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Roark and Turner lead the way as Nats hold on to top Giants

Roark and Turner lead the way as Nats hold on to top Giants

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 4-2 win over the San Francisco Giants on Thursday night at AT&T Park.

How it happened: This Trea Turner and Bryce Harper combination at the top of the Nationals' lineup has potential.

Turner has been doing his part for over a week now, continuing to look like a player who can lead the Nats to new heights with his production from the leadoff spot. And on Thursday night in San Francisco, Harper followed the rookie's lead with a strong effort hitting behind him.

Turner went 2-for-4 with a walk, a run and a steal. After going hitless in his previous five games, Harper smoked an RBI double to score Turner from first in the top of the sixth. As Turner rounded third and charged home, his helmet flew off behind his head, a subtle ode to the man who drove him in.

Turner had one of three straight two-out RBI singles hit by the Nats in the top of the second inning alone. Danny Espinosa got the first to score Wilson Ramos. Tanner Roark then landed the second to score Ryan Zimmerman before Turner brought home Espinosa.

That sequence was the worst moment for Johnny Cueto, who lasted a season-low five innings. Roark, on the other hand, was surgical through seven innings of one-run ball. 

The Nats pitching staff hummed like a well-oiled machine until the bottom of the ninth inning when Jonathan Papelbon took over. He faced one batter - Brandon Crawford - who flew out - before manager Dusty Baker got Oliver Perez warming in his bullpen. Papelbon would stay in to allow two baserunners before getting the hook. That simply does not happen if he had not given up six earned runs in his previous two outings. Clearly the Nats do not have confidence in their closer at the moment.

Perez replaced Papelbon, but didn't finish the inning. He loaded the bases by walking Trevor Brown, then allowed a run on a Gregor Blanco infield grounder that was charged to Papelbon. Blanco hit a laser to Anthony Rendon, who bobbled it before throwing it to second, where Espinosa also bobbled it to botch the forceout.

After Perez, it was Shawn Kelley who came in and shut it down with a strikeout of Angel Pagan with the bases loaded. Papelbon, by the way, has now been tagged with earned runs in three straight outings.

The Nationals won their second straight game after losing six of their previous eight.

What it means: The Nats beat the Giants in their first head-to-head matchup of the season. They moved to 60-42 overall and sit five games up on the Miami Marlins in the NL East with exactly 60 games left to play.

Roark too much for Giants: Roark entered Thursday as the less-heralded of the two starting pitchers, but the Nats right-hander thoroughly out-dueled Cueto in a performance that was typical of his strong 2016 season. Roark went seven innings with one run surrendered on four hits and three walks with three strikeouts on 111 total pitches. It was the eighth time this season that Roark has gone at least seven innings with one earned run or fewer allowed. Only Cubs lefty Jon Lester, with nine such starts, has done that more. Roark moved to 10-6 on the year and currently holds a 2.96 ERA.

Turner lights the fuse: The Nats' issues in the leadoff spot may soon become a distant memory. Turner continued to set the table brilliantly on Thursday night with two hits, a walk, a run and a steal. He fills up box scores like no one else on the Nationals right now and the impact he's having on their lineup as a whole as profound. This was the fifth time in his last nine games that Turner has reached base at least twice and the second straight outing he's been on three times. Turner's steal pushed him to 6-for-6 on attempts this season in just 14 total games. Including the minor leagues, he's 31-of-33 this year.

Turner also fared well defensively. Despite being new to center field and playing in a new ballpark, Turner made all the outs that were hit to him. He even reeled in a leaping catch at the wall for the first out of the bottom of the fifth. Turner backed up all the way to the wall and jumped to catch a Mac Williams flyball. The jump may not have been necessary, but he displayed solid instincts near the wall for a guy who is learning on the job out there.

Harper shows some life: Before Harper's RBI double to the left field corner in the sixth, the reigning MVP was 0-for-19 in his last 21 at-bats. As off as he's looked at times this season, Harper had reached one of his lowest points. The double, though was absolutely crushed and it gave the Nats a nice insurance run against a team that has proven resilient in the past.

