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Strasburg finishes 2015 with strong start in win over Braves

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Strasburg finishes 2015 with strong start in win over Braves

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: There's nothing left to play for on the team level, so attention shifts to individual performance during the season's final week. And there has been no better individual performing better for the Nationals down the stretch than Stephen Strasburg.

Distancing himself even further from his disastrous first half of the season, Strasburg finished up 2015 on a decided high note, shutting out the Braves over six innings. He scattered six singles and a walk, struck out seven and left a very good taste in everyone's mouths as his roller coaster 2015 came to an end.

Clint Robinson got the Nationals on the board with an opposite-field homer in the top of the second. They then added two insurance runs in the eighth, with Bryce Harper notching his 97th RBI of the season. (Harper went 1-for-4 to maintain a .331 batting average, two points better than Miami's Dee Gordon, who went 0-for-4.)

Blake Treinen tossed a scoreless seventh, then Felipe Rivero tossed both the eighth and the ninth to notch his first career save and notch the Nationals' 81st win of the season.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: For a guy who was never expected to make the roster out of spring training, Robinson sure turned into a valuable piece for the Nationals. He began as a left-handed bat off the bench, but when Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth went down with injuries, the 30-year-old rookie wound up getting significant playing time. And he made the most of it. With his solo homer in the second inning, Robinson raised his batting average to .271 with a .361 on-base percentage and .410 slugging percentage. He's got nine homers and 33 RBI over 337 plate appearances. For a part-time player, that's not bad at all.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Boy, July feels like an awfully long time for Strasburg, doesn't it? Ten starts into his season, he was 3-5 with a 6.55 ERA and all sorts of questions from outside observers about the state of his career. Turns out Strasburg's problems were entirely physical, from an ankle injury in spring training to lingering neck issues to a strained oblique suffered on July 4. Over his final 13 starts, Strasburg went 8-2 with a 1.76 ERA and a staggering 110-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Put that all together, and he ends up 11-7 with a 3.46 ERA in 23 starts, with 155 strikeouts and only 26 walks. All things considered, that was a very good season for Strasburg. And a very encouraging sign for the Nationals heading into 2016.

KEY STAT: By beating out a potential inning-ending double play grounder in the eighth, Bryce Harper notched his 97th RBI, fifth-most in the NL.

UP NEXT: It had the potential to be a huge series to end the regular season. Instead, the Nationals and Mets will play out the string this weekend at Citi Field, beginning Friday at 7:10 p.m. Gio Gonzalez (11-8, 3.93) faces Noah Syndergaard (9-7, 3.34).

[RELATED: Where does Escobar fit in 2016 Nats' infield?]

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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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