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Instant Analysis: Nats 2, Phillies 1

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Instant Analysis: Nats 2, Phillies 1

Game in a nutshell: In the second of six head-to-head series against their fiercest division rivals, the Nationals seized control and didn't let it go (despite a very tense bottom of the ninth). Ian Desmond clubbed a second-inning homer off Kyle Kendrick to put the Nats up 1-0, then delivered an RBI single two innings later to make it 2-0. Gio Gonzalez and the bullpen then took care of matters from there. Gonzalez was dominant from the outset, tossing six scoreless innings and striking out nine. Craig Stammen then churned out two innings in the setup role. Henry Rodriguez tried to finish it off, but the erratic closer was yanked after issuing a walk, a single and two wild pitches. Sean Burnett was forced to enter and bail the Nats out, which he did in impressive fashion.
Hitting highlight: Has Desmond found a home in the 5-hole? It sure looks that way. Since getting moved out of the leadoff spot, he's 5-for-13 with three doubles, a homer and four RBI. His solo blast off Kendrick in the second was his seventh of the season, tying Adam LaRoche for the team lead. And his fourth-inning single drove in Bryce Harper with the game's only other run. Would Davey Johnson keep Desmond in that 5-spot after Michael Morse returns to the lineup in a couple weeks? It seems unlikely. But the guy certainly is producing there right now.

Pitching highlight: Once again establishing himself as one of the best swing-and-miss pitchers in baseball, Gonzalez thoroughly carved up the Phillies lineup. He struck out seven of the first nine batters he faced, all swinging. He got big groundballs when he needed them. And in the process he regained the major-league lead from Justin Verlander with 69 strikeouts. He also lowered his ERA to 1.98 while matching the NL lead with six wins. Yes, there's a really long way to go. But at this moment, Gio is a slam-dunk All-Star and would be in serious contention for the Cy Young Award.
Key stat: Stammen now has 27 strikeouts against only five walks this season. Among all major-league relievers with at least 20 innings pitched, that ranks fourth (behind Wilton Lopez, Cory Wade and Aroldis Chapman).
Up next: Jordan Zimmermann takes the mound against the Phillies for the first time since that Sunday Night Baseball incident. He'll face a stiff challenge in Philadelphia ace Roy Halladay in this 7:05 p.m. game at Citizens Bank Park.

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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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