Inside the 11-pitch Jayson Werth at-bat that sparked the Nats’ comeback

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WASHINGTON — Clear eyes, full beard, can’t lose.

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That’s what it read, in faded black letters, on the front of the custom gray T-shirt that Jayson Werth Jersey was wearing as he sat in front of his locker and talked about his game-altering, series-shifting, marathon at-bat. Inspired by the movie “Friday Night Lights” (“clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose”), the shirt was a gift from a fan a few years back. Even though this was a Wednesday night, the message couldn’t have been more apt.

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With the Nats trailing 6-4 and staring down the barrel of a third straight Beltway Series loss, the 37-year-old outfielder stepped in against Baltimore’s Brad Brach Jersey to lead things off. An All-Star last year as a setup man, Brach — who recently took over the closer gig for injured teammate Zach Britton Jersey and has been good enough to record eight saves already — features three plus-pitches, a rarity for a reliever.

Limited Shawn O’Malley Jersey After getting ahead of Brach two balls and a strike, Werth fouled off a 95 mile-an-hour heater that evened the count. Brach then went fastball-slider-fastball, and Werth went foul-foul-foul. The next pitch of the at-bat, the eighth one, was the pivot point. The first splitter of the at-bat, it dove down and away, begging Werth to wave his wand. Instead, he spat on it.

Shawn O’Malley Jersey #36 “That was the pitch of the at-bat,” Werth said afterward. “Because now it’s 3-2 and chances are he’s not going to mess around and try to throw something that’s a strikeout pitch. Because if he walks me, now he’s gotta deal with the guys behind me.”

For the record, the guys behind Werth were Bryce Harper Jersey, Ryan Zimmerman Jersey and Daniel Murphy Jersey, a modern-day Murderer’s Row who came in hitting .370, .410 and .333, respectively. Also for the record, Brach did not mess around. Instead of the slider or the splitter, he came with two straight fastballs, both 96 mph, both of which Werth fouled off. By then, 10 pitches into the at-bat, Werth felt like the balance of power had shifted.

“The longer that thing goes, the more it’s in my favor,” said the 15-year vet who knows a thing or two about long ABs. Among active players, Werth’s 4.60 pitches per plate appearance ranks second, just behind Yankees leadoff man Brett Gardner Jersey (4.61). “If you can foul off some pitches and continue the at-bat, you get more in rhythm with the pitcher.”

By the time the 11th and final pitch of the at-bat rolled around, Werth and Brach were like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. The O’s hurler unleashed another helping of cheese — this time middle-away — and Werth devoured it, sending it over the right-center-field wall and cutting the lead to a single run. More importantly, the endless AB seemed to exhaust Brach.

“He threw 11 pitches and didn’t get an out,” Nats starter Stephen Strasburg Jersey said of Brach. “Obviously, for a reliever, that’s huge. It really set the tone and I think the guys caught on fire after that.”

Harper followed with a double down the left-field line. After Zimmerman grounded out, Murphy walked. Anthony Rendon Jersey then singled to load the bases, setting the stage for Wieters. But really it was Werth who set the stage.

“It’s tough to put 11 pitches in your first at-bat against any closer,” Wieters said of his teammate, who has made of a habit of late-game long balls on lengthy ABs. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, since the start of the 2016 season, Werth has homered four times in the seventh inning or later on at-bats of eight or more pitches (got that?), more than anyone in baseball. “He got Brad’s pitch count up, and we were able to keep grinding.”

After the grinding came to a halt, back in front of his locker, Werth was asked if his prior success against Brach — against whom he was 1-for-3 with a homer — helped him under the Wednesday night lights.

“I didn’t even know I faced him before,” said Werth, dead-serious. “I get paid to forget and I’m good at it. I couldn’t tell you what happened yesterday or the day before. I just black out and see what happens.”

Clear eyes, full beard, can’t remember.

