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Instant analysis: Braves 11, Nats 10

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Instant analysis: Braves 11, Nats 10

Game in a nutshell: In the latest installment of "The Biggest Series in Nationals history," the locals got off to a brilliant start they couldn't have scripted any better. Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman launched three-run homers and Steve Lombardozzi added a two-run double that gave the Nats an insurmountable 9-0 lead after five innings, with Stephen Strasburg cruising along on his 24th birthday. Chalk up a huge victory for the Nats ... er, maybe not. Strasburg gave up four runs in the sixth before getting yanked. Drew Storen and Sean Burnett made a mess of the eighth inning, combining to surrender four more runs and give the Braves life. And the Tyler Clippard finished off the meltdown by giving up a two-run triple to Michael Bourn in the top of the ninth that completed the Braves' stunning, 10-run rally. It was the largest blown lead in franchise history, and it left everyone inside Nationals Park stunned and dejected ... er, maybe not.

Danny Espinosa crushed a 1-0 pitch from Craig Kimbrel into the left-field bullpen to bring the Nats back from the dead and force extra innings. But the Braves never let up and pushed across the winning run in the 11th when Zimmerman followed a fantastic pick at third base with a terrible throw to first base and Ian Desmond couldn't make an incredible, over-the-shoulder catch of Paul Janish's blooper. The Nats went down in the bottom of the 11th and wound up suffering a crushing defeat after all.

Hitting highlight: Which three-run blast should we pick: Morse's first-inning bomb or Zimmerman's fourth-inning jack? Let's just talk about both. Morse's was something to behold, a 465-foot moonshot that struck the railing behind the picnic benches in the Red Porch. According to ESPN's Hit Tracker, it was the longest home run in Nationals Park history. Zimmerman's homer wasn't quite as titanic, but it did produce the night's loudest explosion from the crowd of 34,228. And it was merely the latest in a string of big hits from the third baseman, who since receiving his much-ballyhooed cortisone shot on June 24 has nine homers, 25 RBI, a .368 batting average and a .782 slugging percentage.

Pitching lowlight: Take your pick of late-inning relievers. Storen didn't retire either of the two batters he faced in the eighth. Burnett then walked two batters in a row, one with the bases loaded, and gave up a pair of RBI singles. But the biggest meltdown came from Clippard in the ninth. He walked Uggla to start things off, uncorked a wild pitch and then plunked the .118-hitting Janish in the back. That set the stage for Bourn's game-changing triple off the top of the right-field fence. It was Clippard's fourth straight shaky outing, and it's got to leave the Nationals deeply concerned.

Key stat: With an 0-for-5 showing, Bryce Harper saw his batting average fall to .269. That's the lowest it's been since May 25.

Up next: It's going to be a beautiful Saturday in the nation's capital ... so let's play two! Yep, we'll have a day-night doubleheader between the Nats and Braves. Edwin Jackson faces Ben Sheets in the 1:05 p.m. opener, then John Lannan makes his season debut against Randall Delgado in the 7:05 p.m. nightcap.

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5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 

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Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals made the first major trade of the season this evening. 

Midway through their Monday night game against the Yankees, the team announced that they had completed a trade for Royals' relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera:

Herrera's a major acquisition for the Nationals, as the pitcher is in the middle of a career year. He's currently pitched 25 innings so far, posting a 1.05 FIP, 2.62 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. His 2.1 percent walk rate this season is a career low. 

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