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Instant analysis: Braves 3, Nats 2


Instant analysis: Braves 3, Nats 2

Game in a nutshell: Everything started swimmingly for the Nationals when Steve Lombardozzi and Bryce Harper led off the bottom of the first with back-to-back homers. But Gio Gonzalez labored and couldn't make it through the fifth, and the heart of the Nats' lineup kept coming up short in key situations. Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse went a combined 0-for-12, with Zimmerman's woes continuing as he grounded into a crushing double play with two on and nobody out in the eighth. Relievers Craig Stammen, Mike Gonzalez and Sean Burnett did their part to keep the Braves from adding to their lead, but the Nationals' inability to push across one more run after the first inning ultimately cost them a chance at a fifth straight win over Atlanta.

Hitting highlight: Back-to-back homers from your first two hitters in the first inning? Not a bad way to get things going at the plate. Even better when both players are rookies and hit those homers on consecutive pitches. Lombardozzi was the first to connect, sending a 2-1 fastball from Tommy Hanson off the back wall in the right-field bullpen. The crowd of 38,046 barely had a chance to congratulate Lombo on his first career home run, though, because Harper drilled the very next pitch into the second deck down the right-field line to make it 2-0. An impressive display of power from a pair of rookies being asked to hit atop the lineup of a first-place club.

Pitching lowlight: Gonzalez found out shortly before gametime he had been named NL Pitcher of the Month for May. He didn't exactly make a strong early case for repeat honors in June. His command off from the very beginning, Gonzalez put himself into several jams. He managed to escape without significant damage through the fourth inning, but the wheels came off in the fifth via two singles, two walks and two wild pitches. In the end, Davey Johnson had no choice but to pull his starter with two outs in the fifth, resulting in Gonzalez's shortest outing since his 3 23-inning season debut at Wrigley Field.

Key stat: Gonzalez was attempting to become only the third Nationals pitcher ever to win at least six consecutive starts. The ones who did pull it off: Livan Hernandez (11 straight wins in 2005) and Shairon Martis (six straight wins in 2009).

Up next: Monday's an off-day for the team, but the Nationals' front office will be plenty busy participating in the first round of this year's amateur draft. The Nats hold the 16th pick, their lowest since arriving in town. The club will be back on the field Tuesday night when the Mets come to town for the start of what will be another big, division series.

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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.