Nationals

Quick Links

Botched call sets tone for Nationals loss

882987.png

Botched call sets tone for Nationals loss

ATLANTA -- The call that turned Saturday's ballgame upside-down and set the Braves on their way to a 5-4 victory seemed obvious to everyone in a Nationals uniform.

Adam LaRoche's left foot never lost contact with first base -- "I was sure," the veteran said later -- and Martin Prado should have been called out on what looked like a routine groundout to open the bottom of the sixth.

So when Marvin Hudson signaled safe, Davey Johnson didn't know what else to do but bolt out of the Turner Field visitors dugout and let the 48-year-old umpire have it.

"I knew," the 69-year-old manager said. "Even with these old eyes, I knew I was right. I didn't need a replay. And I'm thinking: Here's a young man, right on top of it. Obviously he had to be out of position."

So Johnson asked Hudson to confer with his crew mates, thinking perhaps someone else had a better angle of the play. Only three innings earlier, these same umpires had convened and reversed a call, allowing Ian Desmond to advance to third base on a wild pitch.

Hudson, though, refused to ask for any help. That really set Johnson off, and ultimately led to his first ejection of the season.

Of greater concern to the Nationals: Four pitches later, Edwin Jackson left a fastball over the plate to Jason Heyward, who belted it deep to right-center for the two-run homer that tied this game 4-4 and made the blown call sting even worse.

"We don't need to give them a little added momentum here," Johnson said. "Get some help. Obviously he was blocked off or something. That's it, really. I probably overreacted, but it was really a critical point in the ballgame. My pitcher pitched a heck of a ballgame. We had a lead. We don't need to give them any gifts."

Little did Johnson know at the time the Nationals would give the Braves three even bigger gifts two innings later, with the game really on the line. Handed the ball for the bottom of the eighth in a 4-4 game by bench coach Randy Knorr (filling in as manager following the ejection), reliever Ryan Mattheus issued back-to-back walks to load the bases, then grazed No. 8 hitter Andrelton Simmons with an inside fastball. That forced the go-ahead run across the plate and sent the Nationals to their second consecutive, one-run loss to their chief division rivals.

"I didn't even give us a chance to win that game," Mattheus said. "I've got to go out and I've got to throw strikes. If I get beat throwing strikes, it's a little easier to swallow. I can't remember that happening any time in the past, that I can remember. It's inexcusable."

Thus, in the span of 24 hours, the Nationals saw their commanding, 8 12-game lead over the Braves drop to 6 12. There are still only 17 games to play, and it would still require a massive collapse combined with a major resurgence, but the Nats understand they're facing something of a must-win situation Sunday night on national TV to prevent their collars from clenching up a bit too tight for comfort.

"You don't want to get swept anywhere, especially against the team behind you, so it's a big game," LaRoche said. "I think they're all pretty big from here on out. But we've got a chance to really gain some ground against these guys. Had two close ones, lost 'em. Come out tomorrow, hopefully take one."

There were reasons beyond the missed call and Mattheus' inability to find the strike zone for this loss. Staked to an early 4-0 lead on LaRoche's 30th homer of the season and two more runs as a direct result of some wretched Atlanta defense, the Nationals watched as Jackson gave back all four runs.

The right-hander, making his first career start in his hometown, surrendered only four hits over 5 13 innings, but all four went for extra bases: Freddie Freeman's triple and Dan Uggla's double in the second inning, Freeman's homer in the fourth inning and then Heyward's crushing homer in the sixth inning.

"Anytime you get a lead like that and you're the starting pitcher, and you come out of the game and that lead isn't there, that's always tough," Jackson said. "My job is to go out there and secure the lead, regardless of the calls being made."

The Nationals lineup, meanwhile, turned stone-cold silent after the early explosion. They managed only five hits after LaRoche's homer in the first, and what few opportunities they had were squandered by their inability to put the ball in play.

One day after striking out a season-high 17 times, the Nationals whiffed 12 more times, with Danny Espinosa earning his second straight Golden Sombrero for a four-strikeout performance.

They did manage to make things interesting in the ninth against oft-unhittable closer Craig Kimbrel, with Chad Tracy stroking a one-out single to left and pinch-runner Eury Perez swiping second base and advancing to third on a wild throw.

But neither Steve Lombardozzi nor Tyler Moore could put the ball into play, each rookie striking out with the tying run 90 feet away.

Thus the Nationals trudged off the field with another disheartening loss in an eminently winnable game. They had plenty to fret over at night's end, but they also couldn't help but wonder whether the entire storyline might have been different had a botched call not been made. Or, at the very least, had an umpire out of position simply sought help from his mates.

"I thought maybe they'd get together again and get it right," Johnson said. "It wasn't meant to be, and I think it was a big run. That was a big run. But it's like crying over spilled milk. It's over."

Quick Links

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

bryce-harper-usat.jpg
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.

MORE NATS NEWS:

Quick Links

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. 

MORE NATS COVERAGE: