the Marlins. Garcia will be making the sixth start of his rookie season.