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Braves announcer questions age of Nationals phenom Juan Soto, draws response from GM Mike Rizzo

Braves announcer questions age of Nationals phenom Juan Soto, draws response from GM Mike Rizzo

The Nats are hosting the Braves for a series this week, and Atlanta announcer Joe Simpson must have figured he was past due for another “old man yells at cloud” comment.

As many opposing announcers do when facing the Nationals, Simpson spent some time raving about Juan Soto, who hit his 14th home run of the season tonight. What makes this number so incredible is Soto’s age, which is 19.

It’s one of the most impressive seasons by a teenager in history, only Joe Simpson isn’t so sure we’re actually talking about a teenager.

During Game 1 of today’s doubleheader, Soto was at the plate. Here’s what Simpson had to say (h/t @DCBarno/Twitter for the audio). 

“He is...If he’s 19, he has certainly got his man growth. He is...big and strong.”

First of all, “he has certainly got his man growth” is a really weird way of saying Soto is a muscular, well-built guy.

But, let’s go ahead and highlight the most important three words: “if he’s 19.” I’m not sure if this is a case of bitterness that the Nats’ young phenom is better than Acuna, the Braves’ 20-year old star (it probably is), or if it’s just prejudice (it almost definitely is) or if it’s a little bit of both.

Latin American countries and their players have long dealt with rumors and accusations of age fraud. As Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan points out, however, this line of thinking is outdated.

I won’t give them the dignity of linking to their tweets, but some fans responded to Passan on Twitter saying without a birth certificate we don’t have proof. Good to know some people think it’s worth spending their time asking the tough questions and getting #MadOnline.

Simpson probably didn’t intend to come across as prejudiced, but it’s hard to imagine him making a similar comment about a white player from America.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic got the reaction of Nats GM Mike Rizzo, who apparently spoke with Simpson in between today's games. Here's a tweet with the link, if you're a subscriber ($).

It's unclear if Simpson has made an apology directly to Soto, but after his conversation with Rizzo, Simpson walked back his comments on-air during Game 2. According to the transcription, as seen in The Athletic, Simpson made the following comments.

"If you were with us in Game 1, you might have heard me make a comment off the top of my head about if he's 19. Well, he is. He’s bona fide 19. And he is a full-grown man. He is strong. And he is one heck of a player. You might well just write his name in on the Rookie of the Year award right now."

It's a gesture Simpson needed to make, though it is a little hard to take his comments completely seriously. Simpson has done a lot to earn his reputation as a stereotypical angry old fan who has fallen behind today’s game. Less than two weeks ago, during a Braves-Dodgers game, Simpson took issue with the Dodgers’ unprofessional look during their own batting practice. According to him, Dodgers fans should be “embarrassed."

Not only is this patently ridiculous, but it’s also hypocritical. The Dodgers certainly aren’t the only team to warm up in something other than their full uniforms. Plus, the t-shirts they were wearing that he had such a problem with? Many of them read “K Cancer.”

Again, I doubt Simpson meant to imply anything against the idea of fighting cancer, but this coupled with his offensive comments on Juan Soto, are not a great look for him.

Hopefully, Simpson will find a way to move beyond his outdated, crude stereotypes. That would be a “man growth” I think we’d all like to see.

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Sleep-deprived Nationals win one they probably shouldn’t have in Chicago behind Aníbal Sánchez

Sleep-deprived Nationals win one they probably shouldn’t have in Chicago behind Aníbal Sánchez

The clubhouse wears have never been packed so quickly. Washington was sprinting as a group to get out of Pittsburgh on Thursday night following another three-hour-plus game with a 1:20 p.m. local start looming in Wrigley Field on Friday.

Max Scherzer finished his postgame comments in less than four minutes, then quickly moved to get cleaned up and join the others. Most lockers were vacant by the time media members reached the clubhouse, which wasn’t long after the game ended. 

Despite the scramble for minutes saved, Friday was supposed to be a loss. Las Vegas knew. The players and management knew. It was a bad spot. Night game, onto a plane, then a day game against a team which played at home the previous afternoon, and was 44-19 there -- the second-best home record in the National League. 

And yet, Nationals 9, Cubs 3, and it wasn’t that close.

Some bloops fell, some situations turned out lucky. Though, Aníbal Sánchez dominated. No voodoo or charms were involved.

He went through 8 ⅓ innings before being removed after 112 pitches. He was provided a shot to finish the game -- just 15 National League pitchers have a complete game this season -- but couldn’t. A rare Anthony Rendon throwing error cost him an out, then his opportunity for a solo close to the afternoon in Chicago.

