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Grand slam off Storen flips the script


Grand slam off Storen flips the script

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Everything was going according to plan for the Nationals. Jordan Zimmermann dominated on the mound. Several key members of the lineup delivered big hits to give their team the lead. All that was left was for the back end of the bullpen to finish it off. But that's when things stopped going according to plan, and as a result the Nats were left with the sting of perhaps their harshest loss of the season.

Zimmermann cruised most of the night, carrying a shutout into the seventh before giving up a couple of hits that gave the Rockies their first run and brought an end to the right-hander's evening. Still, the Nationals led 4-1 thanks to RBI from the heart of their lineup: Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond.

Matt Williams' ideal bullpen scenario was in place, with Casey Janssen finishing the seventh in Zimmermann's place, then Drew Storen brought in for the eighth. And Storen very nearly got out of the inning unscathed, until a sudden turn of events left the bases loaded for Carlos Gonzalez, who proceeded to crush a 1-0 fastball to right field for a game-changing grand slam.

Needing now to mount a rally against Colorado's bullpen, the Nationals couldn't deliver one more key hit. Michael Taylor struck out to end the eighth with Desmond standing on third base, and brand-new closer Tommy Kahnle notched his first career save by striking out Harper with two outs in the ninth. Then, to add insult to injury, the Mets rallied in the ninth inning to beat the Rays, leaving the Nats now 2 1/2 games back in the NL East at the end of a ragged week.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: If the Nationals' lineup is going to live up to its potential, the guys hitting right behind Harper are going to have to do their part. They did in this game. Zimmerman roped a run-scoring double to right-center in the bottom of the fourth, his fifth straight game driving in a run. Two innings later, Werth (owner of a .190 batting average) did his job and sent a fly ball deep enough to center field to bring a run home. And moments later, Desmond drilled an RBI double to left, adding to the Nats' lead. That's one RBI apiece from the Nats' 4-5-6 hitters, a welcome development for this club.

PITCHING LOWLIGHT: Whatever concern there had been about Storen's ability to deal with his reduced role after the Jonathan Papelbon trade had more than been assuaged over the last week and a half, with Storen tossing five consecutive scoreless appearances without giving up even one hit. And then in the span of a couple of minutes in the eighth inning of this game, that storyline completely changed. It began innocently enough, with Storen issuing a one-out walk to Daniel Descalso and then surrendering a two-out single to Jose Reyes. But when Nolan Arenado legged out a slow roller to third, the bases were now loaded for the red-hot Gonzalez. And when Storen left a 1-0 fastball up in the zone, CarGo did what he's supposed to do: He crushed it off the back wall of the right-field bullpen, a grand slam that left the crowd silent. It was only the second homer surrendered by Storen this season, the first grand slam he has ever surrendered in the big leagues.

KEY STAT: Harper is now hitting .324 with a .452 on-base percentage and .598 slugging percentage against left-handers this season.

RELATED: Doug Fister accepts move to Nats' bullpen: 'I'll be ready'

UP NEXT: Stephen Strasburg returns from the DL to start Saturday night's game against Rockies right-hander and Virginia native Eddie Butler. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.

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

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.