Giants flirting with rock bottom in MLB

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10:46 PM ETJerry CrasnickESPN Senior Writer senior writer

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Author of “License to Deal”

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It’s unaccustomed terrain for a franchise that has endured only one losing season since 2009, and manager Bruce Bochy is grasping for solutions. In the quiet of his office late Tuesday night after a lifeless, 6-1 loss to the New York Mets Jersey, the typically stoic Bochy came as close as he ever will to venting.

Limited Leonys Martin Jersey “Wearing this uni, there’s a lot of pride here,” Bochy said. “We’re embarrassed as a group. We’re pissed off. Each day you think, ‘We’re going to come out of it.’

Leonys Martin Jersey #12 “Sure, I’m concerned with the way we’re playing. It’s one thing if it’s one facet of the game. But it’s pitching. It’s our bullpen. We’re not hitting. We’ve got a lot of things to fix here right now. We’re working on it.”

On the precipice of an 0-6 trip to Cincinnati and New York, the Giants found a sliver of hope Wednesday afternoon.

The Giants trailed New York 3-2 in the top of the ninth inning and appeared ready to go down meekly when things finally went their way. Mets third baseman Wilmer Flores Jersey botched a potential game-ending double-play ball and rookie Christian Arroyo delivered a bases-loaded double off Jeurys Familia Jersey, and the Giants sweated out a shaky ninth inning by fill-in closer Derek Law Jersey to escape with a 6-5 win at Citi Field.

“Wearing this uni, there’s a lot of pride here … We’re embarrassed as a group. We’re pissed off. Each day you think, ‘We’re going to come out of it.'”

Bruce Bochy, Giants managerArroyo, 21, embodied the sense of joy and relief throughout the San Francisco dugout when he pumped his fist upon arrival at second base. The Giants were outscored 46-15 during their 1-5 trip east, so pardon them for milking stray moments of celebration.

“There was a lot of frustration from the past week coming out there,” Arroyo said. “Pent-up aggression, I guess.”

It has been a team-wide phenomenon for a while now. After rolling into the All-Star Game with an MLB-best 57-33 record last season, the Giants limped home at 30-42 and bowed out against the Chicago Cubs Jersey in four games in the division series. Their uninspired play in April and May has disabused anyone of the notion that a winter of rest and a clean slate would cure what ails them.

• Offense is a problem. The Giants are hitting .227 with an MLB-worst .340 slugging percentage as a team, and they’ve hit a total of five home runs at home this season. For sake of comparison, New York Yankees Jersey outfield sensation Aaron Judge already has 10 home runs at Yankee Stadium.

The Giants are going down meekly against inexperienced starters and back-of-the-rotation guys as well as the elite pitchers. During their 1-5 trip, they did little to nothing against Amir Garrett Jersey, Scott Feldman Jersey and Tommy Milone Jersey, who was claimed off waivers by the Mets from Milwaukee.

• Injuries haven’t helped. Center fielder and leadoff man Denard Span Jersey, who has lost a step or two at age 33, sprained his shoulder slamming into a wall April 22 and is currently on a rehab assignment in the Class A California League. Shortstop Brandon Crawford Jersey, out since April 29 because of a groin strain, is expected to return to Thursday night for the opener of a four-game series against Cincinnati at AT&T Park.

Some other positions might be beyond help. The Giants refrained from adding an established left fielder during the offseason and entered spring training hopeful that the tandem of Jarrett Parker Jersey and Mac Williamson Jersey could get the job done. Five weeks into the season, Gorkys Hernandez, Parker, Eduardo Nunez Jersey and the five other left fielders used by Bochy have an aggregate slash line of .156/.235./.221.

• The Giants’ bullpen, a source of concern throughout the 2016 season, remains in a state of flux. Mark Melancon Jersey, who signed a four-year, $62 million free agent deal in December, went on the 10-day disabled list Tuesday because of a mild pronator strain near his right elbow. Law assumed the closer role in the series finale and came perilously close to blowing a 6-5 lead.

