Nationals

Jared Allen apologetic for hit on Bears lineman

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Jared Allen apologetic for hit on Bears lineman

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) The hit was so uncharacteristic of Jared Allen.

The Minnesota Vikings defensive end has never been accused of being a dirty player, yet there he was, launching himself into Chicago Bears offensive lineman Lance Louis during an interception return by teammate Antoine Winfield on Sunday. The blindside blow ended Louis' season and drew a $21,000 fine from the NFL.

Allen remained apologetic on Thursday for the results of the hit, but also was steadfast in his stance that he never intended to injure Louis and thought he made a clean football play.

``Just making a block on an interception,'' Allen said. ``Like I said before, it was never my intention to hurt a guy. I feel bad that he got hurt. That's obviously never my intention. But `Toine's coming up the sideline to make a play. I blocked the guy and sometimes bad things happen.''

Coach Leslie Frazier said Allen's mistake was leaving his feet.

``You have to be careful about leaving your feet,'' Frazier said. ``Other than that, it was a good block. I didn't think it was a vicious block.''

In a small way, Allen may have been taking his frustrations out on Louis in the third quarter after spending so much time chasing Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in vain. Even against a banged-up, makeshift offensive line, Allen was rarely able to get even a whiff of Cutler in a demoralizing 28-10 loss at Soldier Field.

The one chance he did get, he ended up a half-step away from Cutler before the QB zipped a 13-yard touchdown pass to Matt Spaeth in the second quarter that put the Bears up 25-3.

``I got chipped by a tight end coming in and missed it by a half-step,'' Allen said. ``That turns it from a sack, forced fumble to a touchdown. There was a couple times like that.''

For the guy who finished one sack shy of setting the single-season record a year ago, this season has been filled with close calls. Allen has just seven sacks this season and has gone three straight games without one, not the year he was hoping for when he talked about being the first player in league history to record two 20-sack seasons.

There are several reasons for the drop off, including falling behind early in games, which allows offenses to use short throws and maximum protections to keep the heat off their quarterbacks.

``If we can get a lead and force them to play from behind and take shots down field by being successful on first and second down, then you create some matchup things,'' Allen said. ``If not, it's going to be a tough road.''

But Frazier insists Allen is still having a major impact on the game even if he's not driving quarterbacks into the turf as often as he did last year.

``He's no different than any other competitor. He wants to help our football team win and sometimes sacks help that to happen,'' Frazier said. ``It is frustrating, but at the same time, he knows where we are as a team and whatever it takes to help us to win, that's what he wants to do.''

The Vikings (6-5) face a similar situation this week against the Packers (7-4), who have struggled to protect Aaron Rodgers just like the Bears had struggled to protect Cutler. Rodgers has been sacked more than any other quarterback in the league this season.

As the Vikings found out last week, some problems up front don't automatically mean a feeding frenzy for Allen, Brian Robison and the rest of Minnesota's accomplished defensive line.

``If you can get a lead when you've got a group of guys that can rush the passer, then you have a chance,'' Frazier said. ``But if it's a game that's in the balance or you're behind, it's hard to rush the passer.''

That said, the Vikings sure could use another big-time game from Allen against the Packers, a team he has tormented since joining the Vikings in 2008. Allen has sacked Rodgers 12 1/2 times, more than any other quarterback, including a monster 4 1/2-sack game in 2009.

``We need him to have a big game for us,'' Frazier said. ``He's a guy that garners so much attention when he's on the field. But it would be great to see one of those two- or three-sack games. But I've got a feeling they're going to do some things to try to keep that from happening.''

NOTES: WR Percy Harvin (ankle) did not practice on Thursday. Frazier said he would need to see progress during practice on Friday to feel good about dressing him against the Packers. ``It would be hard to put him out there in a game without seeing him run around a little bit more than what he did on Wednesday,'' Frazier said. " ... TE Kyle Rudolph (shoulder) practiced after missing Wednesday and Frazier said he is on track to play Sunday.

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Bryce Harper drives in 3, Nationals snap skid, beat Cardinals 5-4

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USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Harper drives in 3, Nationals snap skid, beat Cardinals 5-4

ST. LOUIS -- Koda Glover rewarded his manager's faith.

Bryce Harper had three hits and drove in three runs, Glover earned the save in the first opportunity since Ryan Madson was placed on the disabled list, and the Washington Nationals snapped a four-game losing streak with a 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night.

The Nationals won for just the third time in their last 10 games and snapped the Cardinals' season-high, eight-game winning streak.

"We needed a win today," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "Get on that plane, have a nice happy flight and come back tomorrow and be at home and be ready."

Tanner Roark (8-12) gave up four runs, three earned, in six innings.

A beleaguered bullpen that had blown two leads to start the losing streak took care of the rest. Justin Miller pitched two scoreless innings before Glover closed it out.

"There's been a lot of changes (in the bullpen)," Miller said. "It's unfortunate, a couple of injuries and stuff like that, but I don't really look at it as I've got the seventh or eighth or anything like that. I'm just going out there just trying to do my job."

Glover took the loss in the series opener on Monday, giving up a game-ending homer to Paul DeJong.

"The first game of the series didn't go as I would have liked for it to have went," Glover said. "So to get put back in that situation or even a better situation to get a save, I'm happy with that outcome."

Harper drove in the game's first run with a double in the first and knocked in two more with a bases-loaded single in the fourth to give the Nationals a 4-1 lead.

A pair of errors helped the Nationals extend their lead to 5-1 in the fifth. St. Louis committed three errors in the game after committing just four total errors during the winning streak.

"A couple plays clearly we expect to make and will make and just didn't go our way for a little bit there," Cardinals interim manager Mike Shildt said. "To the guys' credit they regrouped, settled down, and started playing back to the baseball they know they can play."

