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Even a short-term loss of Juan Soto is a big factor for Nationals

Even a short-term loss of Juan Soto is a big factor for Nationals

Juan Soto turned the corner Sunday at third with the same expectation of everyone who sees Bobby Henley standing in the vicinity of the third base coach's box: I'm going to be sent.

Instead, Henley extended two arms, signaling Soto to stop. He did, abruptly, momentum roaring toward home plate and a three-run lead in Citi Field, where it's fair to be nervous about a Nationals lead even once the game is over. Soto instantly looked irritated. Something was wrong. He lifted his damaged right leg, hopped around, was tagged out. Afterward, he spiked his helmet with his right hand.

Soto walked down the dugout stairs, still displeased, but at least walking. Victor Robles replaced Soto to start the bottom of the seventh inning. The question became, "What's next?" At the least, Washington has a significant short-term problem.

The Nationals announced Soto's injury as a mild sprain of his ankle. X-rays were negative. He's day-to-day and will be further examined back in Washington on Monday. Without him, the Nationals will use the alignment they deployed Sunday following the injury: Gerardo Parra in left, Victor Robles in center and Adam Eaton in right field. Outfielder Andrew Stevenson -- fast and skilled defensively -- remains on the roster as further coverage. Of course, none of those options is Soto.

He's just 20 years old still, a fact that is mentioned less frequently with each passing day because his sustained performance makes it hard to believe (though it's true, for all the Atlanta announcers out there). He terrorized the Mets through the Nationals' failing weekend in Flushing. Soto was 5-for-10 with two walks and three home runs in two-plus games before the injury. It's Anthony Rendon, Soto and everyone else in the Nationals' lineup. Remove either to watch it thin considerably.

Also absent are Howie Kendrick and Ryan Zimmerman. Treating Parra as a starter further pilfers Davey Martinez's bench, which quickly dissolved after briefly returning to full strength following Zimmerman's return. Soto's cloudy future will hamper Martinez in the short-term no matter what further tests show. He'll either end up with an unusable roster spot if Soto just needs a few days to heal without going on the injured list or an extended gap if he starts a 10-day run of being unavailable.

Without Soto, the lineup turns from productive to unclear where the core of production will come from. Simply bumping everyone up provides a clear ding to the prior length the lineup operates with. Trea Turner, Eaton and Rendon remain intact. Soto, the cleanup hitter, is extracted. Matt Adams could work in that spot to have left-handed bats framing Rendon. Kurt Suzuki has been there previously this season. The options are limited and unsexy.

And the lineup hole comes at a crucial time. Washington ran out of Citi Field hoping never to return following another wrenching series loss to the Mets in their home park. Sunday presented a salvage day thanks to a 7-4 win. The Nationals are a game in front of Milwaukee and just a half-game in front of St. Louis in the wild-card standings. The Mets are lurking 1 1/2 games behind the Nationals.

One thing to know about Soto is this: when struck by a pitch on the outside of his wrist earlier this year, he quickly had a bruise and no change in temperament. Asked if he was playing the next day, he said, "yes" as quickly as someone asked if they want free ice cream. Martinez says he often asks Soto if he wants a break, and is told no, presumably with the same simplicity. Here, his brain may be telling him the same thing. But this time, his injury may not cooperate.

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Evaluating the state of 2019 MLB awards races: Two weeks left

Evaluating the state of 2019 MLB awards races: Two weeks left

With September more than halfway through, the postseason is mere weeks away in Major League Baseball, and teams have fewer than a dozen games left in the season. With stars like Christian Yelich and Mike Trout hitting the shelf, there may not be too much shuffling ahead.

Let's take a look around baseball to see who should be favored in each of the major races in both leagues.

AL MVP

1. Mike Trout, Angels
2. Alex Bregman, Astros
3. Mookie Betts, Red Sox

Mike Trout is now out for the rest of the season, which stinks to see as a baseball fan. That said, the AL MVP award should probably still be his.

I'd be more worried about Trout (8.3 WAR) losing his grip on this award if his lead in WAR wasn't so substantial. That said, Bregman (7.6 WAR) is doing an admirable job closing the gap, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him grab a few votes.

But the only real change here is Trout's third career MVP likely moving from unanimous, to merely overwhelming. 

NL MVP

1. Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
2. Christian Yelich, Brewers
3. Anthony Rendon, Nationals

With Trout's unfortunate injury, Cody Bellinger now leads baseball in WAR this season, according to Baseball-Reference. His lead was already substantial over Christian Yelich and the rest of the NL field, but Yelich's injury should just about lock this up for Bellinger (if it wasn't certain already).

There's little change in this update, as Rendon continues to enjoy a dominant contract year as well. In any other year, he may have been a better candidate, but Bellinger's coming out part has been historic. 

It is definitely possible a strong finish pushes Rendon past Yelich into second, however.