The Giants got Matt Cain Jersey off the hook with Wednesday’s comeback, but the veteran is just 2-1 with a 4.54 ERA. Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports• Starting pitching, the bedrock of San Francisco’s success during Bochy’s 11-season run as manager, has been very un-Giant-like. Madison Bumgarner Jersey created a major void when he hurt his shoulder in a dirt-bike accident, and the group of Johnny Cueto Jersey, Jeff Samardzija Jersey, Matt Moore Jersey, Matt Cain Jersey and Ty Blach Jersey has lacked any semblance of consistency. The San Francisco rotation ranks 28th among MLB teams with a 5.01 ERA.

“That’s our strength: our starting pitching,” Bochy said. “We figured it would keep us in games. We can’t slug with other clubs. That’s not our style. But we [usually] pitch, and that hasn’t been as sharp, either.”

As the Giants continue to flirt with rock bottom, they’re dredging up some bad memories. Their 12-23 start is the worst for the franchise since 1972, when they went 10-25 through 35 games. The ’72 San Francisco rotation featured Ron Bryant, Sudden Sam McDowell, Steve Stone and Juan Marichal, who posted a 6-16 record in the twilight of a Hall of Fame career.

Amid the team’s early travails, San Francisco’s old standbys and recent additions in the clubhouse are keeping the faith that an upturn is just a game or a series away.

“We’ve dug ourselves a huge hole, no doubt about that,” Melancon said. “But I still think we’re going to turn this thing around based on the talent, the expertise, the veteran-ism and the recent history of success here. We have high-character guys who work hard, and a chemistry that’s great. Those are all things for a good recipe of success.”

The biggest obstacles are math and time: The Giants entered play Wednesday 10 games behind first-place Colorado in the National League West. They’re realistic enough to know it’s going to take an extended run of better baseball — and some less-than-inspiring baseball by the Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks Jersey and Los Angeles Dodgers Jersey — for them to make significant inroads.

“You can get philosophical about where we are in the season,” Moore said.”But if we go out and win eight of our next 10, we kind of squash the bug.

“I know nobody in here can try any harder. I think it’s a matter of all of us kind of syncing up at the same time. Maybe there’s one game where we win in extra innings, or someone hits for a cycle or throws a no-hitter, or something weird happens and everybody rallies around it and we can kind of put the negatives to bed.”

Arroyo did his part Wednesday to salvage the final game of a trip and ensure a more upbeat charter flight home. The Giants will learn soon enough if the victory was something to build on or just a brief respite from their suffering.

Marcell Ozuna, the Marlins slugger not named Giancarlo Stanton

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This might be the upset of the young 2017 season: A righty-hitting Miami Marlins Jersey outfielder hit the most impressive homer of the season, and it wasn’t Giancarlo Stanton Jersey.

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That’s a matter of opinion, but if you haven’t seen where Marcell Ozuna Jersey’s homer reached last Wednesday at Tropicana Field, check it out:

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If it seems like there have been more home runs this season, that’s because there have been. Teams have combined for 1.18 homers per game so far, an increase on last season’s long ball spike (1.16). If it keeps up, this would be the highest rate in big league history, and we have yet to reach the warm weather months. But it’s not just the number of home runs, it’s the really long homers, the majestic kinds like the one Ozuna hit against the Rays.

Limited Guillermo Heredia Jersey In reality, we’re not seeing more of these impressive shots. About 11.2 percent of home runs this season have traveled at least 430 feet, according to Home Run Tracker, which is actually down from 11.7 percent at this point a season ago. But because of the current ubiquity of highlight clips, it can feel like there have been more. That’s not the fault of Ozuna, who is hitting the ball harder and farther more often than ever.

Guillermo Heredia Jersey #64 Editor’s PicksRanking every MLB lineup: Who has passed the Cubs?The North Siders have the names, the Yankees have Aaron Judge and the Nationals may not be as good as you think. From 1 to 30, here’s what we like (and don’t like) about each team at the plate.