Up next: The Nats and Giants play another late one with a 10:15 p.m. ET start on Friday night. Max Scherzer (10-6, 2.92) will take the mound for the Nats opposite right-hander Jeff Samardzija (9-6, 4.22).

[RELATED: 'Baseball in the District' - Harper's slump, trade deadline]

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Scherzer finishes second in Cy Young voting

Scherzer finishes second in Cy Young voting

History stalled Wednesday when New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom won the National League Cy Young Award. Washington’s Max Scherzer finished second. Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola was third.

There’s no controversy or debate attached to this award. deGrom was phenomenal for the woebegone Mets. His 1.70 ERA led the league and was enough for the award. His easy victory also showed we continue to make progress toward discounting pitcher wins in totality.

For Scherzer, finishing second means he remains on the outside of one of baseball’s most elite groups. Only four pitchers in MLB history have four or more Cy Young Awards. Scherzer remains with his three. Two of which came in back-to-back seasons. He quickly congratulated deGrom. There was no champagne celebration while on a boat like two years ago.

Scherzer does hold an appreciation for how his fellow National League East pitchers operate. The three are distinct from delivery, to pitch movement, to pitch reliance. For instance, only Nola uses a curveball as his wipeout pitch. Scherzer throws a curveball 7.7 percent of the time in 2018, deGrom 7.9 percent. Nola? He used it 30.9 percent of the time.

So, we present two scouting reports on the three finalists. First, Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman, speaking at the All-Star Game:

“[Nola’s] a lot of two-seam, front-hip guy,” Freeman said. “deGrom is all downhill with everything and Scherzer just knows how to pitch. I feel like they’re all different. Nola’s curveball is something special. You feel like you’re going to hit it, then you don’t, every single time. Then he can front hip you with two strikes. You give up on it. Scherzer’s got that cutter. deGrom is just power, power, power.”

And, Scherzer:

“deGrom, what he does so well, is his fastball has so much life he can pitch up in the zone so well,” Scherzer told me at the All-Star Break. “Everything plays off of his fastball. And the way he can get down the mound and use that length to create that ride, that makes him literally one of the best pitchers in the game.

“Nola, he does a great job of using his two-seamer and [sinking] the ball. It’s kind of the opposite. The way he can pitch with his curveball. He can change speeds throughout the at-bat between sinking the ball, his curveball and his changeup, that’s what allows him to be such a talented pitcher.

“I think my stuff lines up closer to deGrom than Nola simply from the fact that deGrom is more of a four-seam, ride the ball, that’s what I do. Nola’s breaking ball is a curveball, whereas my main breaking ball is a slider. That’s where we’re actually very different. I can probably gain more from watching deGrom starts on how he attacks hitters.”

Scherzer has three seasons remaining on his seven-year, $210 million with the Nationals. He was astonished when he entered free agency that teams did not want to give him seven years. He had never been injured for an extended period. He worked diligently to maintain his health. Once he found a suitor in the Nationals, a decision ultimately green-lighted by ownership, he came to the National League and delivered.

Nola is one of the league’s best deals at $573,000 last season to finish third in Cy Young voting. He’s into arbitration for a raise, but will remain one of the reasons the Phillies can compete and spend this offseason.

The Mets and deGrom have a relationship so strange it seems it could only exist in Flushing. deGrom’s former agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, distributed a mid-summer statement that said the Mets should trade deGrom if they were not going to provide him an extension. Van Wagenen is now the Mets general manager. DeGrom is going to arbitration each of the next two years before becoming a free agent.

At a minimum, the three will be back in the division next season and poised to challenge for this award again.

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Nationals can afford to lose Bryce Harper, the Orioles will just lose with or without Manny Machado

Nationals can afford to lose Bryce Harper, the Orioles will just lose with or without Manny Machado

The non-Bryce Harper worst-case scenario for the Washington Nationals’ outfield could look like this: Juan Soto in left, Michael A. Taylor in center, Adam Eaton in right. That’s the bottom.

How do they get there? They don’t re-sign Harper and flip Victor Robles for a major void fill, say Miami catcher J.T. Realmuto or Seattle left-hander James Paxton.