The Nationals had opportunities to pad the lead, leaving the bases loaded in the third and fifth while stranding nine runners in the first five innings.

"When you have an opportunity to put teams away you've got to do that," Martinez said. "Especially with how hot the Cardinals are playing right now. They're going to come back."

The Cardinals got within one in the sixth. After DeJong and Kolten Wong came up with back-to-back, two-out RBI hits, Harrison Bader hit a slow grounder to third. Anthony Rendon's throw to first got away from Ryan Zimmerman for an error, allowing Wong to score from second to cut the Nationals' lead to 5-4.

Just two of the four runs Luke Weaver (6-11) allowed in his 3 2/3 innings were earned. He gave up seven hits, including two to Roark, who scored both times.

Tyson Ross allowed one unearned run in 3 1/3 innings of relief.

Bader homered in the third and Matt Carpenter walked twice to extend his on-base streak to a career-high 34 games.

TRAINING ROOM

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson will have an MRI on his sore right wrist on Friday. RHP Joe Ross (right elbow surgery) threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings at Class A Potomac on Thursday and is hoping for a September return.

Cardinals: RHP Carlos Martinez (right shoulder strain) will begin a rehab Friday at Double-A Springfield. RHP Adam Wainwright (right elbow inflammation) threw two scoreless innings Thursday night at High-A Palm Beach.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (15-5, 2.19 ERA) will take the mound as the Nationals return home for a three-game series Friday night against the Miami Marlins and RHP Dan Straily (4-5, 4.42 ERA). Scherzer is 3-0 with a 3.43 ERA in three starts this season against the Marlins.

Cardinals: RHP Jack Flaherty (6-6, 3.22 ERA) kicks off a three-game series Friday night as the Cardinals host the Milwaukee Brewers and RHP Freddy Peralta (5-3, 4.47 ERA). Flaherty struck out a career-high 13 batters in his last start against the Brewers on June 22.

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Is Juan Soto a lock for National League Rookie of the Year?

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Is Juan Soto a lock for National League Rookie of the Year?

In April, it would have been unfathomable. In May, it would have been laughable. In June, it would have been improbable. In July, it started to look possible. In August, it might even have been likely. Now, it’s a complete toss-up.

Juan Soto is the worthiest National League Rookie of the Year. So is Ronald Acuna.

It’s one of the most exciting rookie races in recent memory, not simply for the otherworldly numbers each freshman sensation is putting up, but for just how good they are at such young ages. Juan Soto is a jaw-dropping 19. Acuna, by comparison, is the wizened veteran at the old age of.. 20. 

The two are preternaturally talented, and their mature-beyond-their-years games have translated perfectly well to the big leagues. The question now is: which one will actually take home the hardware?

(Before we continue, I’ll note that Jack Flaherty, Brian Anderson, and Walker Buehler are all very talented young players who would at least be in the conversation in normal years).

The first step is to look at the numbers.

On the season Acuna is slashing .287/.347/.571, and his wRC+ is 144. He’s got 19 home runs and 8 stolen bases in just 68 games and his fWAR is 2.3. bWAR has him at 2.8

Soto’s slash line is currently .293/.420/.534, to go along with 15 home runs. His wRC+ is 153, and his fWAR is 2.7. His bWAR sits at 2.2.

Obviously, the numbers are terrific for both. Acuna has been up longer, but thanks to injury Soto has actually played 8 more games. Acuna has the edge in power, both in home runs and slugging percentage, plus he’s clearly the speedier player and better defender. If you’re looking for all-around game, he’s probably your man. Plus, for those who care about such things when voting on awards, the Braves are several games ahead of the Nats in the standings.

However, Soto’s performance has a couple things going for it. First of all, as impressive as it is that Acuna is taking the league by storm as a 20-year old, Soto is nearly a full year younger. It cannot be overemphasized how wild it is what Soto is doing as a teenager. He may very well be the greatest teenage batter in baseball history.

Secondly, Soto has been incredibly consistent. He’s basically been an All-Star level hitter since the day he was called up in May, whereas Acuna’s numbers, while very legitimate, are buoyed by his recent hot streak. He’s hit 8 home runs in 8 games, and of every hitter with at least 100 plate appearances since the All-Star Game, he has the highest wRC+ in that span. He’s had plenty of valleys to his peaks, though, and Soto has been a model of consistency. Of all hitters with at 200 at-bats this entire season, Soto ranks 7th over the entire season, That’s astounding.

Another point in Soto’s favor is just how historic his numbers are. Voters love a narrative, and as mentioned above, Soto is having literally the best offensive season a teenager has ever had. The highest wRC+ by a 19-year old in baseball history in Mel Ott with a 140 exactly 90 seasons ago. Soto is beating that by 13 so far.

The true separator, though, is Soto’s on-base percentage. His .420 mark is a comfortable 4th of all players with at least 300 plate appearances, behind elite batting eyes Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Joey Votto. And, once again, we’re talking about something historic.

Soto’s .420 on-base percentage, if it holds, will be the only OBP over .400 for a teenager with 200 plate appearances in Major League history. In fact, outside of Ott’s .397 in 1928, no other teenager has ever reached base at a .360 clip, let alone Soto’s astronomical .420.

Ultimately, I believe more in Acuna’s future, but I think Soto’s been the better player this season. Acuna is more well-rounded, but Soto’s elite batting eye has made him a top 10 hitter in baseball already. If Soto had been up on Opening Day and played at this level, he’d be on pace for a 5.5 WAR, which would top even Bryce Harper’s 2012 season.

As mentioned, voters love a narrative though, and if Acuna comes back from his injury and stays as hot as he’s been all August, it’ll be tough to ignore his performance during the Braves’ stretch run. This award is not over, but for now, Soto should be considered the favorite.

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