According to the Statcast data at, Ozuna has increased his average exit velocity from 90.7 mph to 93.2, ranking 13th in the majors. That number jumps to 99 mph when he gets the ball in the air, which is the 10th-best number in the majors. And his 16 barreled balls — defined as a well-struck ball with an estimated batting average/slugging percentage above .500/1.500 — through Monday’s action rank fifth. Ozuna is barreling up balls more than twice as often as he did a season ago. All of that mashing is paying off for Ozuna, who is hitting .325/.387/.634, all career-best marks, and has a .359 average on balls in play.

At 26, Ozuna should be in the early stages of his career peak, and all of this might simply reflect a super-talented player finally putting it all together.

There haven’t been any stark changes in Ozuna’s approach, but his plate discipline numbers are improved. His walk rate (9 percent) is his best yet. According to TruMedia, his chase rate (29.9 percent) is his best yet, and while that’s far from an elite figure, sometimes a little patience has big results, especially since opposing pitchers are giving him fewer offerings in the zone.

Overall, he’s swinging at about half of the pitches he sees (49.9 percent), a rate 3 percent higher than 2016. So the small sample evidence is that Ozuna is laying off more unhittable pitches but raking when he sees something he likes.

Ozuna has always been regarded as a toolsy player whose over-aggression at the dish is one of his biggest enemies. At the same time, he has shown a penchant for improvement at each level, as well as an ability to handle adversity.

After struggling through the first half of the 2015 season, Ozuna was shipped to Triple-A. He returned to the Marlins 40 days later, and from that point on, he had a .789 OPS. He seemed to build on that momentum during the first half last season, when he hit .307/.360/.533 and earned a spot in his first All-Star Game.

Things fell off after that, and, indeed, consistency has been another of Ozuna’s bugaboos at the big league level. He hit just .209/.267/.342 over 2016’s second half, leading to offseason rumors that he could be had in the trade market. That didn’t happen, and so far, that has been a lucky thing for a Marlins offense that relies heavily on elite production from its outfield.

So far this season, Miami’s collective .369 weighted on-base percentage (wOBA) from the outfield ranks third in the majors behind Bryce Harper Jersey’s Washington Nationals Jersey and Aaron Judge’s New York Yankees Jersey. Ozuna leads the way with a .437 mark, followed by Stanton’s .390 and Christian Yelich Jersey’s .319. And it should get better: Yelich entered the season with a .352 career wOBA and had a .376 mark last season. In other words, assuming a regression for Yelich, continued health for Stanton and newfound consistency for Ozuna, the Marlins could well emerge as the best offensive outfield in baseball.

If that happens, it could stay that way for a couple of years: Yelich is a year younger than Ozuna, and Stanton is just one year older. Stanton and Yelich have been locked up contractually for the foreseeable future, and Ozuna has two more years of team control before hitting free agency. With the Marlins franchise on the market, it’s a little unclear what their long-term payroll strategies might be. However, if Ozuna can maintain his improved approach and the accompanying results for a full season, it’s certainly possible that he remains in the long-term mix. Or he could emerge as a valuable trade piece in an effort to balance the roster.

In the meantime, keep your tape measures close when you’re at a Marlins game. Even when Giancarlo Stanton Jersey isn’t at the plate.

Are the Miami Marlins really worth $1.3 billion to the next owner?

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Whether the sale of the Marlins goes to Jeb Bush and Derek Jeter or Tom Glavine and Tagg Romney, whether it is the $1.3 billion that has been reported or something closer to the $1.6 billion floated a few months ago, Jeffrey Loria is about to pull off one of the most profitable franchise sales in modern baseball history. What’s clear is Loria’s massive success in making money. Less clear is the value of the franchise he is cashing out on.

