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Nats bounce up off the mat

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Nats bounce up off the mat

There was a point early Saturday evening in which the Nationals' season appeared to be at a potential breaking point. Having already lost the first two games of a showdown series with the Braves -- blowing a nine-run lead in one of them -- they now put themselves in an early 2-0 hole in the nightcap of a doubleheader.

At that moment, the idea of the Nationals finding themselves in second place by Sunday evening was terrifyingly possible.

But then John Lannan pitched the game of his life to lead his team to a come-from-behind victory. And then Ryan Zimmerman led an early offensive onslaught against Atlanta right-hander Jair Jurrjens Sunday afternoon. And then Ross Detwiler slammed the door on any possibility of another meltdown with seven strong innings.

And by the end of the day, the Nationals not only had themselves a 9-2 win but a split of this key series and a 3 12-game lead once again over their chief competition in the NL East.

"To be down two games in a four-game series and come back and win the last two and kind of stay where you're at as far as the division, it's a good feeling for us," Danny Espinosa said. "It's a tough challenge right there. We don't give up, but it's tough not to almost fold."

The Nationals didn't fold, not in the least. If anything, they rose up and played two of their best all-around games of the season, capped by a laugher in Sunday's finale.

The first of Zimmerman's two homers on the day, plus RBI hits from Espinosa and a red-hot Roger Bernadina put the Nationals up 4-0 before many in the crowd of 34,917 found their seats. Zimmerman's second homer of the day, combined with another RBI hit from Espinosa, made it 6-0 in the third inning. And by the time rookie catcher Sandy Leon launched a bases-loaded double in the fifth to make it 8-0, the mood in the Nationals dugout was jovial once again.

"With as much baseball as we've played this week," Zimmerman said, "with the weather and all the things we've had to deal with, and the first two games the way they went, for us to come back and win the next two games I think shows what kind of team this is."

Staked to that early lead, Detwiler did exactly what a pitcher in his situation is supposed to do: He went right after Atlanta's lineup, not wasting any time or any pitches. The left-hander gave up seven hits over seven innings, but he issued only one walk and ultimately allowed only one earned run to cross the plate.

And by pitching with such efficiency, he was able to convince Johnson to let him take the mound for the top of the seventh and provide some more much-needed relief for an overworked bullpen.

"With the doubleheader yesterday and everything, I knew the bullpen needed a little break," Detwiler said. "I was just trying to get early outs and get as deep into the game as possible."

The 26-year-old lefty has quietly become just as valuable a piece of the sport's best rotation as All-Stars Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez and the dominant Jordan Zimmermann. He now sports a 3.01 ERA over 14 starts, a 2.35 ERA in five starts since he rejoined the rotation.

"He's just turned into one heck of a pitcher," Johnson said.

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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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