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Nats cruise to 9th straight win over Braves

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Nats cruise to 9th straight win over Braves

There was a time, really not all that long ago, when any victory by the Nationals over the Braves was cause for celebration, something to be savored given how rare it was.

Not so much anymore. These days, anything other than a win over Atlanta is cause for concern, as if something must be wrong with the Nats.

With a 6-1 victory Tuesday night at Turner Field, the Nationals continued to flip the script that had brought about so much consternation the last few years. They’ve now beaten the Braves in nine straight games, a streak that began April 28 with a certain record-setting, come-from-behind, 13-12 victory capped by Dan Uggla’s towering home run.

Are the Braves a far different team now than they were in 2013 and early 2014, when they owned the Nationals? Sure. But they’re still a big-league club, and nine straight wins over any big-league club is a noteworthy accomplishment.

So is taking down one of the NL’s best pitchers the way the Nats took down Shelby Miller on Tuesday. The 24-year-old right-hander entered this start boasting a 1.94 ERA and an impressive run of consistency, having allowed two or fewer earned runs in 13 of his 15 starts to date.

The Nationals, of course, piled up five runs off Miller, the most he has surrendered this season. And they pounced on him early, scoring four runs in the top of the first.

How rare was that? Well, in 15 previous starts this season, Miller had given up a grand total of one first-inning run, with only three hits surrendered in 46 at-bats. Four of the Nationals’ first six batters on Tuesday recorded hits off him, with Denard Span and Danny Espinosa setting the tone and then Clint Robinson sealing the deal with a towering home run.

All of which made life easier on Jordan Zimmermann, who cruised and continues to look more and more like the dominant right-hander we’ve come to expect over the last few seasons

With 7 2/3 scoreless innings, Zimmermann continued his mastery of the Braves. His total pitching line over his last two starts (both against Atlanta): 15.2 IP, 12 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K.

Most impressive about Zimmermann’s latest outing: He threw strikes. A whole boatload of them. Zimmermann’s 85 strikes thrown Tuesday matched his career-high (set June 20, 2013 vs. the Rockies) and trailed only three pitchers in Nationals history: Livan Hernandez (93 strikes on July 31, 2005 vs. the Marlins), Esteban Loaiza (87 strikes on Sept. 4, 2005 vs. the Phillies) and Max Scherzer (86 strikes in his 1-hitter at Milwaukee two weeks ago).

So that’s no small accomplishment for Zimmermann, who lowered his ERA to 3.16, better than his career mark entering 2015.

Zimmermann’s lights-out performance extended the Nationals’ run of dominant starting pitching. The rotation now owns a 1.69 ERA over the last 10 games (nine of them wins). Throw out Tanner Roark’s rough outing Sunday in a spot start necessitated by the rainout in Philadelphia, and that ERA plummets to 0.68.

Is it any wonder the Nationals are enjoying every opportunity they have to face the Braves right now?

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3 Up, 3 Down: Allow Juan Soto to distract you from Bryce Harper

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USA TODAY

3 Up, 3 Down: Allow Juan Soto to distract you from Bryce Harper

Nationals fans are teetering on the edge. 

On one hand, the Nats are 3.5 games out of first place after a 10-week span full of injuries and underperformance. The team just acquired All-Star closer Kelvin Herrera, and their 19-year-old left fielder looks like an All-Star already. 

On the other hand, doom is imminent. The Monstars stole Bryce Harper's abilities at some point over the last three weeks, Steven Strasburg can't stay healthy, and the offense is pushing everyone's patience to the limit. 

So who's overperforming? Who's underperforming? Who's out there just trying their very best? LET'S LIST. 

Three Up

1. Juan Soto

Our large young son Juan continues to impress. He's now hitting .325/.411/.602 with a 1.013 OPS in 95 plate appearances over 25 games. That means we're mercifully starting to leave the 'fluky start' narrative behind. He's been the best hitter on the Nationals by a wide margain since he got called up - although that's perhaps more of an indicitment on the rest of the lineup than it is on Soto. Still, in less than a month he's probably earned the starting left field spot for the rest of the summer. Not bad. 

2. Justin Miller

Miller is 31, on his third team in four years, and owns a career ERA north of 4.50. Despite all of this, Miller's been the best reliever in baseball since coming up for the Nats. Of relief pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched (we hear your sample size comment and are not going to acknolwdge it), no one has a better FIP than Miller (0.64). He's striking out over half of the batters he sees and has yet to walk a single person this year. All the elite relief pitchers are already at 30-40 innings pitched, so Miller has a while to go before these stats mean a whole lot. If he stays even 75 percent as good as he's started, the Nats' bullpen looks scary. 

