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Storen's strikeout of Stanton key to Nats win


Storen's strikeout of Stanton key to Nats win

There were Bryce Harper’s homers, all three of them. And there were Max Scherzer’s seven innings of dominance. But the Nationals’ 7-5 victory over the Marlins on Wednesday afternoon still required one final, electric performance from Drew Storen to be secured.

And it was electric, even though the Nats closer got himself in a quick jam after plunking Donovan Solano and allowing a single to Dee Gordon to lead off the ninth.

The key at-bat, of course, came against perhaps the most-feared hitter in baseball (or, at least, the most-feared hitter in Washington): Giancarlo Stanton. Having already crushed a 3-run homer the previous inning to end Scherzer’s day and make this a close game again, Stanton was lurking throughout the ninth, due up fourth when the inning began.

Everybody in the ballpark knew it, knew Storen’s best chance for success was to retire the Marlins’ first three batters and never let Stanton reach the plate. But Storen knew he had to fight the temptation to think in those terms.

“I look at it like golf,” he said. “If you tell yourself, ‘Don’t hit it in the water,’ you end up hitting it in the water. You have to take it a batter at a time. Obviously, that’s not how you draw it up. But you have to work with the situation you’re in.”

Before facing Stanton, Storen got Martin Prado to fly out to right field. So that was out No. 1, bringing the big slugger to the plate with two on and a chance to give his team the lead with one swing.

Storen knew his gameplan entering the encounter. Stanton is most vulnerable to breaking balls down and away. But that doesn’t mean you can abandon the other side of the plate altogether.

“He’s so strong and powerful,” Storen said. “He got me last year in a similar situation on a slider down and away. So I’ve got to show him [something inside], so he’s going to have to respect the inner half. … You’ve just got to keep him off-balance, man.”

Which is exactly what Storen did. His first pitch was a fastball way inside, forcing Stanton to take a step back. That then set up a slider down and away, which Stanton missed for strike one. Then came another fastball in, this one a sinker that Stanton barely foul-tipped for strike two and put the slugger on the defensive.

And that then set the stage for Storen’s final pitch of the at-bat, another slider away, which Stanton couldn’t reach. A subsequent strikeout of Marcell Ozuna finished the deal and sealed the Nationals’ third consecutive series victory.

“The key in that at-bat was the sinker in that he fouled off,” manager Matt Williams said. “Which opens up the outer side of the plate for any pitcher, but especially for Drew’s slider. He was a little erratic coming out of the bullpen. But once he hit Solano, then he settled into the strike zone better and made some good pitches.”

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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.