Nationals

Quick Links

Desmond turns emotional after likely Nats finale

usatsi_8831833_141983962_lowres.jpg

Desmond turns emotional after likely Nats finale

An emotional Ian Desmond fought back tears as he tried to sum up 12 seasons in the Nationals organization Sunday evening following what almost certainly was his final game with the franchise.

"When I got drafted by the Expos, they didn't know where the team would be," Desmond said, pausing several times to compose himself. "But they couldn't have found a better home. I'm extremely proud to say that I was a Washington National."

The longest-tenured player in the organization, Desmond was a third-round pick in 2004 of the Expos, who at the time were owned by Major League Baseball and faced an uncertain future, with either relocation or contraction a possibility.

The franchise moved to Washington in 2005, and Desmond made his first-ever appearance in a Nationals uniform that spring, when former general manager Jim Bowden brought the then-19-year-old up from minor-league camp to play a couple of Grapefruit League games with the big leaguers. Then-manager Frank Robinson took such a liking to Desmond, who dazzled with a few highlight-reel defensive plays, he brought him north for the club's first-ever exhibition game at RFK Stadium.

Desmond's path back to Washington took time and patience, while the organization waited for the talented but raw ballplayer to hone his game both at the plate and in the field. He made his major-league debut Sept. 10, 2009, launching a home run that nearly cleared the left-field bleachers at Nationals Park, then served as the club's starting shortstop over the ensuing six seasons.

Desmond remained a work-in-progress through his first two years in the majors but took off in 2012, winning the first of his three Silver Slugger Awards and earning an All-Star selection. His production declined some in the years since, bottoming out this season in the form of a .233 batting average, 19 homers, 62 RBI and a .674 OPS.

Those disappointing numbers almost certainly will cost Desmond in the free-agent market this winter. He turned down a long-term extension offer from the Nationals last year that was believed to be worth more than $100 million; it's unlikely he'll receive any offers this winter that come anywhere close to nine figures.

Though there has been mutual respect between Desmond and the Nationals throughout the process, both sides have all but acknowledged the odds of a deal to stay in Washington are next-to-zero.

"I think at this particular moment, there's a lot of things to be discussed," Desmond said. "This organization has been nothing but good to me. We've come a long way, a long way personally and as an organization."

Asked what his biggest takeaway from this season would be, Desmond cited the team's overall effort in the face of injuries, inconsistent performances and turmoil over the final month.

"We never stopped playing," he said. "No matter what, we kept on grinding away. Obviously no one wants to sit here and play pity party, but it was a tough year. We overcame a lot. Not enough, but I'm extremely proud of the way we handled our business."

The Nationals have been preparing for Desmond's expected departure, leaving themselves with multiple options to fill his position in 2016 and beyond. Veteran infielder Yunel Escobar played third base this season but has spent the majority of his career at shortstop. Danny Espinosa has been primarily a second baseman and then utilityman in his time with the organization but has always been considered an elite defensive shortstop. And top prospect Trea Turner, acquired last winter, flashed his potential during his late-season call-up and likely will be a long-term answer for the club at either shortstop or second base.

Though he knows he almost certainly won't be a part of it moving forward, Desmond offered an encouraging view of the Nationals organization as it enters a new chapter.

"I think when you have character people around, good things are bound to happen," he said. "There are a lot of good players here, a lot of good coaches in the organization."

MORE NATIONALS: Harper loses batting title but sets up for MVP

Quick Links

Bryce Harper drives in 3, Nationals snap skid, beat Cardinals 5-4

glover-harper-usat.png
USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Harper drives in 3, Nationals snap skid, beat Cardinals 5-4

ST. LOUIS -- Koda Glover rewarded his manager's faith.

Bryce Harper had three hits and drove in three runs, Glover earned the save in the first opportunity since Ryan Madson was placed on the disabled list, and the Washington Nationals snapped a four-game losing streak with a 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night.

The Nationals won for just the third time in their last 10 games and snapped the Cardinals' season-high, eight-game winning streak.

"We needed a win today," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "Get on that plane, have a nice happy flight and come back tomorrow and be at home and be ready."

Tanner Roark (8-12) gave up four runs, three earned, in six innings.

A beleaguered bullpen that had blown two leads to start the losing streak took care of the rest. Justin Miller pitched two scoreless innings before Glover closed it out.

"There's been a lot of changes (in the bullpen)," Miller said. "It's unfortunate, a couple of injuries and stuff like that, but I don't really look at it as I've got the seventh or eighth or anything like that. I'm just going out there just trying to do my job."

Glover took the loss in the series opener on Monday, giving up a game-ending homer to Paul DeJong.

"The first game of the series didn't go as I would have liked for it to have went," Glover said. "So to get put back in that situation or even a better situation to get a save, I'm happy with that outcome."

Harper drove in the game's first run with a double in the first and knocked in two more with a bases-loaded single in the fourth to give the Nationals a 4-1 lead.

A pair of errors helped the Nationals extend their lead to 5-1 in the fifth. St. Louis committed three errors in the game after committing just four total errors during the winning streak.

"A couple plays clearly we expect to make and will make and just didn't go our way for a little bit there," Cardinals interim manager Mike Shildt said. "To the guys' credit they regrouped, settled down, and started playing back to the baseball they know they can play."

The Nationals had opportunities to pad the lead, leaving the bases loaded in the third and fifth while stranding nine runners in the first five innings.

"When you have an opportunity to put teams away you've got to do that," Martinez said. "Especially with how hot the Cardinals are playing right now. They're going to come back."

