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Inside Baseball: The Nationals' bullpen is currently bad and potentially great

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USA TODAY

Inside Baseball: The Nationals' bullpen is currently bad and potentially great

Here's what's happening ... inside ... baseball. 

We're almost a month into the MLB season, and that sweet noise you hear is the sound of sample sizes starting to become reliable! So far, the Red Sox are very good except for the nights they're getting no-hit, Derek Jeter's Marlins and their .227 winning percentage "aren't accepting a losing culture," and Mike Trout is well on his way to another historically-great 3rd place finish in the MVP race. 

AT NATS PARK

As it stands today, the Nationals are sitting in 4th in the NL East. It's early, they haven't been healthy, etc. etc., whatever. It hasn't been great. Their pitching staff features the best rotation in baseball paired alongside one of the worst bullpens in baseball. No bullpen in baseball has a higher homerun/flyball percentage (18%) than the Nationals. Only two teams - the Rockies and the Royals - strand runners on base at a lower clip than the Nationals (64.0 LOB%). If you really want to get into the weeds, their Win Probabilty and Clutch numbers tell a grim story too. 

Don't smash that panic button yet, though (maybe just lightly rest your hand on it?). There are a few reasons to believe that maybe the bullpen isn't actually as bad as they've been the first month.  They're striking out hitters at an elite level so far - only the Brewers and the Yankees have better K/9 and K% numbers than the Nats.  If you take take a look back at which bullpens led the league in strikeout numbers over the last handful of years, you'll see a *lot* of playoff teams. In the three-true-outcome era, having a bullpen that gets swings-and-misses is inarguably valuable. The Nats have that. 

Taking a look at their individual numbers, it's clear there's an excellent backend hidden somewhere in the bullpen right now. Sammy Solis' ERA is almost four runs higher than his FIP (fielding-independent pitching), a clear sign that Solis has pitched well but been a victim of the Nats' shoddy defense. The same goes for Ryan Madson, whose ERA sits at almost seven despite an FIP under three. Assuming that bullpen roles become more established once the data catches up, the Nats' bullpen could look a lot better in a month or two. 

AROUND BASEBALL

What you should know: Manny Machado's half-season showcase is going swimmingly. He's slashing .360/.447/.708 with eight homers through the first month or so of games. He's posted a 208 wRC+, which is a fancy way of saying he's been 108 percent better than league average at the plate so far. He's been the most valuable hitter this season and the second-most valuable player overall. Meanwhile, the Orioles are 6-17 and already 12 games out of first place in the AL East. It hasn't even been a month yet. Is this the year the the MLB trade deadline is exciting?!

What you should watch: Angels @ Astros (4/24-4/25)

Shohei Ohtani is pitching on Tuesday night, so that's reason enough. But, if you need more, there's also Mike Trout, the defending World Series champs, and Justin Verlander pitching on Wednesday. It also happens to be a battle between the best two teams in the AL West, separated by half a game for first place. If there's such a thing as exciting April baseball, it looks like this. 

Player of the week: I know we already talked about him, but no one's been better than Manny Machado over the last seven days. He's hitting .500/.586/1.208 with five homers during that span. After being bit by historically bad luck during the first half of last season, Machado has been putting up monster numbers ever since:

Random baseball gif: 

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A quick recap of Tuesday's MLB All-Star Game, including how your Nats did

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USA TODAY Sports

A quick recap of Tuesday's MLB All-Star Game, including how your Nats did

Tuesday evening's All-Star game was fairly uneventful until its later innings. The American League triumphed over the National League, 8 - 6, for their sixth straight All-Star game victory.

Despite fears of potential rain and inclement weather delaying the game, there were no unexpected stops in play. 

The AL started very strong offensively, with runs from Aaron Judge and Mike Trout in the top of the second and third innings, respectively. Jean Segura's three-run homer in the top of the eighth made victory look inevitable for the AL by the fifth. 

Max Scherzer, unsurprisingly, was well received among fans at Nationals Park. The Nats starter pitched the first two innings, giving up four hits. One was Judge's second-inning homer, but Scherzer remained unfazed and lighthearted. Four strikeouts made his performance commendable.

Bryce Harper did not get on as well, striking out in both of his at-bats. After Harper's Home Run Derby win last night, there was chatter of him going for the MVP title as well. 

It didn't work out, but given Harper's consistent presence at the All-Star game, there's always another chance.

