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Cardinals get to Zimmermann, Nats

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Cardinals get to Zimmermann, Nats

Updated at 10:15 p.m.

ST. LOUIS -- He's been their most consistent pitcher all season, a no-nonsense right-hander who just wants to be handed the ball every five days and give his team a chance to win.

Jordan Zimmermann insisted he wouldn't be nervous to make the first postseason start of his career. And truth be told, there weren't really any signs this afternoon that the young hurler was nervous for Game 2 of the National League Division Series.

Zimmermann's biggest obstacle, as it turned out, wasn't October nerves but a Cardinals lineup that carves him up and feasts on whatever scraps are left. With another bludgeoning of the right-hander, St. Louis stormed out to an early lead and never let up to win this game 12-4 and tie this series at one game apiece.

There was no dramatic rally by the Nationals this time, only a lopsided loss that quickly erased memories of Sunday's 3-2 thriller and perhaps put the onus back on Washington to right its ship when the series reconvenes on South Capitol Street Wednesday afternoon.

The Nationals still hold the upper hand, needing now to simply win two of three home games. But they'll need a far better performance from starter Edwin Jackson in Game 3 than they got from Zimmermann in Game 2.

"I wanted to go out there and go deep into the game and try to get out of here with two wins," Zimmermann said. "I didn't do my part. I feel like if the starter doesn't go out and do their part, it kind of snowballs with the relievers sometimes, and that's kind of what happened today."

If there was one member of the Nationals rotation who seemed a sure bet to pitch deep into a postseason game, it was Zimmermann. The right-hander failed to complete five innings only once in 32 starts this season and had failed to reach the fourth inning only twice before in 81 career big-league starts.

Both of those three-inning starts came in September 2010, Zimmermann's first month back from Tommy John surgery, when he was on a strict pitch count.

No such restrictions existed today when Zimmermann toed the rubber, the Nationals hoping to get a big-time performance from one of their best young pitchers. Instead, they got one of his worst clunkers at this level.

"That's some of the youth in the pitching staff," manager Davey Johnson said. "He didn't really make a lot of adjustments out there."

This wasn't the first time Zimmermann struggled against St. Louis. In six career starts against the Redbirds, he's now 0-3 with a 9.73 ERA, having allowed 45 hits in only 28 23 innings.

"I just haven't been making my pitches against these guys," he said.

After a quick, 1-2-3 first inning, Zimmermann served up hits to the first four batters he faced in the second. By the time the inning mercifully came to an end, the Cardinals had scored four runs and rendered Zimmermann's earlier RBI single moot.

Needing a bounce-back inning in the third, the right-hander faltered again, serving up a towering homer down the left-field line to Allen Craig and needing a standout play from Ryan Zimmerman at third base to end the inning.

Zimmermann's issue didn't resemble rotation mate Gio Gonzalez's from Game 1. Gonzalez couldn't find the plate at all; Zimmermann might have been finding too much of it. Forty of his 63 pitches were for strikes, and he never walked a batter during his three innings of work. St. Louis' lineup simply put the barrel to the ball with great frequency.

"I just didn't make any pitches," he said. "When you're off a little bit and you're missing some spots and falling behind and then you have to come across the middle, it's going to be a long day."

His team down 5-1 and his starter clearly suffering through an off-day, Johnson decided not to mess around anymore and turned to his bullpen in the bottom of the fourth. Not that the early hook made much of a difference.

Craig Stammen, who looked shaky in his Game 1 relief appearance, again struggled, serving up a leadoff homer to Daniel Descalso and failing to get out of the inning altogether. Michael Gonzalez later served up a 441-foot bomb to Carlos Beltran, adding to the deficit.

Johnson, though, wasn't the only manager to break out a fast hook in this game. His counterpart made the move even earlier, yanking an ineffective Jaime Garcia after only two innings and asking his bullpen to record 21 outs on the second day of the postseason.

Manager Mike Matheny later revealed Garcia was having an issue with the same left shoulder injury that plagued him earlier this season. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the Cardinals will remove the lefty from their postseason roster and add another pitcher for the rest of the series.

"It was obviously a sense of urgency, but Jaime's arm wasn't feeling right at the time," Matheny said. "So that was the deciding factor."

In the end, Matheny's strategy looked like sheer genius. Lance Lynn churned out three innings to bridge the gap, though the big right-hander was tagged for back-to-back homers by Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche in the top of the fifth. Fellow righties Joe Kelly, Edward Mujica and Mitchell Boggs then tossed an inning apiece to get the game in the hands of closer Jason Motte.

Not that the Cardinals needed Motte in the end. Another four-run outburst in the bottom of the eighth off Sean Burnett left this game well in hand and required no closer, sending the Nationals back home with the series now tied up.

"That was our goal," second baseman Danny Espinosa said. "We wanted to get one win out here. That's what we came in trying to do, and we got it last night."

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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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