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Around the NL East: Marlins climbing out of early-season hole

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Around the NL East: Marlins climbing out of early-season hole

ATLANTA BRAVES 

While Nats fans are still reveling in Tuesday night's historic comeback victory, imagine what Braves fans are feeling right now. Their hot start to April has dissipated, losing seven of the last 10 games and falling below .500 for the first time this season at 10-11. Worst of all for Atlanta was that dropping the series to Washington might have awakened a sleeping giant.  

It was just one outing, but losing that dramatic game to the Nats shows the value of former closer Craig Kimbrel. That's no slight to Jason Grilli, who has been a proven closer at other stops, but who thinks Kimbrel would have given up a go-ahead three-run homer to Dan Uggla on an 0-2 pitch? Blown saves used to be a rarity for the Braves, but as the season wear they'll probably find themselves missing their former stud reliever (if they haven't already, that is). 

MIAMI MARLINS

Okay, so maybe that players only meeting might have worked a little bit. Miami has won seven out of its last eight games and is steadily climbing out of an early-season hole.

The most encouraging trend over the last week has been the consistency of the rotation. Marlins starters have posted quality starts in six of their last eight games, lowering the team ERA from 5.10 to 4.09. And to top it off, reports are that Jose Fernandez will start to face live hitters as he works his way from rehabbing Tommy John surgery. That's quite the turnaround for a pitching staff that looked like it was in panic mode just a few weeks ago. 

And the staff picked a good time to straighten things out, too, because Giancarlo Stanton is starting to do Giancarlo Stanton-like things at the plate. In his last ten games, he's hit four home runs and now leads the NL in RBI at 21. 

NEW YORK METS  

It's still hard to believe that the Mets are in first place in the division and have the best record in the NL. One would think they were doing it via smoke and mirrors, but you don't win 11 straight without being good. To put their recent win streak in perspective, it's only happened four other times in franchise history, including the championship seasons of 1969 and 1986. So how much of a mirage could this be?

If their rotation stays healthy (which is far from guaranteed), there's no reason to think the Mets can't hang around all season and contend. Between Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and the ageless Bartolo Colon, it's difficult to envision New York going on a long losing streak. Sure, they could regress -- they've dropped two straight series -- but with the way the rest of the division has played thus far, they have as good a shot as anyone to take the NL East crown. 

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES 

A month hasn't even gone by, and we're already hearing trade rumors involving the Phillies. The Cole Hamels saga has taken on a life of its own, as GM Ruben Amaro Jr. finds himself trying to sift through the best offers from around the league for the lefty starter. When will he finally pull the trigger on a deal? And with which team? And at what price? There's still plenty to sort out here, but one thing that the Phillies GM has made clear it that his club is willing to eat some of Hamels' contract, which should make things easier for other teams looking to make a move. Teams reportedly interested in Hamels' services include the Cardinals, Dodgers, Red Sox and Blue Jays. 

[RELATED: Confident once again, Nats lineup on fire]

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Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

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USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

It’s happening.

When the 2018 All-Star Weekend comes to Washington, D.C. in the middle of July, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will compete in the 2018 Home Run Derby, but only on one condition: He has to be a member of the 2018 National League All-Star Team.

Though Harper is having a down year, only hitting .213 thus far, he leads the NL in home runs with 19.

In the June 18 update of All-Star game voting, Harper sat second among all outfielders with just north of 1,000,000 votes.

That means he’s not only going to make the All-Star team, but he’ll likely start in the outfield.

Harper, a five-time All-Star, competed in the Home Run Derby once before. He was the runner-up to Yoenis Cespedes in 2013, losing by just one long ball, 9-8.

The 2018 Home Run Derby will take place on July 16 at Nationals Park.

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It's time to start paying attention to Trea Turner's sneaky-great season

It's time to start paying attention to Trea Turner's sneaky-great season

Remember when the Nationals put Trea Turner in centerfield so they could keep Danny Espinosa at shortstop?

Two years later it's Turner who leads all N.L. shortstops in fWAR, as you surely know if you follow the Nationals on literally any social media platform. 

So while Juan Soto and Bryce Harper continue to dominate all of The Takes, it's Turner who's been the Nats' best position player this season. 

We'll start with some basics: 

Did you know that Trea Turner leads all N.L. shortstops in fWAR? He's currently sitting at 2.4 WAR, above the likes of Brandon Crawford, Addison Russell, and Trevor Story, to name a few. (We'll ignore the fact that the top six shortstops in the A.L. all have a better fWAR.) He's a top-10 shortstop in baseball during one of the strongest eras in the position's history.

Even after a dreadfully slow start, Turner's still on pace to have the best season of his career. He posted a WAR of 2.9 last year and -- barring injury -- will realistically eclipse that by the All-Star game. 

At the plate, two stats jump off the page in regards to explaining Turner's stellar season. 

First, Turner is drawing a *bunch* of walks. His current BB% clip (10.6 percent) would be far and away the best of his career and up four percentage points from last year. It's a factor that helps explain - partially, at least - why his on-base percentage has risen and his BABIP has dropped. More walks mean fewer swings, fewer swings mean less contact, less contact means lower BABIP, etc. It's not the whole picture, but it's a big part of it. 

Secondly, Turner is making impressive contact on pitches out of the strike zone. FanGraphs calculates out-of-zone contact using a statistic titled O-Contact, which is a blessing considering some of the titles they choose to give their other stats. 

The average O-Contact across MLB in 2018 is 64.7 percent. Trea Turner's career O-Contact is 62.4 percent (although realistically it's closer to the high-50's - a small-sample-size from his abbreviated first season mucks up the number a bit). 

This season, Turner's posted an O-Contact of 69.3 percent. Not only is that 10 percentage points higher than his O-Contact from last season, but a top-50 clip in all of baseball. He's one spot ahead of Mike Trout!  Put both of these together with some encouraging Statcast numbers (rise in HardHit%, already matched his total 'barrels' from last season) and you can see why Turner's been thriving at the plate. 

Defensively, he's improved across the board as well. His UZR and DRS - considered the two most reliable fielding statistics, if such a thing exists - are both up from last year. He has the 10th-best UZR of all major league shortstops and ranks 1st in DRS. 

Last season, he finished 17th in both UZR and DRS (of all shortstops with at least 800 innings; Turner didn't log enough innings to be considered a qualified fielder). He ended the season with both numbers in the negative. 

You may be skeptical of defensive stats, which is fine. But if nothing else, the fact that Turner is turning literal negative stats into positive ones is encouraging. 

Lastly, Turner continues to be an elite baserunner. At this point in his career, his speed is arguably his best tool:

You'll note that purple dot allllllllllll the way on the right. That's Turner! Now, let's take a look at how his speed compares across all positions:

Essentially, Turner is faster than like, 98 percent of baseball. In fact, by Sprint Speed, he's the 6th-fastest player in the game. He also ranks 2nd across all of baseball in FanGraphs "Baserunning" measurements, only behind fellow teammate and mindbogglingly good baserunner Michael A. Taylor. 

So, Trea Turner an elite baserunner (maybe the best if you combine his raw speed with his baserunning stats), a top-5 shortstop in the field, and an All-Star at the plate. 

Juan Soto's been great and Bryce Harper is still extremely talented, but this year, Trea Turner has been the Nationals' best player. 

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