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Wire Taps: Nationals’ Pitching Coach Paul Menhart’s path to MLB; Anthony Rendon has free agency leverage; Could Juan Soto be next Miguel Cabrera?

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Catch up on the last 24 hours in Nationals news before the start of this weekend’s series with the Mets in Citi Field.

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MLB: Washington Nationals at San Francisco Giants D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to what has, rather oddly, become a consequential series. Baseball is odd, isn’t it.

Here’s what’s fresh in Flushing:

Sarris: Why Juan Soto could be the next Miguel Cabrera (The Athletic)
When Soto had to improve his defense, he did so vigorously and with a smile. When Soto needed to stop rolling over on two-strike breaking balls, he methodically worked on his balance and his swing so he could still drive the ball to the opposite field and stop grounding out. Two major adjustments for any player, and he did them over the course of a season. He's 20. His numbers look like those of Mike Trout and Mickey Mantle at that age, but that profile of fixing flaws to keep driving the baseball sounds a whole lot like the story of Miguel Cabrera. (Now is the time to knock on wood and bubble wrap him.)

Paul Menhart’s path from MLB cast-off to Nationals’ pitching coach (WaPo)
Paul Menhart, who could never quite stick in the majors, bounced from job to job in the real world—glass delivery, health and sex ed teacher—before he got a call from Andy Dunn, who worked for the Nationals circa January 2006. He slowly climbed his way up through the system as a pitching coach, and is now ready to apply his well-lauded coaching abilities to the veterans and young guns of the Nats.

Which contenders have toughest schedules? (MLB.com)
"What better way to lock up a postseason spot than beating one of your archrivals -- and former stars -- in front of the home crowd in that five-game, final-week series?"

Weekend series with Mets suddenly carries more weight (MASN)
"They’ll be facing the hottest team in the league, one that has surprisingly thrust itself right back into the thick of the pennant race right under our very eyes."

With deeper bullpen, Nats finally confident closing out games (MASN)
It's the bottom of the ninth. The Giants score a run and have a man on second. Time to warm Sean Doolittle, right? Actually, Davey Martinez was able to trust his guy on the mound at the moment, Daniel Hudson, to get out of the jam. It's part of a greater trend: over the last nine games, the bullpen, save for Gerardo Parra and Brian Dozier, has a 2.90 ERA and a 0.968 WHIP. (Also, Roenis Elías is throwing, though it seems like he's going to be a lefty specialist, which is a bad idea.)

To better understand Anthony Rendon’s situation, look at the coming free agent class (NBCSW)
Anthony Rendon now has every bit of leverage: he is far and away the best player in this year's free-agent class, and with every game that passes, his season only seems to further improve.

NL East players quietly having strong seasons (MLB.com)
"Nobody really seems to be giving [Stephen] Strasburg the love he deserves, but if you closely examine his numbers, there is a legitimate NL Cy Young Award candidate there (even after he got hit hard in his last start against the D-backs)."