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For those who believe that baseball ownership involves some sort of civic trust, Loria left a lot to be desired. Since Loria took over the franchise in 2002, Marlins payrolls have consistently ranked near the bottom of the league, ranking last more times (five) than the team has finished last in the NL East (four). The team hasn’t finished with a winning record since 2009 and hasn’t made the playoffs since winning the World Series in 2003. After the city and county built a new stadium with half a billion dollars in taxpayer money, Loria responded with payrolls last or second-to-last in three of the stadium’s first four seasons.

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Olney: Fight to the … tie? Extra innings moving toward extinction

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It was sometime around midnight that the Chicago Cubs Jersey’ search for the run that would end the extra-inning madness against the New York Yankees Jersey became desperate. With Chicago batting — I think it was in the bottom of the 16th inning, although sleeplessness has added a hazy halo around some of the details — somebody in the Cubs’ dugout started firing a barrage of sunflower seeds toward the field. Dozens of seeds, one at a time; a couple reached the third-base foul line, and then one or two bounced onto the field, with third-base umpire Alan Porter glancing over.

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Players occasionally launch seeds like this onto the field from game to game, but the sudden eruption in the sixth hour of play Sunday suggested a brilliant attempt to alter the karma of the baseball gods. Rally seeds. But like the hitters for both teams in overtime, the sunflower ploy failed; the Cubs did not score, again, and at the end of the half-inning, the player responsible for the seeds threw out another handful, like the last burst at the end of a fireworks show.

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But the players and managers have a far different perspective. Anthony Rizzo Jersey was hit on the left forearm by a 99 mph Aroldis Chapman Jersey fastball in the ninth inning but had to keep playing another three hours and nine innings after that when he probably should’ve been out of the game. Cubs manager Joe Maddon had to extend relievers, some of whom began the game already taxed from recent work, into an area of increased risk. And when it was over, the Cubs and Yankees both had to travel overnight, arriving at hotels near dawn about 12 hours before their next game.

Limited Nelson Cruz Jersey I hope they keep the current rules in place, because they create the birth of the occasional memorable marathon, and Major League Baseball is well aware that fans want extra innings to continue until a resolution of win or lose. On Monday, I sent out a Twitter poll asking for the preference of followers, and the response was a landslide: About 75 percent want the status quo.

Nelson Cruz Jersey #23 What if games end after 12 innings?Some would like to see games capped at 12 innings, but how many nights would that impact each season?

SeasonGames inextras12+ inninggames2017*4913201618563201521263201423288201324376*Numbers are entering Tuesday’s gamesBut there has been an increased focus on player safety and working conditions in the industry, and I suspect that, inevitably, the marathon games will soon be an endangered species, moving toward eventual extinction, like home plate collisions and takeout slides at second base.

This is not a foregone conclusion, however, nor is the adoption of the World Baseball Classic rules, through which runners were placed in scoring position in extra innings to greatly increase the chances for resolution. MLB was the driving force behind the alterations of those rules at second base and home, pushing the union toward change, but if there are going to be 12-inning ties or other adjustments, the players’ association will have to get out of its bunker and barter for that. The players will have to lead that conversation.

If they take that step, they will be silently cheered on by club executives, many of whom view the marathons as senseless madness. Those officials note the risk/reward scales tip steeply for continuing games late into the night, with players pushed to the brink of injury, if not beyond, and that their teams are affected for days and weeks afterward for the sake of extra time that most fans don’t actually stick around to watch. (On Sunday night, some hardy souls were still around for the end of the Yankees-Cubs game, but perhaps only a quarter of the original crowd.)

In this era, pitchers throw fewer pitches and fewer innings, position players are on the field for fewer games, the disabled list is used more often. The product is protected in a way it wasn’t in the days of Babe Ruth and Willie Mays and, even, Barry Bonds. And for that reason, it figures that, eventually, the extra, extra innings and the 17th-inning backward caps and rally seeds will go away.

The position production index: Which spots are hot, and which are not?

