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Desmond savors what could be final home game with Nats

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Desmond savors what could be final home game with Nats

For some, it was perhaps lost in the shuffle of what was an otherwise bizarre day at Nationals Park, but on Sunday afternoon there was a uniquely special moment for the Nats and their fans. In the ninth inning, with the Nats down big against the Phillies, Matt Williams removed Ian Desmond for rookie Trea Turner. 

Why was that significant? Well, it was probably the final time Desmond will play in Washington as a member of the Nationals. The 28,661 in attendance gave Desmond a standing ovation and a roaring applause as he hopped to the top step of the dugout for a curtain call.

Desmond, 30, is a free agent this offseason. He is likely to sign with another team and leave the only MLB franchise he's ever known, the franchise that drafted him as 12 years ago when he was an 18-year-old kid from Sarasota, Florida.

Desmond was actually drafted by the Montreal Expos before they moved to Washington and became the Nationals. He is the only remaining player who is a holdover from those days within the organization.

Leaving the Nats will not be easy for Desmond, if that is indeed how this offseason plays out. He has spoken in the past about how he became a man under the caring watch of coaches and officials who are still with the team, and alongside many of the players he calls teammates today.

"That was pretty special," Desmond said of the curtain call. "It was bittersweet. I spent a lot of time here and I have a lot of special memories. Certainly that will be among the better ones."

Desmond debuted in 2009 and in the time since went from one of the rawest prospects in baseball to one of the game's best shortstops. He has three Silver Slugger awards on his mantle and was a key figure on two NL East-winning teams.

Desmond has made a lot of fans over the years with his ability to hit for power unlike many shortstops and his rare ability to make sensational plays on defense. He has, however, also drawn his fair share of criticism for striking out too much and committing costly errors.

Desmond knows the opinions of him are strong, but is simply thankful for those who cared to have one.

"I appreciate the emotion," he said. "Whether you cheered for me, loved me or hated me, booed me or whatever. To invest emotionally in somebody, not everyone gets that. There's been over history plenty of irrelevant players who didn't get anything from fans emotionally. Positive or negative, whatever you decided to invest in me, I appreciate it and I respect it. I went out there every day and grinded it out."

If Desmond leaves, he will do so after a disappointing season that saw the Nationals fall far short of their expectations to win a World Series. The former All-Star, though, insists that will not diminish any sort of sentimentality he feels about his time in D.C. likely winding down. Desmond does have strong feelings about the Nats and their fans, and he only sees the positives in that.

"It's nothing bad. That's a good sign. Just kind of embrace it and realize it feels this way because I have built some really good relationships with some of you guys, and fans, and obviously everyone in [the Nats clubhouse]. But it's all good stuff. Everything is positive. Except the team's situation," he said.

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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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Juan Soto's 2-run double carries Nationals past Orioles

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Juan Soto's 2-run double carries Nationals past Orioles

WASHINGTON -- A teenager among men, Juan Soto has impressed his teammates on the Washington Nationals with his maturity and, even more so, his potent bat.

Soto hit a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning, and Washington beat the Baltimore Orioles 4-2 Thursday night in the deciding matchup of a three-game interleague series between neighboring rivals.

Soto, a 19-year-old rookie, is batting .326 with 16 RBIs in 28 games. Starting in the cleanup spot for the first time, he drew a walk and delivered the game's pivotal hit.

"I think we're all amazed every single day," Washington ace Max Scherzer said. "He puts together great ABs. He has antics and has some flair. He's a great young player. He's just enjoying himself."

Bryce Harper led off the eighth with a double off Mychal Givens (0-4) and Trea Turner followed with a single. After Anthony Rendon struck out, Soto hit a liner into the gap in left-center.

"He's got unbelievable poise," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said of Soto. "No matter what the situation is, he goes out there with a game plan."

Whatever that plan is, it's effective.

"I just try to be focused and keep working," Soto said.

Rendon homered for the Nationals, who received seven strong innings from Scherzer and flawless work from their bullpen.

Newcomer Kelvin Herrera (1-0) pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and Sean Doolittle got three straight outs for his 20th save in 21 tries.

Seeking to end a rare run of two straight losses, Scherzer left a tied game after allowing two runs -- both on solo homers -- and striking out nine.

Afterward, the right-hander heaped praise upon Soto for the manner in which he's adapted to playing in the big leagues.

"He has a great feel for the strike zone," Scherzer said. "To have that type of eye, it's remarkable for him to be able to do that at this time and this age and this level."

Activated from the 60-day disabled list before the game, Colby Rasmus homered for the Orioles in his first at-bat since April 6.

"Me and Max, we go way back, so I felt real good," said Rasmus, who had been sidelined with a hip injury.

In addition, Rasmus made an outstanding throw from right field to the plate, nailing Wilmer Difo on a tag-up play in the seventh inning with the score tied.

Mark Trumbo also homered for Baltimore, his sixth of the season and third in four games.

Baltimore starter Kevin Gausman gave up two runs and four hits over six innings. The right-hander was lifted with the score tied, leaving him winless in his last seven starts.

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