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A breakthrough for Nats?

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A breakthrough for Nats?

As the hits kept piling up and the balls kept soaring out of Coors Field, the smiles inside the Nationals' dugout kept getting bigger and bigger.

If ever a team needed a 12-run, 21-hit performance, this was it. For the first time in a long time, the Nationals were able to rest easy knowing they had a comfortable lead in hand. Not since a 7-2 victory in Atlanta on May 27 had they won a game by more than four runs.

And they hadn't hit like this since ... well, they hadn't hit like this any previous game this season. You have to go back to May 20, 2011 to find the last time the Nationals scored at least 12 runs (they racked up 17 that night in Baltimore). And you have to go way back to July 11, 2009 in Houston to find the last time they compiled 21 hits (the club record since the franchise arrived in Washington). And you can go back as far as you want but you won't find any previous game in which the Nationals pounded out 11 extra-base hits as they did last night.

Yes, in one fell swoop, this team managed to take the heat off its hitting coach, raise its season batting average four points (from .238 to .242) and slugging percentage eight points (from .387 to .395) and perhaps convince everyone in their clubhouse to request cortisone shots by daybreak.

Try picking one player of the game. You can't. Ryan Zimmerman went 3-for-5, making him 6-for-12 with two doubles and a homer since getting one of those pain-killing shots on his shoulder on Sunday. Michael Morse and Ian Desmond each went 4-for-5, each driving in a pair. Adam LaRoche smacked two homers, raising his team-leading total to 15. And Tyler Moore hit a 440-foot bomb way up into the left-field bleachers, driving in three runs himself with one mighty swing.

This was as cathartic a ballgame as ever there was, for any number of people in Nationals uniforms who desperately needed something like this.

But what was the significance of this in the bigger picture? Was this the breakthrough game that will catapult all these slumping hitters to greater heights and turn their fortunes around? Or was this merely a blip on the radar, a one-time explosion inside the greatest hitters park ever constructed and a precursor to more struggles moving forward?

We don't yet know, but we do know a few things...

1. Zimmerman looks like a brand-new hitter now that he's not feeling any pain in his right shoulder. He looks like the guy who carried this franchise for much of the last six seasons.

2. Morse was too good of a hitter to continue like this for long. With four hits, he raised his batting average an astounding 31 points in one night, from .219 to .250. He certainly appears ready to kick his delayed season into high gear now.

3. Moore looks like the real deal at the plate, a legitimate masher who can produce against left-handers and right-handers alike. The rookie is now hitting .319 with three homers and eight RBI in only 53 plate appearances

4. In a sport in which success is predicated so much on the confidence level of the players involved, there will be no more confident group this morning than the members of the Nationals lineup.

Could all of this become moot in 24 hours? Sure, the Nats could fall back into their offensively challenged ways and never come close to duplicating these feats at the plate.

Just don't tell that to anyone inside that clubhouse, which will be overflowing with confidence and good vibes when both teams take the field for tonight's game.

The only numbers that matter to them today are 12 and 21. They're the numbers that defined the most-productive offensive day this franchise has experienced in a long time.

And right now, there isn't one guy in uniform who doesn't believe they can do this again.

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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 as 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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