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Nats enjoying attendance spike

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Nats enjoying attendance spike

More than one player in the Nationals' clubhouse following last night's win noted the energy emanating from the stands as the home team mounted its rally from four runs down in the bottom of the seventh.

"We had a great crowd out there tonight," Bryce Harper said. "That really propped everybody up to get going."

Perhaps it was the lack of loud music and scoreboard-encouraged chants, a byproduct of Turn Back the Clock Night. Or perhaps it was simply the growing excitement over the National League's best team through this season's first half.

This much is certain: Fans are pouring into Nationals Park in numbers not seen since the ballpark opened four years ago, and not seen at all in these parts since baseball's first season back in the District.

Through 37 home games, the Nationals' average attendance is 29,865. That currently ranks 15th out of 30 big-league clubs, and that ranking is only going to continue to rise as the rest of this season plays out.

Attendance is up 38 percent from this point last year, the second-highest increase in baseball. Only the Marlins (who moved into a new ballpark) have enjoyed a higher attendance bump (65 percent).

Perhaps most impressive about the Nationals' increase is that most of it has come over the last six weeks, as more and more fans have bought into this club's ascension to the top of the NL East.

Average attendance through the season's first 20 home games was 25,384. Average attendance over the last 17 home games (beginning with the May 18-20 series against the Orioles) has been 36,744.

Nationals Park hasn't hosted a crowd with fewer than 25,000 fans since May 15, when only 23,902 turned out for a Tuesday matinee against the Padres.

The way things are going, don't look for any more crowds under the 25,000 mark. You probably won't see many crowds under 30,000, either.

In addition to the home team's lure, nearly every remaining opponent on the home schedule is a popular draw on its own. The Cardinals, Cubs and Dodgers still haven't made their lone trips to the District this season. The Phillies, Braves and Mets all make two more visits to town.

Even the less-popular opponents -- the Rockies, Brewers and Marlins -- all come to D.C. only for weekend series, which tend to draw better regardless of any other factors.

At this point, it seems a safe bet that the Nationals will wind up with their best attendance in five seasons on South Capitol Street, besting the 2008 high of 2.32 million. And they might just outdraw the inaugural 2005 club's total of 2.73 million, which was boosted not only by a season-ticket base of more than 20,000 but also RFK Stadium's capacity of 45,016 (about 4,000 more than Nationals Park holds).

In other words, expect the scene that played out during last night's rally -- a large and boisterous crowd willing its home club to victory -- to become a regular occurrence.

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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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