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Have you noticed how bad American League first basemen have been this season? Yonder Alonso Jersey has been terrific in a breakout season, after changing his swing to hit more fly balls. He already has 11 home runs, matching his career high set in 2012. Logan Morrison Jersey has been pretty good, though he’s another player with a long track record of mediocrity.

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After that? Miguel Cabrera Jersey missed some time on the disabled list, Carlos Santana Jersey is off to a slow start, Mike Napoli Jersey looks old, Eric Hosmer Jersey hasn’t been good, and Jose Abreu Jersey and Chris Davis Jersey are struggling.

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That leads to a fun discussion: Which is the best position in the majors?

Limited Norichika Aoki Jersey I’ll rank each position in each league, considering what has happened this season as well as last year.

Norichika Aoki Jersey #8 Ryan Zimmerman Jersey has turned back the clock and is mashing once again for the Nationals. Jason Getz/USA TODAY Sports1. National League 1B (.281/.371/.539)

Top five: Freddie Freeman Jersey, Paul Goldschmidt Jersey, Anthony Rizzo Jersey, Joey Votto Jersey, Ryan Zimmerman Jersey

Weak spots: Caleb Joseph Jersey, Justin Bour Jersey, Adrian Gonzalez Jersey

Indeed, National League first base ranks as the best position in the majors. Only three teams rated below average in value at the position, according to, and the addition of Thames and the rejuvenated Zimmerman have added two stars to a position already loaded with depth. Thames looks like the real deal, Carpenter remains one of the most under-appreciated players in the majors, and neither can crack my top five.

2. National League 3B (.261/.331/.445)

Top five: Kris Bryant Jersey, Nolan Arenado Jersey, Justin Turner Jersey, Eugenio Suarez Jersey, Anthony Rendon Jersey

Weak spots: Jose Reyes Jersey, Adonis Garcia Jersey, Maikel Franco Jersey

You have the reigning NL MVP and another of the game’s all-around stars in Arenado, but what lifts this position is the potential breakout performance of Suarez, who is hitting .327/.408/.600 entering Tuesday, with improved strikeout and walk rates that suggest some of that improvement is going to stick. Jedd Gyorko Jersey is tearing it up for the Cardinals, and Jake Lamb Jersey and Travis Shaw Jersey are slugging .500. There are few glaring holes, and eventually Franco will improve on that .217/.292/.374 line.

3. American League CF (.255/.332/.402)

Top five: Mike Trout Jersey, George Springer Jersey, Lorenzo Cain Jersey, Kevin Kiermaier Jersey, Adam Jones Jersey

Weak spots: Rajai Davis Jersey, Leury Garcia Jersey, Tyler Collins Jersey

The overall offensive numbers aren’t anything great, especially once you get past Trout, but what makes this group rank high — besides the best player in baseball — is its ability to run down fly balls. Kiermaier is a spectacular two-time Gold Glove winner, and Kevin Pillar Jersey, who is off to a good start the plate, isn’t far behind him. Byron Buxton Jersey might prove to be as good as Kiermaier, and Cain and Jackie Bradley Jr. Jersey are also elite defenders. Jacoby Ellsbury Jersey is also playing his best baseball in years.

4. American League 3B (.244/.323/.430)

Top five: Manny Machado Jersey, Josh Donaldson Jersey, Jose Ramirez Jersey, Miguel Sano Jersey, Kyle Seager Jersey

Weak spots: Pablo Sandoval Jersey, Yunel Escobar Jersey, Trevor Plouffe Jersey

This position would deserve a higher ranking, but Donaldson has spent much of the season on the DL and Adrian Beltre Jersey has spent the entire season on the DL (though Joey Gallo Jersey has performed well in his place). Seager and Longoria are off to slow starts, perhaps to be replaced by Ramirez and Sano as new stars at the hot corner. Alex Bregman was supposed to be in that group as well, but he has yet to hit a home run.

