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What I Learned From Watching AA Harrisburg Senators

After being forced to cancel plans a couple times this season, I finally made a trip to Harrisburg, the home of the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate.

I attended Friday and Saturday’s games. Although I missed many top prospects – such as Cade Cavalli and Donovan Casey – and shortstop Yasel Antuna has not been promoted from Wilmington, there were still interesting things to see, including my good friend Eric (he’ll love how I phrased that sentence).

The Pitchers

The starting pitchers were right-hander Jackson Tetreault and lefty Tim Cate (MLB Pipeline’s No. 14 prospect in the organization), respectively.

That’s the area where the Senators are the strongest. Their starting rotation boasts three of the organization’s top 30 prospects, including Cate, Gerardo Carrillo (No. 7) and Joan Adon (No. 23). Aside from that trio, however, baseball scouts don’t view many other players very favorably.

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Nationals Promote Patrick Murphy, Cade Cavalli and Others

Highly-touted prospect Cade Cavalli is officially one step away from the big leagues.

Tuesday morning it was announced that the big right-hander, along with lefty Seth Romero, had been promoted to Triple-A Rochester.

Various other promotions were announced throughout the day, including a big league call-up for right-hander Patrick Murphy.

You may be asking yourself what the point of a minor league promotion is so late in the season. Most years, the minor league regular season concludes at the end of August or beginning of September. This year, however, it extends until September 19 as the minor league season didn’t begin until May, so the late finish partially compensates for it.

Nevertheless, numerous key prospects will be playing at new levels in the organization for approximately the next month. Here are the specific players who earned promotions:

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The New Washington Nationals Are Not Disappointing

It's been just a little over three weeks since many Nationals fans had their hearts broken, as Mike Rizzo tried to sell fans on the idea that starting over was best for the organization.

Since sending many of their top veterans at the Trade Deadline to other teams, Washington has lost 14 of its 20 games. But despite that losing record, many of the team’s top young assets – including some of whom were acquired at the deadline – have made great impressions.

Plenty of Gray Area On The Mound

No one in their right mind will try to convince anyone that the Nationals’ starting pitching has been good this year. Prior to the deadline, the trio of Patrick Corbin, Jon Lester and Erick Fedde were among the five worst starting pitchers in the National League, in terms of ERA. Addition by subtraction is typically a convenient myth, but could it actually be true in this case?

The success of Josiah Gray has been often chronicled. In his first four starts since leaving the Dodgers, the 23-year-old right-hander is sporting a 2.86 ERA with as many strikeouts as innings pitched (22), compared to only five walks. His batting average against is .225 (17 points better than the league-wide rate), and he’s lasted six innings in each of his last two starts.

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Is Jordy Mercer Beginning a New Chapter in Baseball?

No matter what people tell you, Jordy Mercer knows baseball.

Admittedly, I’m in the minority who has consistently believed that Mercer belongs on Washington’s roster. He’s similar to the team’s backup infielders in past seasons. Stephen Drew’s presence from 2016–17 immediately comes to mind.

While he shouldn’t be asked to play much, Mercer is a dependable option off the bench or as a starter once or twice per week – not to mention as a leader in the dugout.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that Mercer (who turns 35 years old later this month) no longer merits much playing time in the big leagues, which puts him at a crossroad. Does he want to be a clubhouse presence off the bench, or is it time to acknowledge that he has no real future as a player?

Mercer was a nearly forgotten member of the Nationals roster earlier this summer. However, as the organization has battled COVID-19 during the last couple weeks, and since the departure of Kyle Schwarber at the Trade Deadline, Mercer has been serving as manager Dave Martinez’s unofficial bench coach.

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Gray And Adams Are A Reminder Of What Matters In 2021

Having witnessed a game in which young players like Josiah Gray and Riley Adams stole the show, the DC community should also be reminded of what’s important for the next two months.

Don’t let the potentially poor production of Gerardo Parra and Alcides Escobar cloud your opinion of the Nationals. The young players are who matter, whether they produce enough to win games or not.

Whenever he’s on the mound, that starts with Josiah Gray.

The second start the 23-year-old made for the Nationals was better than his first – which was impressive in its own right. Against a Braves team that features some intimidating hitters (even with Ronald Acuña Jr. on the Injured List), Gray struck out 10 batters and allowed only four hits over five innings.

Sure, we can all argue that Dave Martinez should let Gray pitch into the sixth inning, but that’s not the point. Any double-digit strikeout performance from a rookie pitcher is worth getting excited about.

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Gray Makes Nationals Look Like Trade Deadline Winners

If you want to learn about the new, young additions the Nationals made at the Trade Deadline, keep reading.

Right-handed pitcher Josiah Gray made his debut for Washington Monday night, and while it wasn’t spectacular, it was nonetheless impressive, and it could be a sign of things to come for the franchise.

Gray’s outing was inarguably a success. He didn’t go particularly deep into the game (71 pitches over five innings), but he was very effective and “looked the part.”

His first strikeout came against Jean Segura, who entered the night batting .308 with the No. 15 lowest strikeout rate in the majors.

The lone true blemish he suffered was a home run off the bat of Odubel Herrera to lead off the fifth inning. It was one of four hits “Jojo” surrendered – and the only run he allowed to score

Gray’s fastball frequently reached 95 miles per hour, and he seemed to have clear command of his pitches for most of the night – which is always key for young pitchers. He only walked two batters, and he kept his pitch count below 15 per inning.

