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Liriano sharp, Fister struggles, as Pirates drop Nats

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Liriano sharp, Fister struggles, as Pirates drop Nats

By WILL GRAVES

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Francisco Liriano allowed three hits over six-plus dominant innings and the Pittsburgh Pirates raced by the Washington Nationals 7-3 on Thursday night.

Liriano (6-6) struck out 11 against three walks as the Pirates returned from a miserable post All-Star break road trip to drop the NL East-leading Nationals. Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Francisco Cervelli homered for Pittsburgh, which ended a seven-game losing streak to Washington.

Starling Marte and Jung Ho Kang added two hits apiece for the Pirates, who acquired third baseman Aramis Ramirez from Milwaukee before the game to bolster an infield dealing with injuries to Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer.

Doug Fister (3-6) labored through five innings, giving up four runs and nine hits to drop his third straight decision. Ian Desmond had two of Washington's six hits, including a two-run homer in the ninth.

The Pirates came home for a brief four-game series against the Nationals following a bumpy start to the season's second half. Pittsburgh dropped five of six on the road and watched Mercer join Harrison on the disabled list with a sprained left knee. Neither player will return until late-August at the earliest, leading the Pirates to bring back the 37-year-old Ramirez a dozen years to the day they shipped him to the Chicago Cubs.

Pittsburgh hopes Ramirez can provide some punch to an offense that can be spotty at times. Pitching isn't an issue for the team with the second-best ERA in the majors, and Liriano had little trouble overwhelming the Nationals. He struck out nine of the first 13 batters he faced and didn't allow a ball out of the infield until Desmond's single to left with Clint Robinson on first and no outs in the fifth.

Robinson eventually scored following a pair of wild pitches by Liriano, who settled down to get out of the inning with a 2-1 lead intact.

Pittsburgh quickly added on to give Liriano plenty of room to work. Marte singled off Fister with one out in the bottom of the fifth and scored on a double by Kang, who then came home following a fielder's choice by Alvarez to make it 4-1. Liriano eventually left after giving up a leadoff double to Robinson in the seventh, but reliever Jared Hughes left Robinson stranded at third.

McCutchen's 13th homer of the season -- a two-run shot off Tanner Roark in the seventh -- pushed Pittsburgh's lead to five as Pittsburgh improved to 10-1 in their last 11 games at PNC Park.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Washington: 3B Yunel Escobar did not start, but was available to play a day after collapsing to the ground in pain while trying to check his swing against the Mets. X-rays and a CT scan on Escobar's left wrist were negative.

Pittsburgh: Mercer walked into the clubhouse with barely a limp on Thursday and is optimistic he will be back sooner rather than later after heading to the 15-day disabled list on Monday with a sprained MCL in his left knee. Mercer injured the knee following a hard slide into second by Milwaukee's Carlos Gomez.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Max Scherzer faces the Pirates for the first time since tossing the first no-hitter of his career against Pittsburgh last month. Scherzer struck out 10 and came within a strike of a perfect game a 6-0 win on June 20, his only misstep coming when he hit Pittsburgh pinch-hitter Jose Tabata in the elbow with two outs in the ninth. Scherzer is 10-8 overall but just 1-3 in July thanks in large part to a lack of support. The Nationals have managed one run in the three losses.

Pirates: Jeff Locke (5-6, 4.01 ERA) has a 2.53 ERA in two starts against Washington, both non-decisions.

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Explaining my National League ROY ballot

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USA Today Sports

Explaining my National League ROY ballot

This was tight. Really tight. A category for the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. A category for the Nationals’ Juan Soto.

Sorting through 16 categories showed Acuna and Soto should have split the National League Rookie of the Year award. It also showed me a narrow advantage for Soto, which is why I voted him first, Acuna second and Dodgers starter Walker Buehler third. Once the votes from other members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America were added, Acuna won, Soto was second and Buehler was third. It wasn’t close. It should have been.

First, a thought about the general process here: Writers take this seriously. Once assignments for the awards are distributed, we start to talk about them in the Nationals Park press box. Even non-voters hop in on the conversation. Sympathies are relayed to those who have an extremely tight choice, as I did this season and last when I voted for MVP (I’m big in Cincinnati thanks to my Joey Votto selection).

I outline specific categories, talk to opposing players and managers and watch as much as possible in order to come to a conclusion. The only thing easy about voting for ROY this season was the chance to see the leading candidates often since one played here and the other is in the division.

