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Scherzer to start Sunday, miss All-Star Game


Scherzer to start Sunday, miss All-Star Game

BALTIMORE — Max Scherzer will start Sunday’s first-half finale at Camden Yards, knocking the Nationals’ ace out of Tuesday’s All-Star Game, a decision manager Matt Williams said reflected both his and the right-hander’s priorities.

“It’s a question of him wanting to pitch tomorrow on his normal rest and help us win another game,” Williams said. “We’re here to win games. It’s a great honor for anybody to go pitch in the All-Star Game. But he views it like the most important thing is for him to help us win games.”

Scherzer will still travel to Cincinnati and take part in Monday and Tuesday’s festivities at Great American Ball Park. But he’ll be taken off the NL’s roster, unavailable to pitch and replaced by someone else who doesn’t start Sunday.

The decision had little to do with the All-Star Game itself and more to do with the needs of the club. Scherzer originally was not scheduled to take the mound in this series against the Orioles, but when Stephen Strasburg strained an oblique muscle last weekend, the Nationals’ rotation plans suddenly changed.

Rather than replace Strasburg in the rotation, the Nationals elected to use Thursday’s off-day as a chance to skip that turn and then use everyone else on normal rest. Scherzer, who last pitched Tuesday against the Reds, will be on regular turn for Sunday’s matinee.

“Until Stras got hurt, he wasn’t planned for Sunday,” Williams said. “Sometimes injuries move guys into different spots. But if it was the normal rotation and Stras didn’t get injured, then he wouldn’t have been on tomorrow’s schedule.”

Scherzer, named NL pitcher of the month for both May and June, ranks among the league leaders in most categories, with a 2.12 ERA, 143 strikeouts, only 14 walks and a historic stretch over three starts in which he carried a perfect game into the sixth inning each time and completed a no-hitter against the Pirates.

That resume made Scherzer a strong candidate to start the Midsummer Classic, but he has held that honor before, starting the 2013 game for the AL in New York. He also pitched in last year’s game in Minnesota and earned the win for the AL.

Scherzer’s spot now will replaced on the roster, with Giants manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti left to select another pitcher by Sunday afternoon. Nationals closer Drew Storen would be a logical choice, but Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw and Reds ace Johnny Cueto also have been waiting for an opening to potentially be added.

“There’s been a conversation,” Williams said with a laugh. “But it’s not our decision. It’s Bruce’s decision and Rags’ decision on who they want to be as part of their team. We can lobby all we want, but they’ll have til tomorrow afternoon to make the final spots. We’ll see.”

Williams wouldn’t reveal rotation plans for the Nationals’ first series post-break (home against Kershaw, Zack Greinke and the Dodgers) but Scherzer would be on normal rest for Friday’s opener if the club wants to maximize his appearances.

MORE: Lost in shuffle, another strong start for Gonzalez

“He’s very important for us, and he will continue to be, even beyond tomorrow,” Williams said. “Looking at the second half, it’s important for us to have him out there as often as we can, keeping in mind that his load has been pretty heavy.”

The 30-year-old leads the NL with 123 1/3 innings pitched and is on pace to throw a career-high 230-plus innings this season. The Nationals are keeping an eye on his workload but have had no reason to be concerned about to this point.

“We’ll take advantage of any off-days that we have in the second half and go from there,” Williams said. “But yeah, we have to understand where he’s at. It’s a little different because there have been more innings, not necessarily more pitches. He’s been really good about limiting his pitch counts. But the innings he has pitched have been not necessarily what he’s used to. That being said, it’s more ups, more times to sit down, more innings that he goes out there and takes the mound. So we’ll monitor. And we talk every time he pitches and into his bullpen about how he’s feeling.”

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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.