5. American League 2B (.240/.313/.385)

Top five: Jose Altuve Jersey, Robinson Cano Jersey, Ian Kinsler Jersey, Brian Dozier Jersey, Dustin Pedroia Jersey

Weak spots: Devon Travis Jersey, Danny Espinosa Jersey, Whit Merrifield

This might have been the top position in 2016. Altuve and Cano finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting, Dozier slugged 42 home runs, and Kinsler, Pedroia and Jason Kipnis Jersey all registered at least 4.8 WAR. The best second baseman so far this season has been the Yankees’ Starlin Castro Jersey, however, and Kinsler and Pedroia are off to slow starts, with age a possible concern for those two. Throw in Rougned Odor Jersey’s all-or-nothing approach that features too much nothing, Brad Miller Jersey’s lack of power so far and some distinct weak spots, and this group gets downgraded for now.

6. National League CF (.248/.316/.401)

Top five: A.J. Pollock Jersey, Christian Yelich Jersey, Charlie Blackmon Jersey, Dexter Fowler Jersey, Ender Inciarte Jersey

Weak spots: Gorkys Hernandez, Michael Taylor Jersey, Keon Broxton Jersey

This is a fun group, and you could easily include defensive wizards Billy Hamilton Jersey and the up-and-coming Manuel Margot Jersey in the top five. Phillies fans will argue that Odubel Herrera Jersey deserves consideration as well. Pollock is looking healthy again, and Yelich could end up hitting over .300 with 20-plus home runs and solid defense. The loss of Adam Eaton Jersey hurts, and some terrible starts by the various Giants (.176) and Mets center fielders (.153) lower the offensive numbers, though Michael Conforto Jersey could end up the regular for the Mets.

Francisco Lindor Jersey is off to a fast start coming off a breakout season in 2016. Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY Sports7. American League SS (.258/.309/.396)

Top five: Francisco Lindor Jersey, Carlos Correa Jersey, Jean Segura Jersey, Xander Bogaerts Jersey, Andrelton Simmons Jersey

Weak spots: Alcides Escobar Jersey, Tim Anderson, J.J. Hardy Jersey

Lindor versus Correa isn’t even an argument at the moment, given Lindor’s big advantage in the field and an early-season power stroke that his him on pace for 30-plus home runs. Segura is proving that his offensive output with Arizona in 2016 wasn’t a fluke, and Elvis Andrus Jersey, who is not in the top five, remains an asset, as he has added more pop. There are some huge holes at the bottom of the list, though; Anderson’s poor approach continues to hurt him, and Hardy’s decline from All-Star to waiver-wire fodder is nearing completion.

8. National League 2B (.268/.332/.394)

Top five: Daniel Murphy Jersey, Cesar Hernandez Jersey, DJ LeMahieu Jersey, Javier Baez Jersey, Joe Panik Jersey

Weak spots: Jose Peraza Jersey, Neil Walker Jersey, Jonathan Villar Jersey

There isn’t a lot of flash here, but the position is pretty deep from top to bottom. Murphy is mashing once again, and Hernandez is proving that he is the Phillies’ second baseman of the present and future. Baez shares time with Ben Zobrist Jersey and remains a tantalizing talent, and LeMahieu, last season’s batting champ, is off to a mediocre .270 start. The three guys listed as weak spots have been terrible so far but were good in 2016 and should improve, which means every NL team should have at least a decent second baseman.

9. National League LF (.263/.339/.467)

Top five: Marcell Ozuna Jersey, Yoenis Cespedes Jersey, Adam Duvall Jersey, Matt Kemp Jersey, Ryan Braun Jersey

Weak spots: Whoever plays for the Giants, Travis Jankowski Jersey, Kyle Schwarber Jersey

Even with Giants left fielders hitting .160/.241/.227, this group has the second-best offensive production of any position. Ozuna is off to a monster start; remember, he was an All-Star last year before an injury slowed him in the second half. There are some major defensive issues, however, with the likes of Kemp, Schwarber and Yasmany Tomas Jersey, and Braun’s metrics are terrible as well. If somebody can find Gregory Polanco Jersey’s bat, please return it to him.

