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Souza returns to Nats Park with big game in Rays' win


Souza returns to Nats Park with big game in Rays' win

Steven Souza, Jr. played only 21 games for the Nationals before getting traded to the Tampa Bay Rays this past offseason, the but the big-swinging outfielder will long be remembered for his final play in a Nats uniform. That would, of course, be his leaping grab in left-center field to save Jordan Zimmermann's no-hitter on the final day of the 2014 regular season.

So, as luck would have it, Souza returned to Nationals Park on Wednesday and faced none other than Zimmermann himself in his first at-bat back in Washington. Souza singled his first time up and homered in his second at-bat off Zimmermann. The single was the first hit of the day allowed by Zimmermann, adding a little bit of irony even though it was just 1 2/3 innings into his start.

"It's fun competing against your friend," Souza said. "He's a competitor. Just left a couple of pitches over the middle."

Souza also scored on a bunt in the eighth inning off reliever Blake Treinen with the help of two throwing errors. He also added a difficult sliding grab in foul territory to end the bottom of the second. The Rays won 5-0, completing a successful return for the former Nationals third round pick on a day that started with a loud applause from Nats fans when his name was called in pregame introductions.

"All the way around," Souza said. "The way the fans responded, that was pretty emotional and a pretty high moment for me. I know that Jordan deserves all of the honor and I deserve nothing, really. But to have them do that, that was pretty cool."

"That was awesome. What a nice applause the crowd gave him for a young player that's only spent a year here," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "That was pretty impressive to see. You can tell there are a lot of baseball fans here that probably appreciate the same things we appreciate about him. The way he plays the game, he's an exciting young player."

Souza is fitting in well with the Rays as a frontrunner for the American League Rookie of the Year award so far. It's still relatively early, but he leads all AL rookies in homers (13), RBI (30), walks (30), total bases (96) and runs (34). Souza is pacing the 37-30 Rays in nearly every offensive category.

The Nationals are already reaping the benefits of their return in the three-team December trade, with Joe Ross currently in their rotation and Trea Turner now headlining their farm system. But there's no question the Rays are happy with their side of the deal.

"Just the way he carries himself every single day," Cash explained. "He cares so much. He works extremely hard. He's just such a good teammate and a good person. He goes about everything he does the right way. He's always wanting to learn and try to get better. I guess on top of everything, he's just a really good player."

Though Souza was the key contributor to a Nationals' shutout loss, his former teammates can't help but appreciate his success this year from afar.

"I love the kid. We're really good friends, and I'm happy to see him have success over there," Ian Desmond said. "That's what you want. You want players to get an opportunity to play, and when they do, to succeed. He's doing that over there. He's having a nice season. I'm sure not all of his numbers aren't where he wants them to be, but he's grinding it out for his team and they're in first place in the AL East."

"He's a good hitter. He's still really, really young and he's probably going to turn into a really good ballplayer," Zimmermann said.

Souza will always hold a place in Nationals history, but now he's on a different first-place team and loving every part of it.

"It was rewarding. But I think it was more rewarding the way we came back after getting our tails whipped yesterday," he said.

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

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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.