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Span, Escobar exit game vs. Reds with apparent injuries

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Span, Escobar exit game vs. Reds with apparent injuries

It has become an all-too-familiar scene for the Nationals, a player leaving a game early with an apparent injury. And when it happened twice on Monday night, to two of the club’s most-important and most-productive veterans, it could only leave everyone in the organization hoping neither Denard Span nor Yunel Escobar was seriously hurt.

The initial indications were that both players avoided any major injuries. Span departed in the third inning after a recurrence of the back spasms that have plagued him over the last month, while Escobar left in the fifth inning with tightness in his left hamstring (a new ailment).

Manager Matt Williams wouldn’t offer much of a prognosis for either player moving forward.

“It’s too early to speculate,” Williams said.

This much is certain: The Nationals sorely missed both Span and Escobar during Monday night’s 3-2 loss to the Reds. They managed only five total hits in the game, two of which came via those two injured veterans atop their lineup.

Escobar and Span entered the day as the NL’s sixth- and eighth-ranked hitters, sporting .314 and .305 batting averages, respectively. Their absences, along with the injuries that already landed Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth on the disabled list, left the Nationals a fraction of their true selves for most of Monday’s game.

Those remaining healthy players are trying not to use the injuries as an excuse for anything.

“There’s been a few hiccups this year with injuries, and that’s always demoralizing,” said right-hander Doug Fister, who spent a month on the DL himself with forearm tightness. “But it’s been, I don’t want to say good for the guys stepping in and filling in roles. But we’re playing OK baseball. We’re playing together and making things work. We’re without some of our top guys. But you know what? Guys are going in there and playing hard, and that’s what we need to do. Unfortunately we didn’t have Denard and Yuni tonight. Hopefully they’re back tomorrow. I’m not sure what any cases are, but we want them healthy and ready.”

MORE NATIONALS: SCHERZER AN ALL-STAR, BUT A FEW SNUBS?

It wasn’t clear immediately whether Span or Escobar would be available for Tuesday night’s game, but if the events of recent weeks are any indication, Span would be more likely to return to play than Escobar.

Span (who left the clubhouse before reporters were let in following Monday’s loss) has been dealing with back spasms since June 7, when he first departed a game feeling discomfort. In the month since, he has either been out of the lineup or pulled early due to back problems, on seven separate occasions.

The Nationals have yet to find a solution to the recurring problem.

“We’ve changed programs,” Williams said. “He’s strengthening, he’s stretching, the trainers are doing everything they can possibly do. We’ll continue to monitor, continue to do what we’re doing. Some days it’s great, some days it just pops up on him.”

Escobar, meanwhile, has suffered five minor injuries so far this season, each time missing either one or two games, but never more. The veteran infielder declined to speak to reporters through a team spokesperson, but a source who spoke to him said he expects to miss “a couple days.”

Williams said Escobar hurt himself running out an infield single in the bottom of the third. He remained in the game two more innings before being lifted for pinch-hitter Dan Uggla in the fifth.

With the season now past the midway point, only two members of the Nationals’ projected Opening Day lineup haven’t been forced to miss at least one game due to injury: Shortstop Ian Desmond and catcher Wilson Ramos. Despite that, the Nats entered play Monday 10 games over the .500 mark, holding a season-high 4 1/2-game lead in the NL East.

“It’s a testament to all 25 guys out there,” said reliever Casey Janssen, who missed two games with shoulder inflammation. “We’re playing pretty good despite all the injuries. Unfortunate situations that we put ourselves into, but it says a lot about the guys in this locker room picking each other up. For the most part, we’ve been in every game. So that’s a pretty good sign.”

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

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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. 

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