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Stephen Strasburg keeps Nationals’ rotation on a serious roll

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WASHINGTON — Gerardo Parra wrapped both arms around Stephen Strasburg and wouldn’t let go. Their embrace has morphed into something of a tradition. It began late in the season and spilled into the playoffs, partly because this Washington Nationals team has grown so close and partly because Strasburg detests these hugs.

For this one, in the late stages of a victorious night in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, Parra held on long enough that a nearby Anibal Sanchez could get in on the action. Max Scherzer then spotted them from the end of the dugout, walked over, spread his long limbs out wide and enveloped them all, suffocating Strasburg with affection.

“Why not,” Scherzer said. “He deserved it.”

Strasburg, pitching three nights after Sanchez and two nights after Scherzer, had just held the St. Louis Cardinals to one unearned run in seven innings on Monday night, leading the Nationals to an 8-1 victory that gave them a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

In Game 1, it was Sanchez, expertly mixing a variety of pitches, who came within four outs of a no-hitter.

In Game 2, it was Scherzer, playing his fastball off his changeup, who gave up zero hits and struck out 10 through the first six innings.

In Game 3, it was Strasburg, armed with untouchable off-speed pitches, who struck out 12, walked none and added to what is becoming an illustrious postseason resume.

In Game 4, it will be Patrick Corbin — every bit as capable, every bit as imposing — looking to pitch the Nationals into their first World Series.

“They’re the heart and soul of our team,” Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle said of the team’s starting pitchers. “It’s fitting that they’re the reason we’re in this position.”

If not for Michael Taylor misreading a line drive on Saturday and Juan Soto slipping in the middle of a throw on Monday, the Cardinals would probably be shut out for 27 innings in this series. Sanchez, Scherzer and Strasburg have combined for one unearned run allowed, three walks and 28 strikeouts in 21⅔ innings. The Nationals’ starters boast a 1.59 ERA, a 0.88 WHIP and a .164 opponents’ batting average in 56⅔ innings this month, numbers that don’t even include their contributions out of the bullpen.

Since the wild-card era began in 1995, only the 2012 Detroit Tigers, the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers and the 1995 Cleveland Indians have had a starters ERA better than that of the current Nationals through their first nine postseason games, according to research from the Elias Sports Bureau. The Brewers, however, relied on openers, skewing the numbers. This postseason has been marked by the rebirth of traditional starting-pitcher usage, and the Nationals — not the Houston Astros — stand as the prime example.

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MLB umpires union distances itself from Joe West’s opinion on coronavirus

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In the aftermath of comments made by veteran umpire Joe West, the Major League Baseball Umpires Association on Thursday issued a statement saying that “recent public comments” do not reflect its stance regarding the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our nation, and the world, has suffered greatly from this deadly virus,” said the union’s statement, which did not mention West by name. “In the midst of continued suffering, umpires are attempting to do our part to bring the great game of baseball back onto the field and into the homes of fans everywhere.”

The 67-year-old West said he doesn’t believe the deaths being attributed to the coronavirus — which has surpassed 130,000 in the United States — is an accurate figure.

“Those statistics aren’t accurate, I don’t care who’s counting them,” West told USA Today Sports. “When country music [singer] Joe Diffie died, they said he died of the coronavirus. He had Stage 4 lung cancer. The coronavirus may have accelerated his death, but let’s be realistic.

“Our system is so messed up they have emptied hospitals because there’s no elective surgery. The government has been giving these hospitals extra money if someone dies of the coronavirus. So everybody that dies is because of coronavirus. I don’t care if you get hit by a car, it’s coronavirus.”

The MLBUA statement says the union “fully supports” the safety protocols agreed to by Major League Baseball and the MLBPA and that “regardless of any umpire’s personal views, when we report for a resumed spring training and 2020 season, we will conduct ourselves as professionals and in accordance with the health and safety protocol.”

West was found to be at high-risk for COVID-19 by MLB and was offered full pay and service time to opt out of this season, however he has told MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem that he will return to work during the shortened 60-game season.

A source told ESPN’s Buster Olney that MLB umpires were tested Tuesday and will be tested again Friday. If they test negative, they will be on the field Sunday, the source said.

“I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus,” West told The Athletic. “I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths. I said [to Halem], ‘I’m not going to opt out. I’m going to work. And I’m going to work until you take me off the field or I get hurt, whatever. I’m working.'”

West needs to umpire 65 games to break the all-time record for most regular-season games worked by an umpire, which is held by Bill Klem (5,375). He told USA Today Sports that he’s “being cautious, just like everyone else,” but he’s never thought about not working this season.

“I think I shocked [Halem] when I said, ‘No, I’m working,'” West told The Athletic. “… If this game hasn’t gotten me by now, no virus is going to get me. I’ve weathered a bunch of storms in my life. I’ll weather another one.

“… You know I’m chasing the rainbow. I’m chasing the end of this record. I’d like to be young enough to enjoy it.”

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Fantasy baseball mock draft: 10-team roto

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Results of ESPN’s fantasy baseball mock draft held July 8, featuring 10 teams and rotisserie-style scoring.

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Fantasy baseball roto mock draft reaction

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The first thing one might notice when participating in any fantasy baseball mock draft on ESPN this month is that so many of the projected numbers, whether they are for hitters or pitchers, kind of look the same. Expectations for so many relevant hitters settle into the 8-10 home run range with three or four stolen bases — and five wins is a nice, round number for top starting pitchers. Well, there is a good reason for that. Over six months, numbers change more, variance rises. The best players should produce the best numbers, in theory, given ample time. However, ample time is not what we have here.

Over two months, there is simply not enough time for

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