Sánchez threw 31 four-seam fastballs, 31 cutters and 28 “splitters” among his 112 pitches. He worked as a marionettist, pulling strings to change positions and outcomes throughout the day. Matt Grace finished the game. No high-end reliever was used, resetting a bullpen which had to cover five innings in Pittsburgh on Thursday.

The offense beat up Jon Lester. He didn’t make it out of the fifth inning. Everyone in the lineup -- including Sánchez -- picked up a hit. Trea Turner’s single extended his on-base streak to 30 games.

Sánchez’s work piggybacked on what the other starters did against woeful Pittsburgh. Nationals starters have allowed two earned runs in the first five games of this seven-game road trip. The offense has averaged 8.2 runs in that span. It’s hard to fathom they lost once with both sides operating in such fashion.

All of this is just a continuation of a massive turnaround. Washington is 52-26 since its nadir May 24. Only the Dodgers -- who host the Yankees on Friday night -- have a better record in that span, and by just a half-game. They have won 10 of 12 and 13 of 17. Fivethirtyeight.com now gives the Nationals a 90 percent chance to make the postseason (this includes the wild-card game).

Wins like Friday emphatically move that needle. The Cubs are trying to wind their way into the postseason. They were also set up for a clear advantage thanks to the schedule. Instead, Sánchez, throwing as slow as 68 mph and as fast as 91, controlled the day, the offense rolled through the afternoon and everyone was ready for bed after a surprise win.

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Nationals players on the stressful process of choosing a nickname for Players' Weekend

Nationals players on the stressful process of choosing a nickname for Players' Weekend

Zimm, Brown Eye and T3 will all take the field against the Cubs in the annual Players' Weekend series August 23-25.

Some Nationals players got creative when choosing nicknames, and others (yes you, Javy Guerra aka Javy) could use some inspiration. 

Other nicknames just made sense.

Fernando Rodney's nickname, "La Flecha", translates from Spanish to "the arrow". If you had the opportunity to watch the Fernando Rodney experience, you know that he celebrates a save by shooting an imaginary bow and arrow to the sky. 

He described the routine just like pitching: "you know where it is going exactly, you got a good shot."

When asked if he had any other nickname ideas he joked that he thought about using "Plátano Power". A joke dating back to 2017. 

Patrick Corbin is using his Players' Weekend jersey to honor his late friend and Angels pitcher, Tyler Skaggs. His nickname will say "Forty Five", Skaggs' number which Corbin wore days after his death. 

Other nicknames were no brainers, almost decided for the players. 

Wander Suero will go by "The Animal", the nickname given to him in the minor leagues that stuck with him. One of his coaches, Donald Ray "Spin" Williams, would tell him all the time, "you're an animal" because of the way he hustled. It caught on with his teammates and Spin still calls him that. 

Sean Doolittle's nickname was teased for a long time, Obi Sean. His Star Wars-themed bobblehead was a giveaway earlier in the season, featured the relief pitcher as Obi-Wan Kenobi from the popular franchise. The nickname is also his Twitter name though no one calls him that.

Doolittle has changed his nickname for the past three years. "It gives you an opportunity to show a little personality and have some fun with it." He said he can show that he is "a Star Wars nerd." 

These nicknames are chosen in Spring Training, and Doolittle remembers this happening early in the morning. "It's 6 or 7 am and they are walking around the clubhouse with a clipboard asking what you want your players weekend nickname to be at the end of August." He joked, "it's not the most creative time, you're not really awake yet." 

Tanner Rainey was one of those players who may not have been awake yet. When asked if he would answer a few questions about his nickname he laughed and said, "I don't even know my nickname." (For those wondering, it's Rainman).

He said he never really had a nickname but a few guys started calling him Rainman.

"If there's not one I would have went with Rainey on the back of the jersey," he said.

This choice is not because he doesn't like the idea. Rather, he is just focused on baseball during Spring Training.

"Alright that's in late August, this is February," said Rainey. "Let's worry about tomorrow first." 

Doolittle had the perfect way to describe making such an important decision.  "You know-how like the month leading up to Halloween you are like 'I have no idea what I want to dress up as.' You scramble for a costume and you're like 'yeah this works, whatever, at least I dressed up'. That day and the week after it feels like you have all these great ideas and you are like 'aw I should write these down'." 

"So maybe I will do that this year," Doolittle joked. "Maybe I need to start a notes app on my phone."

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