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Nats 2015 biggest moments No. 6: Final chance vs. Mets

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Nats 2015 biggest moments No. 6: Final chance vs. Mets

We are counting down the 10 biggest moments of 2015 for the Nationals as we approach New Year's Day. In the fifth installment, we look back at the Nationals' early September series against the New York Mets...

The Nationals' 2015 season was defined mostly by missed opportunities and no part of their schedule more exemplified that than their early-September series against the New York Mets.

Left for dead in the NL East in August, the Nats charged back by winning 11 of 15 games before the Mets came to town on Sept. 7. The Mets had lost five of their previous nine, as the Nats cut the deficit in the NL East to just four games. Presented to the Nationals was a chance to gain some serious ground in the division. A sweep would cut the lead to one game with 23 total left on their schedule.

The Nationals also had their pitching staff aligned with Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg set to face the Mets. Scherzer, their ace, got the ball for the opener and quickly found trouble. He gave up two runs in the second inning and five total through six. That was enough to equalize a five-run fourth inning for the Nationals, who then saw relievers Blake Treinen, Felipe Rivero and Casey Janssen all allow runs in an eventual 8-5 loss.

Game 2 of that series also saw the Nationals take an early lead. They went up 2-0 in the first inning off Matt Harvey and led 7-1 after six in large part due to a Little League grand slam hit by Michael Taylor. Yoenis Cespedes misplayed a ball in center field and the Mets paid for it big time.

One inning later, however, and the Mets would get it all back with six runs in one frame. Treinen, Rivero and Drew Storen combined for that disaster with Storen completely losing control of the strike zone. He issued a bases-clearing double to Cespedes, then followed with a wild pitch and three walks, the third to allow another run.

Storen obviously did not have it that night, yet manager Matt Williams continued to let him pitch in what ended an 8-7 loss. Williams would go back to Storen the following night, again to face Cespedes, only to provide one of the lowest moments for the Nats in their entire 2015 season.

Storen relieved Strasburg in the series finale after Strasburg had given up the tying run on a Kelly Johnson homer in the eighth inning. Williams brought Storen in to face Cespedes, who watched one pitch sail way out of the zone for a ball before demolishing a two-run bomb to left-center field. That put the Mets up 4-2, as they went on to win 5-3 and complete the sweep. The Nats left the ballpark that night down seven games in the division and with little hope of saving their season.

That night Storen broke his thumb while shutting the door of his locker. Just like the Nationals, his season had gone from bad to worse. And just as his season ended, the Nationals' hopes for 2015 ended as well. They had one final chance, but they couldn't take advantage and make something of what ultimately goes down as a lost year.

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More from the countdown:

Nats 2015 biggest moments No. 10: Scherzer signs

Nats 2015 biggest moments No. 9: Trade deadline series vs. Mets

Nats 2015 biggest moments No. 8: Scherzer's second no-hitter

Nats 2015 biggest moments No 7: Harper's 3 homers vs. Marlins

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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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