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Instant analysis: Cardinals 12, Nats 2

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Instant analysis: Cardinals 12, Nats 2

Game in a nutshell: Not a whole lot to say about this one, other than to point out how bad Edwin Jackson was during a miserable 1 13 innings on the mound. The right-hander was torched for nine runs (eight earned), putting his team in a 9-1 hole in the second inning. Not much else mattered after that, with Davey Johnson pulling seven of his eight regulars (everyone except Danny Espinosa), choosing to live to fight another day. And yet the night really wasn't a lost cause for the Nationals, because Lucas Duda's 3-run homer in Atlanta led the Mets to a 3-1 win and spoiled Chipper Jones Night for the Braves. Thus the Nationals somehow managed to get blown out yet still see their magic number drop to 2. Which means they can clinch the NL East title tomorrow night with a win plus another Braves loss. Kind of takes the sting out of this ugly performance, doesn't it?

Hitting lowlight: It's tough find much motivation when you step to the plate trailing by eight runs, so it's hard to find too much fault with the Nationals' hitting approach in this one. They did get a couple of nice at-bats in the top of the first out of Bryce Harper (who doubled) and Adam LaRoche (who battled through a 10-pitch encounter with Adam Wainwright to poke an RBI single). That was the 95th run Harper has scored this season, so he needs five more in the season's final five games to become only the second teenager ever to score 100 runs.

Pitching lowlight: In his defense, Jackson wasn't helped by his defense in the first inning, with Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman bobbling the ball. And he allowed a couple of soft singles. But that doesn't overshadow everything else the right-hander did wrong. He walked four batters. Uncorked two wild pitches. Threw only 25 of 56 pitches for strikes. Faced 15 batters and retired only three of them (one a 380-foot bomb to the warning track, another a double play hit by the pitcher). Thus continued Jackson's difficult September. He's now got a 7.92 ERA in five starts this month. His season ERA jumped from 3.77 to 4.13 in this outing alone. That's not easy to do this late in the year. The way things are trending, you certainly have to think Ross Detwiler will be Davey Johnson's No. 3 starter in the postseason, with Jackson bumped to the fourth slot.

Key stat: With his first-inning RBI single, LaRoche now has 99 for the season. That's one shy of his career high, set in 2010 with the Diamondbacks.

Up next: It's the moment you've been waiting 79 years to experience: Washington's baseball club has a chance to clinch a title tomorrow night. Jordan Zimmermann will face Kyle Lohse at 7:15 p.m. EDT, hoping to earn his 13th win, and hoping the Mets can beat the Braves again and secure the NL East crown for the Nationals.

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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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