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Harper, Nationals lead Cards 6-0 after 3 in Game 5

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Harper, Nationals lead Cards 6-0 after 3 in Game 5

WASHINGTON (AP) Bryce Harper tripled during an early burst, then the Washington teen homered the next time up as Gio Gonzalez and the Nationals took a 6-0 lead over the St. Louis Cardinals after three innings Friday night in the deciding Game 5 of the NL division series.

A night after Jayson Werth capped a 13-pitch at-bat by hitting a winning home run in the ninth inning, the Nationals needed only seven pitches to put the defending World Series champions in big trouble.

Werth led off with a double against Adam Wainwright, Harper tripled and Ryan Zimmerman homered for a 3-0 lead in the first. Harper and Michael Morse chased Wainwright with home runs in the third.

The winner would face the San Francisco Giants on Sunday in Game 1 of the NL championship series, in Washington if the Nationals were to advance and in San Francisco if the wild-card Cardinals could move on.

Werth, who won Game 4 with a ninth-inning shot off reliever Lance Lynn, was greeted with a resounding ovation from the red-clad, towel-waving fans at Nationals Park. He heard the roars again when he lined a double to the left-field corner.

The 19-year-old Harper - 1 for 18 in the series entering the game - followed with a drive to left-center that hit only a foot or two from the top of the wall. Zimmerman then launched a 1-0 pitch to Row 1 in right-center, giving the Nationals a trio of runs before anyone on the home team had made an out.

That was more runs than Washington had scored in the previous two games combined, and it was first time Wainwright had allowed more than one run in any of his 12 career postseason appearances.

Harper left no doubt that he was done with his slump when the All-Star put a 3-2 sinker into the right-center stands to lead off the third. Zimmerman then doubled, and Morse came up two batters later and put Wainwright's final pitch of the night into the visitor's bullpen beyond left field.

Wainwright was gone after 2 1-3 innings, allowing six runs and seven hits. Joe Kelly came on to finish the third.

Both managers stuck with the same lineup for the fifth straight game, and the pitching matchup was a rerun of Game 1, when neither Wainwright nor Gonzalez got in the decision in a 3-2 Nationals victory. St. Louis outscored Washington 23-9 in the first four games, but routs in Games 2 and 3 were countered by one-run losses in Games 1 and 4.

Gonzalez, who topped the majors with 21 regular-season wins, gave up a one-out single to Carlos Beltran in the first inning, but Beltran was left stranded after Matt Holliday chased a trademark Gonzalez curveball in the dirt for a strikeout and Allen Craig flied to center.

David Freese signaled off Gonzalez in the second but was thrown out trying to steal by Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki. Gonzalez struck out two in a 1-2-3 third.

Wainwright, who was a spectator during the Cardinals' title run last fall while he recovered from reconstructive elbow surgery, settled down after the Nationals' initial outburst, striking out Adam LaRoche, Morse and Ian Desmond in a row to end the first. He allowed only a single to Suzuki in a scoreless second, but he couldn't survive the third.

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Follow Joseph White on Twitter:http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

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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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