The Cardinals got within one in the sixth. After DeJong and Kolten Wong came up with back-to-back, two-out RBI hits, Harrison Bader hit a slow grounder to third. Anthony Rendon's throw to first got away from Ryan Zimmerman for an error, allowing Wong to score from second to cut the Nationals' lead to 5-4.

Just two of the four runs Luke Weaver (6-11) allowed in his 3 2/3 innings were earned. He gave up seven hits, including two to Roark, who scored both times.

Tyson Ross allowed one unearned run in 3 1/3 innings of relief.

Bader homered in the third and Matt Carpenter walked twice to extend his on-base streak to a career-high 34 games.

TRAINING ROOM

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson will have an MRI on his sore right wrist on Friday. RHP Joe Ross (right elbow surgery) threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings at Class A Potomac on Thursday and is hoping for a September return.

Cardinals: RHP Carlos Martinez (right shoulder strain) will begin a rehab Friday at Double-A Springfield. RHP Adam Wainwright (right elbow inflammation) threw two scoreless innings Thursday night at High-A Palm Beach.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (15-5, 2.19 ERA) will take the mound as the Nationals return home for a three-game series Friday night against the Miami Marlins and RHP Dan Straily (4-5, 4.42 ERA). Scherzer is 3-0 with a 3.43 ERA in three starts this season against the Marlins.

Cardinals: RHP Jack Flaherty (6-6, 3.22 ERA) kicks off a three-game series Friday night as the Cardinals host the Milwaukee Brewers and RHP Freddy Peralta (5-3, 4.47 ERA). Flaherty struck out a career-high 13 batters in his last start against the Brewers on June 22.

Quick Links

Is Juan Soto a lock for National League Rookie of the Year?

sotogood.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Is Juan Soto a lock for National League Rookie of the Year?

In April, it would have been unfathomable. In May, it would have been laughable. In June, it would have been improbable. In July, it started to look possible. In August, it might even have been likely. Now, it’s a complete toss-up.

Juan Soto is the worthiest National League Rookie of the Year. So is Ronald Acuña.

It’s one of the most exciting rookie races in recent memory, not simply for the otherworldly numbers each freshman sensation is putting up, but for just how good they are at such young ages. Juan Soto is a jaw-dropping 19. Acuña, by comparison, is the wizened veteran at the old age of... 20. 

The two are preternaturally talented, and their mature-beyond-their-years games have translated perfectly well to the big leagues. The question now is: which one will actually take home the hardware?

(Before we continue, I’ll note that Jack Flaherty, Brian Anderson, and Walker Buehler are all very talented young players who would at least be in the conversation in normal years).

The first step is to look at the numbers.

On the season Acuña is slashing .287/.347/.571, and his wRC+ is 144. He’s got 19 home runs and 8 stolen bases in just 68 games and his fWAR is 2.3. bWAR has him at 2.8

Soto’s slash line is currently .293/.420/.534, to go along with 15 home runs. His wRC+ is 153, and his fWAR is 2.7. His bWAR sits at 2.2.

Obviously, the numbers are terrific for both. Acuña has been up longer, but thanks to injury Soto has actually played 8 more games. Acuña has the edge in power, both in home runs and slugging percentage, plus he’s clearly the speedier player and better defender. If you’re looking for all-around game, he’s probably your man. Plus, for those who care about such things when voting on awards, the Braves are several games ahead of the Nats in the standings.

However, Soto’s performance has a couple things going for it. First of all, as impressive as it is that Acuña is taking the league by storm as a 20-year old, Soto is nearly a full year younger. It cannot be overemphasized how wild it is what Soto is doing as a teenager. He may very well be the greatest teenage batter in baseball history.

Secondly, Soto has been incredibly consistent. He’s basically been an All-Star level hitter since the day he was called up in May, whereas Acuña’s numbers, while very legitimate, are buoyed by his recent hot streak. He’s hit 8 home runs in 8 games, and of every hitter with at least 100 plate appearances since the All-Star Game, he has the highest wRC+ in that span. He’s had plenty of valleys to his peaks, though, and Soto has been a model of consistency. Of all hitters with at 200 at-bats this entire season, Soto ranks 7th over the entire season, That’s astounding.

Another point in Soto’s favor is just how historic his numbers are. Voters love a narrative, and as mentioned above, Soto is having literally the best offensive season a teenager has ever had. The highest wRC+ by a 19-year old in baseball history is Mel Ott with a 140 exactly 90 seasons ago. Soto is beating that by 13 so far.

The true separator, though, is Soto’s on-base percentage. His .420 mark is a comfortable 4th of all players with at least 300 plate appearances, behind elite batting eyes Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Joey Votto. And, once again, we’re talking about something historic.

Soto’s .420 on-base percentage, if it holds, will be the only OBP over .400 for a teenager with 200 plate appearances in Major League history. In fact, outside of Ott’s .397 in 1928, no other teenager has ever reached base at a .360 clip, let alone Soto’s astronomical .420.

Ultimately, I believe more in Acuña’s future, but I think Soto’s been the better player this season. Acuña is more well-rounded, but Soto’s elite batting eye has made him a top 10 hitter in baseball already. If Soto had been up on Opening Day and played at this level, he’d be on pace for a 5.5 WAR, which would top even Bryce Harper’s 2012 season.

As mentioned, though, voters love a narrative. If Acuña comes back from his injury and stays as hot as he’s been all August, it’ll be tough to ignore his performance during the Braves’ stretch run. This award is not over, but for now, Soto should be considered the favorite.

MORE NATS NEWS: