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Can Stephen Strasburg keep Nats hot in first of 3-game series vs. Padres?

Can Stephen Strasburg keep Nats hot in first of 3-game series vs. Padres?

The Padres return to Petco Park Monday night fresh from winning two straight from the Dodgers to win the Mexico Series in Monterrey.

But that is not the homecoming that is drawing the most attention from Padres fans.

Stephen Strasburg will be making a rare Petco Park appearance Monday night in the first of three games between the Padres and Nationals.

Strasburg is still quite the celebrity in San Diego. A native San Diegan, Strasburg went from West Hills High in the suburb of Santee to San Diego State where he pitched three seasons for the late Tony Gwynn, who was the Aztecs coach.

In 2009, Strasburg went 13-1 for the Aztecs with a 1.32 earned run average. He was named the National Pitcher of the Year before being the first overall pick by the Nationals in the 2009 draft. A year later, Strasburg was in the major leagues and the 6-foot-4 right-hander remains a favorite of San Diego fans.

But Monday night will mark only Strasburg's fourth start in his hometown.

Injuries and rotation schedule have prevented Strasburg from pitching at Petco Park for most of Washington's annual visits to San Diego.

In his three previous starts at Petco Park, Strasburg is 2-1 with a 2.84 earned run average, yielding seven runs (six earned) on 12 hits and five walks with 19 strikeouts in 19 innings. The Padres have hit a robust .176 against Strasburg at Petco Park.

Overall, Strasburg has made eight starts against the Padres, going 6-2 with a 2.94 ERA. He has given up 17 runs (16 earned) on 38 hits and 13 walks with 66 strikeouts in 49 innings.

Strasburg is 3-3 this season with a 3.47 ERA in seven starts, a slow start since both 2016 and 2017 produced career-best 15-4 seasons with last year's 2.52 ERA also being his best mark for a full season. He struck out 11 Pirates in his most recent outing, picking up his first win in nearly a month.

Strasburg will be taking the mound as the Nationals attempt to get their eighth win in nine games. The Nationals took two of three from the Philadelphia Phillies and concluded the series with Sunday's 5-4 win when Max Scherzer struck out 15 in 6 1/3 innings and Wilmer Difo hit the game-winning single in the ninth.

"The team feels energized, they feel great," Difo said through a translator. "When you win like we did today, it just gives you more motivation to keep battling."

The Padres will counter Monday night with right-hander Tyson Ross, who is 2-2 with a 3.28 ERA in six starts. In his last start at San Francisco, Ross allowed one run on four hits and three walks with nine strikeouts over six innings.

Ross is 1-1 over his last four starts, allowing seven runs (six earned) on 18 hits and 10 walks with 31 strikeouts in 23 innings for a 2.35 ERA. On April 20, Ross pitched a no-hitter for 7 2/3 innings before the bid for the first no-hitter in Padres history ended on his 127th pitch.

Ross, 31, is known to have one of the best sliders in the National League. And he throws one of the highest percentage (46.5 percent) of sliders in the major leagues.

Ross is 2-1 with a 4.76 ERA in six appearances (three starts) against the Nationals. He has given up 15 runs (12 earned) on 21 hits and 11 walks with 25 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings. Ross is at his best at Petco Park, where he is 14-17 with a 2.78 in 49 appearances (40 starts).

San Diego is attempting to win three straight for the second time this season. After being no-hit Friday, the Padres wrapped up their series with a 3-0 win on Sunday.

Eric Homser homered for the third time in the last five games while Eric Lauer pitched six strong innings.

"We realized this series was going to be special," Hosmer told reporters. "We wanted to come here and put on a good show for them. I'm happy we were on top."

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

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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 Acuña.

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. Acuña, 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 Acuña 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. Acuña has been up longer, but thanks to injury Soto has actually played 8 more games. Acuña 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 Acuña 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 Acuña’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 is 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 Acuña’s future, but I think Soto’s been the better player this season. Acuña 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, though, voters love a narrative. If Acuña 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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