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Nats fall 4-2 thanks to dominant performance by Kershaw


Nats fall 4-2 thanks to dominant performance by Kershaw

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Only 20 minutes following a rousing win in the completion of Friday night's suspended game, the Nationals took the field full of pep and positive vibes. And then a left-hander named Clayton Kershaw sucked all the life out of them over the next 2 1/2 hours.

The Dodgers ace, 3-time Cy Young Award winner and reigning NL MVP was every bit as good as advertised, shutting out the Nationals over eight brilliant innings. Kershaw struck out 14 (most-ever by an opposing pitcher against the Nats since the franchise arrived in town in 2005), didn't walk a batter and was in complete control from the moment he took the mound on a sweltering Saturday afternoon.

Doug Fister wasn't nearly as effective, escaping major damage early but then succumbing to the L.A. lineup during a 3-run fifth that ended his day. The score remained 4-0 into the ninth, when the Nationals finally got on the board, thanks to Bryce Harper's towering homer off Kenley Jansen. That's all they could muster, though, so the Nats were left to split this sort-of doubleheader, enjoying their dramatic Friday night/Saturday afternoon victory but left to stew over their loss in the nightcap to one of the game's best pitchers.

HITTING LOWLIGHT: Look, Kershaw can make anybody look awful on any given day he takes the mound, but he certainly owned Harper on Saturday unlike any other pitcher has this season. Harper struck out three times against the lefty, all three swinging. That leaves him 1-for-9 with six strikeouts in his career vs. Kershaw. Though, in his defense, the one hit was a home run at Dodger Stadium last fall. And that second-deck blast off Jansen in the ninth certainly helped make this day sting a little less.

PITCHING LOWLIGHT: Though he made it through his first four innings allowing only one run, Fister seemed to be teetering on the brink of disaster all afternoon. The Dodgers were hitting ropes off him from the beginning, including three flyballs to the warning track that resulted in outs. Eventually, that had to catch up to him. And sure enough, it did in the top of the fifth. Fister gave up three more runs on a flurry of base hits, ultimately departing having allowed four runs on nine hits in only five innings. He continues to struggle finding a level of consistency this season.

INJURY UPDATE: Second baseman Danny Espinosa left the game in the top of the ninth after appearing to injure his left leg trying to make a diving stop of a base hit to his left. Espinosa walked off the field under his own power but was very careful not to put much weight on the injured leg.

KEY STAT: In his last six starts against the Nationals, Kershaw is now 6-0 with an 0.97 ERA. 

UP NEXT: The series concludes at 1:35 p.m. Sunday with one of the best pitching matchups of the season. It's a pair of Cy Young Award contenders taking the mound, with Max Scherzer (10-7, 2.11) vs. Zack Greinke (8-2, 1.39).

RELATED: Homer from den Dekker wins suspended game

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Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

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.