AL Cy Young

1. Justin Verlander, Astros
2. Gerrit Cole, Astros
3. Charlie Morton, Rays

Is there such a thing as a combined teammate Triple Crown? No, but perhaps there should be for Verlander and Cole. The two aces are, by far, the best pitchers in the American League this season. Each is top-two, in some order, in wins, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP.

That said, given Verlander's standing ahead of Cole in the rotation and his lead in most categories besides strikeouts, it's hard to envision Cole overtaking the elder statesman. It may very well be Verlander's last chance to win a Cy Young, given his age, though anything he does at this point in his career is thoroughly unsurprising.

NL Cy Young

1. Jacob deGrom, Mets
2. Max Scherzer, Nationals
3. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers

It may not feel like the same level of historic race between deGrom and Scherzer as we saw in 2018, but it is still shaping up to be a photo finish. Ryu's ERA has come back to Earth, but he does still lead the NL in the category. Even so, this feels like another two-man race.

deGrom leads in ERA, though the Nationals' rotation includes numbers two through four in WAR. The Nats' rotation is also the first to see three pitchers each top 222 strikeouts in a season, an impressive feat.

Scherzer is still leading that charge for the Nationals and is thus their pick. He doesn't have as many strikeouts as deGrom, but his K/9 is more than a full strikeout higher. This is going to be a fun final two weeks.

AL Rookie of the Year

1. Yordan Alvarez, Astros
2. John Means, Orioles
3. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays

As much of a lock to take home hardware this awards season as any Astro, Alvarez has blown away the competition in the AL since his debut. His arrival may have come been belated, but his impact (26 home runs, 1.090 OPS) is undeniable. This is an all-time great rookie season that just happens to have been cut short in April and May.

Means and Guerrero Jr. deserve mention still. Means ranks ahead of Guerrero thanks to a 2:1 ratio in WAR, but there's a distant gap between Alvarez and these two.

NL Rookie of the Year

1. Pete Alonso, Mets
2. Mike Soroka, Braves
3. Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres

Alonso leads Major League Baseball with 49 home runs, and will likely finish with more than 50. This is one of the most impressive rookie seasons at the plate in baseball history and is the single biggest lock of any award in 2019. It would have been fascinating to see a true race between Tatis and Alonso, but the chase for 50 has been pretty incredible as well.

AL Manager of the Year

1. Rocco Baldelli, Twins
2. Aaron Boone, Yankees
3. Bob Melvin, Athletics

I can't bring myself to move off Baldelli, just for how much better the Twins' record is compared the expectations entering the season. Having said that, if the Yankees finish the season with the best record in baseball, it wouldn't surprise anyone to see Boone win this award, considering the ridiculous injuries they've suffered in 2019.

Melvin is a new addition, but it's a tight race between the A's manager and the Rays' Kevin Cash. The winner will likely come from whichever team makes the AL Wild Card Game.

NL Manager of the Year

1. Davey Martinez, Nationals
2. Dave Roberts, Dodgers
3. Bruce Bochy, Giants

The Nationals have to make the postseason for Martinez to win this award. There's no way around it. But if they do make it, and I still project them to play in October, then he instantly becomes one of the favorites.

This is one of the trickiest awards to project, even with just two weeks left in the regular season. There's a compelling case to be made for Martinez, but there's also plenty of positives to say about Roberts, Bochy, Brian Snitker in Atlanta, Tony Lovullo in Arizona and Mike Shildt in St. Louis.

For now, we'll stick with Martinez, but this award isn't just a coin-flip; it's a dice roll.

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Nationals Roundup: Nats gear up for Marlins test amidst NL Wild Card Race

Nationals Roundup: Nats gear up for Marlins test amidst NL Wild Card Race

The Washington Nationals will enter their Friday game at the Miami Marlins with eyes on results from the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers as the NL Wild Card race heats up. 

Here are the latest news and updates: 

Player Notes:

Starting pitcher Max Scherzer's five earned runs was the most he has been charged with in 20 starts as Washington fell to the St. Louis Cardinals, 5-1, in the final game of their three-game series.

First baseman Matt Adams likely won't start again for the rest of the regular season, but there's a chance he can come off the bench next week. He sprained his AC joint in his shoulder last week and participated in batting practice for the first time on Wednesday. 

Injuries

C Spencer Kieboom, elbow, 60-Day-IL, 2020

C Kurt Suzuki, elbow, sidelined, day-to-day

RP Joe Ross, arm, sidelined, day-to-day

RP Roenias Elias, arm, sidelined, day-to-day

RP Austen Williams, arm, 60-Day IL, out indefinitely

1B Matt Adams, shoulder, sidelined, day-to-day

RP John Venters, shoulder, 60-Day IL, 2020

RP Koda Glover, elbow, 60-Day IL, out indefinitely

Coming Up: 

Friday, Sept. 20: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m. at Marlins Park

Saturday, Sept. 21: Nats at Marlins, 6:10 p.m. at Marlins Park

Sunday, Sept. 22: Nats at Marlins, 1:10 p.m. at Marlins Park

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