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Bats go silent as Nats fall to Rays, 5-0

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Bats go silent as Nats fall to Rays, 5-0

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: The Theory of Baseball Momentum would dictate that a team that scores 16 runs on 23 hits one night would be in prime position to stay hot the next night against the exact same team. Matt Williams, though, doesn’t believe momentum exists from game-to-game, and on Wednesday night the Nationals manager sounded like he knew what he was talking about.

Only 24 hours after trouncing the Rays at Tropicana Field, the Nats were completely shut down by the same Tampa Bay club in the opener of the D.C. portion of this interleague series. This despite an unconventional pitching plan deployed by Rays manager Kevin Cash, who used reliever Steve Geltz as his starter for two innings, then turning to starter Matt Andriese for four innings out of the bullpen.

That plan worked, because the Nationals managed only two hits all night. Prior to that point, the Rays scored three runs off Jordan Zimmermann, with old pal Steven Souza Jr. and rookie Curt Casali each homering in the top of the fifth, then an Ian Desmond error helping lead to another run in the sixth.

The Rays tacked on two more runs via an ugly play in the top of the eighth, when reliever Blake Treinen foolishly tried to make a tough throw of a water-soaked baseball, then Bryce Harper made things worse firing the ball into the third-base dugout. That 2-error play allowed Souza to come all the way around to score on a Little League home run, extending the lead to 5-0 and putting a definitive stamp on this game.

HITTING LOWLIGHT: How do you go from 16 runs on 23 hits one night to zero runs on two hits the next? Well, that’s baseball. It didn’t make this any more tolerable to watch, though. The Nationals never got anything going at the plate. Bryce Harper singled with two outs in the fourth, becoming their first baserunner of the night. Ian Desmond beat out an infield single in the fifth, with Michael Taylor intentionally walked later in the inning to bring the pitcher to the plate. And then Taylor walked again in the eighth. That’s it. That’s all the Nationals did in this game

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: It’s hard to fault Zimmermann for his performance on this night. Yes, he served up the home runs to Souza and Casali in the fifth inning, but those really were his lone mistakes of the game. He would’ve been out of the sixth inning unscathed had Ian Desmond been able to start a 6-4-3 double play instead of booting the ball for his 15th error. He struck out eight while walking only one. He threw 71 of his 105 pitches for strikes, a solid rate. That’s a quality start. But on a night when his teammates couldn’t muster up anything at the plate against the Rays’ staff, a mere quality start wasn’t enough. Zimmermann would’ve had to be perfect.

KEY STAT: Steven Souza Jr. currently leads all AL rookies in homers (13), RBI (30) and total bases (96).

UP NEXT: The finale of this 4-game, 2-city series features Doug Fister’s return from the DL for the Nationals. He’ll be opposed by Rays ace Chris Archer, who is among the early season contenders for AL Cy Young.

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3 Up, 3 Down: Allow Juan Soto to distract you from Bryce Harper

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USA TODAY

3 Up, 3 Down: Allow Juan Soto to distract you from Bryce Harper

Nationals fans are teetering on the edge. 

On one hand, the Nats are 3.5 games out of first place after a 10-week span full of injuries and underperformance. The team just acquired All-Star closer Kelvin Herrera, and their 19-year-old left fielder looks like an All-Star already. 

On the other hand, doom is imminent. The Monstars stole Bryce Harper's abilities at some point over the last three weeks, Steven Strasburg can't stay healthy, and the offense is pushing everyone's patience to the limit. 

So who's overperforming? Who's underperforming? Who's out there just trying their very best? LET'S LIST. 

Three Up

1. Juan Soto

Our large young son Juan continues to impress. He's now hitting .325/.411/.602 with a 1.013 OPS in 95 plate appearances over 25 games. That means we're mercifully starting to leave the 'fluky start' narrative behind. He's been the best hitter on the Nationals by a wide margain since he got called up - although that's perhaps more of an indicitment on the rest of the lineup than it is on Soto. Still, in less than a month he's probably earned the starting left field spot for the rest of the summer. Not bad. 

2. Justin Miller

Miller is 31, on his third team in four years, and owns a career ERA north of 4.50. Despite all of this, Miller's been the best reliever in baseball since coming up for the Nats. Of relief pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched (we hear your sample size comment and are not going to acknolwdge it), no one has a better FIP than Miller (0.64). He's striking out over half of the batters he sees and has yet to walk a single person this year. All the elite relief pitchers are already at 30-40 innings pitched, so Miller has a while to go before these stats mean a whole lot. If he stays even 75 percent as good as he's started, the Nats' bullpen looks scary. 