Elsewhere in the dugout for the NL, who rallied back from the three-run deficit, the kids were all right. Willson Contreras of the Cubs had a solo homer at the bottom of the third, the Rockies' Trevor Story had one in the seventh, and Christian Yelich added another in the eighth. A two-run homer by Scooter Gennett in the bottom of the ninth brought the game back to a 5-5 tie.

Jesus Aguilar struck out for the NL, and extra innings began.

In the top of the tenth, Alex Bregman and George Springer, both of the Astros, hit home runs almost immediately off of Dodgers pitcher Ross Stipling. Stop us if you've heard that one before.

With no outs, Michael Brantley took a sacrifice flyout to right field, and Jean Segura got in one more run to put the score at 8-5.

Though Joey Votto (Reds) hit one last home run in the bottom of the tenth, the NL couldn't quite make up the deficit.

After a late night, the American League will be going home happy.

MORE ALL-STAR GAME NEWS:

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2018 MLB All-Star Game Live Blog

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USA TODAY Sports

2018 MLB All-Star Game Live Blog

This is the year's most ambitious crossover event in baseball. Dozens of MLB standouts from dozens of teams ally along either the National or American league. The two teams play against each other in a lighthearted frankensquad matchup. It's a welcome change of pace, considering how stressed we are about the Nationals' win percentage.

At the moment, we're keeping our eyes to the sky to monitor incoming rain. Aside from the threat of rain delay, we're excited to see how things unfold.

TOP 10 - Yikes, uh, so that's two solo home runs, and still no outs?

BOT 9 - A lot of people have either Bad Bunny or Post Malone as their walk up music. Also, uh, Scooter did a two-run homer, so now we're going to extra innings.

TOP 9 - Nothing is happening. Yawn.

BOT 8 - Yelich homers! We love one Brewer! It's 5-3 AL.

TOP 8 - Segura hits a three-run homer. Cruz adds it to his Instagram story. The AL is up 5-2. Yikes.

TOP 8 - Blackmon is very charming when mic'd up. He's talking about how lonely the outfield is. In other adjacent boredom news, Mike Trout follows over 145 weather related accounts on twitter. Yes, we went through his 2,400 user long following list to check.

BOT 7 - Bottoms tend to be the most exciting. Arenado knows this. So he tied it with a solo homer.

TOP 7 - Please, we are all so tired, and this pace is so slow. Votto has a nice tag, Yelich loses a ball in the lights but still makes the out. 

BOT 6 - Everybody Hates The National League. Votto, Yelich, and Blackmon all come up short.

INT 6 - Everyone on the internet and the broadcast loses their minds over Manny Machado.

TOP 6 - Nelson Cruz goes up against pitcher Jeremy Jeffress to start the inning. We take a brief pause for another selfie. Isn't it kind of a bad idea to have your phone in your pocket when you're at bat? Anyway. Bregman hits a double, but is immediately outshined as we go to Manny Machado for an interview about how it feels to wear an Orioles uniform for (maybe) the last time. Limor pinch hits for Machado, and doesn't quite get it out of the park. Oh well.

BOT 5 - Contreras gets a hit off Jose Berrios and promptly gets tagged first. Javier Baez looks amazing at the plate, but flies out. Arenado walks. Trout-man catches Molina's almost-homer. NL, do better please.

TOP 5 - Aaron Nola strikes out Brandon Crawford fairly easily and Mookie Betts not so easily. Mike Trout, who looks like he would post pictures with trout and other fish on Instagram, pops up and across the first base line. Sorry AL.

BOT 4 - Bryce Harper faces Blake Snell and strikes out for the second time tonight. Maybe he thought tonight was a Strikeout Derby?

TOP 4 - Machado pops up to the third baseman in what may be his final at-bat wearing an Orioles uniform.

TOP 4 - Matt Kemp deftly avoids tampering charges when the FOX broadcast crew asks him about his selfie with Machado.

BOT 2 - Manny begins acquainting himself with his LA teammates.

BOT 2 - Chris Sale only stuck around for one inning, apparently. It's Luis Severino time in D.C. He allows a double from Matt Kemp to start but then strikes out Bryce Harper. 

TOP 2 - Aaron Judge takes Scherzer deep. 1-0 AL. Sigh.

BOT 1 - AL Starter Chris Sale responds with a scoreless frame of his own. We're on our way to that 3-2 thriller after all!!! 

TOP 1 - Scherzer strikes out Mookie Betts and Jose Altuve before walking Mike Trout (can't blame him) and allowing a hit to J.D. Martinez. No damage done though, and it's 0-0. 

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