The above is not prediction, assumption or otherwise. It’s merely a path to what would be considered the least-potent outfield the Nationals could put together if Harper went elsewhere, Robles was moved and they did not pay a replacement.

If Manny Machado does not return to the Baltimore Orioles (all but guaranteed)? They will be bad. With him? They would be bad. There’s a lot of bad in Baltimore, at the moment. Attendance, bad. Front office situation, bad. On-field performance, bad. What can make it worse? Machado playing in New York, battering them for the next decade to top things off.

Back to the Nationals. The outfield is clogged. Soto, Robles, Eaton, Harper and Taylor are all in play there. Let’s look at possible alignments with and without Harper.

With him, he drops back to right field, ideally. The center field work last season was not productive. Though, his right field work, and emphatic aversion to walls, did not yield quality results either. Baseball’s advanced defensive metrics aren’t great. However, they can help confirm the eye test, which this list from Sports Info Solutions does:

Fewest defensive runs saved, 2018 season:

Bryce Harper -27
Charlie Blackmon -26
Adam Jones -26
Rhys Hoskins -25
Miguel Andujar -25

Being on a defensive list with rookie third baseman Andujar, who committed 15 errors, or the plodding Hoskins, whom the Phillies tried to hide out there all season, is damning. When it comes to defensive range, the Nationals would be better without Harper in the field considering the four other options.

Taylor’s situation is interesting. He would be a quality fourth outfielder because of superior defensive skill and the plug-and-play ability should someone be injured. The question is who would manager Davey Martinez pull off the field late to put Taylor on it? In a Soto-Robles-Harper outfield, Soto is the weakest defender. Taylor could go to center. Robles to left. That, of course, costs the Nationals Soto’s bat. The Nationals also lost a window to sell high on Taylor last offseason before Martinez buried him on the bench this regular season. Taylor received an early chance when Eaton was shut down. He failed, then excelled, then was benched. He had a strange year.

Which is why it’s fair to wonder if he ends up part of a trade package this offseason. His speed and defense could help any team, especially a contending one (which is the same argument for him to stay in Washington). Recall that Taylor was the Nationals’ best hitter in the 2017 NLDS against the Chicago Cubs. He can also be weaponized in a part-time postseason role.

This all hinges on Harper, as does everything else. If the Nationals finalize the sport’s most expensive contract, they can decide which other outfield parts are expendable, and how to distribute them. This also speaks to timing. Harper’s situation needs to be resolved in order to have clarity for other parts, from the outfield on. Being held hostage by dragged-out negotiations could be a two-fold negative effect for the Nationals: They could lose Harper, and lose a window to have moved an extra outfielder to help cure an ill elsewhere. Regardless, they have options and a quality baseline to work from.

Baltimore is another matter. Cornered by the rest of the league knowing they were stuck, the Orioles sent Machado to the Dodgers for a large numbers of names. It’s the quality received back among the five minor leaguers that’s in question.

Cuban outfielder Yusniel Diaz, the Dodgers’ No. 4 prospect at the time, is the star attraction.

Right-handed pitchers Dean Kremer and Zach Pop, third baseman Rylan Bannon and infielder Breyvic Valera also came along. Diaz, 22, is now the Orioles’ top prospect, according to MLB pipeline. He finished the year hitting .239 for Double-A Bowie and .285 overall in 2018. None of the other four are ranked in the organization’s top 10 prospects.

Which leaves the 115-loss Orioles with only bleakness in their future, rocks in their shoes, and Murphy’s Law as the prevailing operating procedure at the moment. They remain chained to Chris Davis’ contract for four more seasons as well as the deferred money Davis is due until 2037. Their theoretical No. 1 starter, Dylan Bundy, had a 5.45 ERA last season. They are searching for Buck Showalter’s replacement in the dugout. They are reportedly close to hiring Houston Astros assistant general manager Mike Elias to become general manager, according to USA Today.

The Orioles flipped their last malaise when 2012 produced 93 wins after 93 losses in 2011. They are not positioned to do that now. They are looking at a Machado-less slog for years to come. The Nationals won’t be victimized by such a plight if their star starts swinging elsewhere.

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