3. Michael A. Taylor

Have yourself a week or two, Michael A.! The centerfielder is slashing .500/.556/.583 over the last 14 days, the first of many "Maybe He Put It Together?!" runs we'll see from him this year. He also has six stolen bases during that span, more than anyone else on the team. His plate discipline has been better over the last two weeks, with a BB% a shade over 11 percent - only behind Juan Soto for highest on the team. Juan Soto, man. 

Three Down

1. Bryce Harper

A couple things here. We'll start with the admission that Bryce Harper is obviously not having a superb year. We've already briefly touched on why looking at only his batting average is a lazy way of judging his season, and we stand by that. With that said - Harper's had a bad season. The last month has been particularly painful. There's no way of dressing up a .189/.278/.400 slashline over the last 30 days. Still, his contact has been as great as his luck terrible - there's a positive regression coming, we promise. 

2. Pedro Severino 

And you think Harper's been slumping?? Over the same 30 days, Severino has hit .098/.179/.115 with a .294 OPS. He's essentially daring the Nats to put together a trade package for JT Realmuto at this point. He has six hits over his last 68 plate appearances and five of them are singles. 

3. Shawn Kelley

Kelley owns a 6.09 FIP and a 4.32 ERA over the last month (10 games, 8.1 innings pitched). He's walking close to nine percent of the hitters he's faced during that time. He has a 12.5 HR/FB over the last month. With the trade for Kelvin Herrera and the sudden emergence of Justin Miller, Kelley's role going forward isn't quite clear anymore. 

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National League All-Star Game Roster Projection: How it will all break down

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USA Today Sports

National League All-Star Game Roster Projection: How it will all break down

In less than a month, the 2018 MLB All-Star game will take place at Nationals Park.

There are plenty of details that still need ironing out, but none are more important than the 64 players that will be taking the field at the Midsummer Classic.

Surely the Washington Nationals are hoping that many of their hometown stars will make the cut.

So, lets clear the air. How are the MLB All-Star rosters created? Well it is a combination of the fan vote, the player ballots, and the MLB Commissioners Office. No, it is not a 33-33-33 split, but rather a political (yet fair) process. Here is how it shakes out for there to be 32 players on each team:

  • Fan vote: eight position players in NL/ nine in AL (DH); plus final vote for each league
  • Player’s ballots: next 16 players in NL; 17 players in AL (five starting pitchers, three relievers must be chosen)
  • MLB Commissioner’s Office: seven NL players (four pitchers, three position players) and five AL players (four pitchers, one position player)

Keep in mind, the MLB Commissioner’s Office merely is just there to ensure that there is one representative from all 30 MLB teams. Additionally, the player’s ballots are generally in-line with statistics and name recognition.

So let’s see how this shakes out for the National League All-Star Game roster. This factors in the latest fan vote returns:

National League All-Star Roster Projection:

C – Buster Posey, Giants (Fan Vote), Wilson Contreras, Cubs (Player Ballot)
1B – Freddie Freeman, Braves (Fan Vote), Jose Martinez, Cardinals (Player Ballot), Justin Bour, Marlins (Commissioner’s Office)
2B – Ozzie Albies, Braves (Fan Vote), Scooter Gennett, Reds (Player Ballot)
3B – Nolan Arenado, Rockies (Fan Vote), Kris Bryant, Cubs (Player Ballot)
SS – Brandon Crawford, Giants (Fan Vote), Chris Taylor, Dodgers (Player Ballot)
OF – Nick Markakis, Braves (Fan Vote), Bryce Harper, Nationals (Fan Vote), Matt Kemp (Fan Vote), Albert Almora Jr., Cubs (Player Ballot), Charlie Blackmon, Rockies (Player Ballot), Corey Dickerson, Pirates (Player Ballot), David Peralta, Diamondbacks (Commissioner’s Office), Christian Yelich (Commissioner’s Office)

SP – Max Scherzer, Nationals (Player Ballot), Sean Newcomb, Braves (Player Ballot), Jon Lester, Cubs (Player Ballot), Aaron Nola, Phillies (Player Ballot), Jacob deGrom, Mets (Player Ballot), Mike Foltynewicz, Braves (Commissioner’s Office)

RP – Brad Hand, Padres (Player Ballot), Sean Doolittle, Nationals (Player Ballot), Josh Hader Brewers (Player Ballot), Wade Davis, Rockies (Commissioner’s Office), Kenley Jansen (Commissioner’s Office), Jeremy Jeffress (Commissioner’s Office)

Manager: Dave Roberts, Dodgers

After this, there will be one more player chosen by another fan vote. The MLB Commissioner’s Office, along with the manager, choses five players to be selected in the penultimate vote. 

This puts three Nationals on the All-Star team with the Braves leading the charge with five selections.

Now of course nothing ever goes to plan, but heck its baseball, not everyone will be happy.

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