I used 16 categories to largely determine my vote. They were as follows: OPS, OPS+, Baseball Reference WAR, Fangraphs WAR, Baseball Prospectus WARP, OBP, WRC+, SB, HR, late-and-close OPS, 2 outs RISP OPS, BB:K ratio, WPA, “Clutch”, WOBA, and an overall defensive mark.

There’s no perfect formula here. But, when looking through those, Soto took nine, Acuna six and one, Fangraphs WAR, was even. That, coupled with Soto doing this in his age-19 season as the league’s youngest player (Acuna was just 20, so, like everything else the leader’s advantage here is slight), and talking to others in the league, prompted me to vote for Soto.

Again, the gaps were minute. Baseball Reference’s WAR formula favored Acuna. Fangraphs had them even. Baseball Prospectus put Soto clearly ahead. Soto was significantly better in late-and-close situations. Acuna was better with two outs and runners in scoring position.

If Soto had a distinct lead anywhere, it was via command of the strike zone, which is currently his premier talent. His walk and strikeout rates were both superior to Acuna. When asked about Soto, opponents and teammates alike brought it up.

However, Acuna is the better defender and baserunner. Points back to his favor.

Soto was intentionally walked 10 times signifying what opponents thought of dealing with him. Acuna was intentionally walked just twice (though his spot in the order has some influence there).

This ping-ponging of qualifications could go on.

What the National League East has is two of the best players in baseball. Not just young players at this stunningly low age, but two of the best. Soto was fourth in on-base percentage and seventh in OPS in the National League when adjusted to be among the qualified leaders (an explanation from Baseball Reference: In order to rank the player, the necessary number of hitless at bats were added to the player's season total.). Acuna was eighth in slugging under the same adjustment.

The 2019 All-Star Game is in Cleveland. Expect both to be there and this to be just the beginning of them being measured against each other.

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Nationals' phenom Juan Soto finishes as NL Rookie of the Year runner-up to Braves' Ronald Acuña Jr.

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals' phenom Juan Soto finishes as NL Rookie of the Year runner-up to Braves' Ronald Acuña Jr.

Despite a surprising, impressive and historic start to Juan Soto's career in Major League Baseball, the Washington Nationals' young star finished as the runner-up in the National League Rookie of the Year voting behind winner Ronald Acuña Jr. and ahead of finalist Walker Buehler, the league announced Monday.

For the Nationals' rising star who didn't shed his teenager status until after Washington's season ended, finishing second behind another similarly impressive player doesn't diminish his record-breaking accomplishments throughout the 2018 season -- so many of them related to being a 19-year-old rookie.

After the Nats called Soto up in the spring, he made his debut in the majors on May 20, quickly becoming famous for both his power and consistency and drawing countless comparisons to teammate Bryce Harper. He broke or tied too many records to list here -- but you can find them on NBC Sports Washington -- so we're highlighting the biggest.

He finished his rookie year with a .292 batting average, slugging at .517 and racking up 22 home runs, 70 RBI and 79 walks -- the most by a teenager in MLB history which also made him the only teenager with more than 60 walks in a single season.

Both the highest for a teenager in MLB history, Soto finished with a .406 OBP -- he's also the only teenager to break .400 -- and a .923 OPS, which put him second and third, respectively, among all NL hitters. He became the first teenager to finish with a slash line of at least .290/.400/.500 and the first rookie since Albert Pujols in 2001 to do it, according to MLB.com.

His three multi-home run games are the most by a teenager in MLB history, as are his multi-walk games (16). Soto also racked up 22 home runs this season, which tied Harper for second by a teenager, behind Tony Conigliaro with 24.

Soto started the 2018 season with the Class A Hagerstown Suns before getting bumped up to the Potomac Nationals (Class A-Advanced) and the Harrisburg Senators (Double-A) on his way to the majors.

With the Braves playing in the postseason before losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, 20-year-old Acuña finished his rookie year with a slash line of .293/.366/.552, having a slight advantage over Soto in both batting average and slugging percentage. He also had the edge over the Nats rookie in home runs (26) and hits (127 vs. 121).

Winning the NLCS with the Dodgers before falling the World Series to the Boston Red Sox, Buehler was the lone pitcher in the NL Rookie of the Year race. The 24-year-old right-hander finished his first season with a 2.62 ERA on an 8-5 record. He struck out 151 batters and gave up 12 home runs.

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