3. Michael A. Taylor

Have yourself a week or two, Michael A.! The centerfielder is slashing .500/.556/.583 over the last 14 days, the first of many "Maybe He Put It Together?!" runs we'll see from him this year. He also has six stolen bases during that span, more than anyone else on the team. His plate discipline has been better over the last two weeks, with a BB% a shade over 11 percent - only behind Juan Soto for highest on the team. Juan Soto, man. 

Three Down

1. Bryce Harper

A couple things here. We'll start with the admission that Bryce Harper is obviously not having a superb year. We've already briefly touched on why looking at only his batting average is a lazy way of judging his season, and we stand by that. With that said - Harper's had a bad season. The last month has been particularly painful. There's no way of dressing up a .189/.278/.400 slashline over the last 30 days. Still, his contact has been as great as his luck terrible - there's a positive regression coming, we promise. 

2. Pedro Severino 

And you think Harper's been slumping?? Over the same 30 days, Severino has hit .098/.179/.115 with a .294 OPS. He's essentially daring the Nats to put together a trade package for JT Realmuto at this point. He has six hits over his last 68 plate appearances and five of them are singles. 

3. Shawn Kelley

Kelley owns a 6.09 FIP and a 4.32 ERA over the last month (10 games, 8.1 innings pitched). He's walking close to nine percent of the hitters he's faced during that time. He has a 12.5 HR/FB over the last month. With the trade for Kelvin Herrera and the sudden emergence of Justin Miller, Kelley's role going forward isn't quite as clear anymore. 

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National League All-Star Game Roster Projection: How it will all break down

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USA Today Sports

National League All-Star Game Roster Projection: How it will all break down

In less than a month, the 2018 MLB All-Star game will take place at Nationals Park.

There are plenty of details that still need ironing out, but none are more important than the 64 players that will be taking the field at the Midsummer Classic.

Surely the Washington Nationals are hoping that many of their hometown stars will make the cut.

So, lets clear the air. How are the MLB All-Star rosters created? Well it is a combination of the fan vote, the player ballots, and the MLB Commissioners Office. No, it is not a 33-33-33 split, but rather a political (yet fair) process. Here is how it shakes out for there to be 32 players on each team:

  • Fan vote: eight position players in NL/ nine in AL (DH); plus final vote for each league
  • Player’s ballots: next 16 players in NL; 17 players in AL (five starting pitchers, three relievers must be chosen)
  • MLB Commissioner’s Office: seven NL players (four pitchers, three position players) and five AL players (four pitchers, one position player)

Keep in mind, the MLB Commissioner’s Office merely is just there to ensure that there is one representative from all 30 MLB teams. Additionally, the player’s ballots are generally in-line with statistics and name recognition.

So let’s see how this shakes out for the National League All-Star Game roster. This factors in the latest fan vote returns:

National League All-Star Roster Projection:

C – Buster Posey, Giants (Fan Vote), Wilson Contreras, Cubs (Player Ballot)
1B – Freddie Freeman, Braves (Fan Vote), Jose Martinez, Cardinals (Player Ballot), Justin Bour, Marlins (Commissioner’s Office)
2B – Ozzie Albies, Braves (Fan Vote), Scooter Gennett, Reds (Player Ballot)
3B – Nolan Arenado, Rockies (Fan Vote), Kris Bryant, Cubs (Player Ballot)
SS – Brandon Crawford, Giants (Fan Vote), Chris Taylor, Dodgers (Player Ballot)
OF – Nick Markakis, Braves (Fan Vote), Bryce Harper, Nationals (Fan Vote), Matt Kemp (Fan Vote), Albert Almora Jr., Cubs (Player Ballot), Charlie Blackmon, Rockies (Player Ballot), Corey Dickerson, Pirates (Player Ballot), David Peralta, Diamondbacks (Commissioner’s Office), Christian Yelich (Commissioner’s Office)

SP – Max Scherzer, Nationals (Player Ballot), Sean Newcomb, Braves (Player Ballot), Jon Lester, Cubs (Player Ballot), Aaron Nola, Phillies (Player Ballot), Jacob deGrom, Mets (Player Ballot), Mike Foltynewicz, Braves (Commissioner’s Office)

RP – Brad Hand, Padres (Player Ballot), Sean Doolittle, Nationals (Player Ballot), Josh Hader Brewers (Player Ballot), Wade Davis, Rockies (Commissioner’s Office), Kenley Jansen (Commissioner’s Office), Jeremy Jeffress (Commissioner’s Office)

Manager: Dave Roberts, Dodgers

After this, there will be one more player chosen by another fan vote. The MLB Commissioner’s Office, along with the manager, choses five players to be selected in the penultimate vote. 

This puts three Nationals on the All-Star team with the Braves leading the charge with five selections.

Now of course nothing ever goes to plan, but heck its baseball, not everyone will be happy.

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