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The Washington Nationals Are Officially Rebuilding

It’s a four-letter word in sports, but dressing up what Washington did at the Trade Deadline any other way doesn’t negate the truth.

The team is officially rebuilding, as between Thursday and Friday, the Nationals traded away eight veteran contributors for a bevvy of minor league prospects.

That doesn’t mean the future isn’t still bright, but there will be growing pains. Juan Soto and Josh Bell are their top hitters by a considerable margin now, they don’t have a true frontline starting pitcher, and there are multiple holes in the back of the bullpen.

How Did We Get Here?

When teams are 47-55 with lots of contracts that are due to expire in the offseason, they trade the impending free agents away. They don’t hold onto the veterans simply because the franchise won a World Series two years ago. They evaluate the present and future, forget about the sentimental ties they have to players who may have been valuable to them in the past, and make trades that ensure the team will be better in the near future.

That’s what the Nationals did, regardless of how jarring each individual deal may have felt.

Ahead of Friday’s game against the Cubs (who also emptied the big-league cupboard at the deadline), Mike Rizzo called Friday “as tough a day as I’ve ever had as a general manager.” He’s not wrong for saying that, but it was also a necessary process.

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Thanks For The Memories Max, Trea...Until We Meet Again

When you follow a team that has a run of great years, and even wins a championship during that time, you know it isn’t going to last forever.

But that doesn’t make you feel any better when that day arrives.

As a kid who marveled at this guy the Virginia Squires had from the University of Massachusetts named Julius Erving, I still remember the sting of picking up the Virginian-Pilot in my hometown of Norfolk to read that the Squires had basically given Erving away to the then-named New York Nets. They weren’t going to be able to re-sign him, the story said, so they got what they could. Which was very little.

The sting wasn’t so much the team traded away Erving. It was the realization that the good times were over, and not for just a year or two. It would be a long time, everyone understood, before the team would be this good again, if ever.

Fast forward to 1981 when Joe Gibbs took over the then-named Washington Redskins. From 0-5 to 8-8 to playing in Super Bowls, it was intoxicating to know that every year Joe Jackson Gibbs was at the helm, there was a chance the team could be one of the last two playing each year. Every Sunday was a party as we turned on the television, turned the sound down, and listed to Sonny, Sam and Frank on the radio usher us through these heady times.

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This Was Like Being Given A Mountain Of Hokie History

It is no secret that the internet can be one of the biggest, most toxic bastions of negativity, rudeness and know-it-all-ism mankind has ever created. Its lack of civility, kindness and grace has driven me to the point that I wonder every morning why I even bother logging in to social media.

But occasionally amidst this giant overgrown colossus of thorns, a rose emerges. Such was the case 12 years ago when a total stranger on Twitter mentioned her children’s enjoyment of bobbleheads. She was in my town and I had a few extra ones of the original Skreech, as well as some other Nationals gear.

We met up at a local coffee shop. I gave her the merchandise. She tweeted to all her friends I wasn’t a stalker (which we laugh about to this day). We’ve been great friends ever since.

Then in 2019, with everybody in this region trying to get tickets to the Nats’ first appearance in the World Series, she texted me she has two extra. My wife and I were there that night the World Series finally returned to DC, and I have a bunch of wonderful memories from that I’ll enjoy the rest of my days.

All because of that bloody thing called Twitter.

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It’s Time for The Washington Nationals to Start Over

It’s never easy to admit that it’s time to hit the reset button.

But the time has come for the Nationals to face reality.

Aside from a spectacular six-month stretch in 2019, Washington has been staring mediocrity in the face for the last four seasons. They’re 45-53 this year, eight games behind the Mets for the division lead, and were just swept by the Orioles – the worst team record-wise in the American League.

An eight-game deficit isn’t impossible to overcome, but it’s still a large hill to climb. Let’s face it; the Nationals were just swept by the Orioles. The Mets look like a clearly better team, and the Phillies also seem to be in a better place than Washington.

Rizzo has stated that he’s open to selling this year, but his track record indicates otherwise. Rizzo likes to fight until there’s nothing left to fight for.

In 2021, considering how dominant the NL West has been, there is no Wild Card to fight for. Washington’s only path to the playoffs is by overcoming the aforementioned eight-game deficit in the NL East.

That’s unlikely enough on its own, but it also probably wouldn’t net the Nationals more than a participation trophy. They were dominated by the NL West trio recently, and if they were lucky enough to face the Brewers, they’d be greeted by arguably the best starting rotation in baseball.

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Buy or Sell: The Unanswerable Question For Washington

At 42-47, you probably wouldn’t think we’d be having a conversation about the Nationals being in the playoff hunt, since for much of this season, they haven’t looked like a particularly good team.

Yet Washington is only six games behind the Mets for the NL East lead, and Ronald Jr.’s ACL injury effectively removes the Braves from the discussion – Thursday night's acquisition of Joc Pederson notwithstanding.

The margin for error is still relatively thin, especially considering that a Wild Card bid seems almost completely out of reach – the Nats are nine games behind the Padres for the No. 5 seed.

Still, this team won the World Series two short years ago, their upside increases tremendously with Stephen Strasburg and Kyle Schwarber, plus Mike Rizzo rarely sells and almost always buys at the Trade Deadline.

Suffice it to say, the Nationals will return from the All-Star break with their eyes on a playoff chase. So, what does that mean for them in the near future?

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Excellent Analysis, plus Very ...

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