10. National League C (.249/.317/.404)

Top five: Buster Posey Jersey, J.T. Realmuto Jersey, Yasmani Grandal Jersey, Yadier Molina Jersey, Matt Wieters Jersey

Weak spots: Diamondbacks, Tucker Barnhart Jersey, Austin Hedges Jersey

This group is better than you might think, with solid offensive production. The Brewers’ pair of Jett Bandy Jersey and Manny Pina actually leads the NL in weighted on-base average (wOBA). Plus, even Hedges is showing power and comes with a good defensive reputation.

11. National League RF (.255/.331/.441)

Top five: Bryce Harper Jersey, Giancarlo Stanton Jersey, Jay Bruce Jersey, Yasiel Puig Jersey, Jason Heyward Jersey

Weak spots: Hunter Renfroe, Carlos Gonzalez Jersey, Pirates

Harper is playing like an MVP again, and Stanton is mashing home runs. Hot starts from Bruce and Scott Schebler Jersey have boosted the offensive numbers, and slow starts from stalwarts such as Gonzalez and Hunter Pence Jersey (plus Andrew McCutchen Jersey before he moved to center field after Starling Marte Jersey’s suspension) have dragged this group down.

12. National League SS (.238/.300/.384)

Top five: Corey Seager Jersey, Trea Turner Jersey, Brandon Crawford Jersey, Addison Russell Jersey, Zack Cozart Jersey

Weak spots: Dansby Swanson, Erick Aybar Jersey, Orlando Arcia Jersey

Seager finished third in the MVP voting as a rookie and is off to a solid start. Turner and Crawford have spent time on the DL but are All-Star candidates otherwise, and Cozart is hitting .351 thanks to a .427 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Russell has turned into a Gold Glove candidate while we wait for his bat to mature. What drags this group down are some terrible hitters at the bottom, along with poor defenders such as Aledmys Diaz Jersey and Asdrubal Cabrera Jersey. There’s some upside here if young guys such as Swanson, Arcia and Trevor Story Jersey start playing better.

Aaron Judge already looks likes one of the best right fielders in the American League. Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports13. American League RF (.258/.340/.421)

Top five: Mookie Betts Jersey, Aaron Judge, Kole Calhoun Jersey, Mitch Haniger, Josh Reddick Jersey

Weak spots: Royals, Jose Bautista Jersey, Matt Joyce Jersey

Thank the baseball gods for Aaron Judge. At least he gives us another potential American League All-Star outfielder in a generally mediocre group. Remember that Michael Saunders Jersey, Ian Desmond Jersey and an aging Carlos Beltran Jersey were All-Stars last year. I’m not buying the hot starts for Avisail Garcia Jersey and Steven Souza, so I left them out of the top five, but at least they’re hitting, unlike Bautista, Joyce or Mark Trumbo Jersey.

14. American League LF (.239/.317/.393)

Top five: Andrew Benintendi, Michael Brantley Jersey, Justin Upton Jersey, Khris Davis Jersey, Brett Gardner Jersey

Weak spots: Alex Gordon Jersey, Blue Jays, Angels

There are some decent players at the top but no MVP candidates. It’s telling that Benintendi, a rookie, is probably the best all-around left fielder in the league. There are some big issues at the bottom, starting with Gordon, who is a shell of the player he was just a few years ago. The Toronto platoon of Steve Pearce Jersey and Ezequiel Carrera Jersey has hit .225 with a .268 OBP, and the Angels’ platoon of Cameron Maybin Jersey and Ben Revere Jersey has been even worse. Heck, you could throw Melky Cabrera Jersey or the Rangers’ sorry situation (Delino DeShields Jersey at the moment) in here as well.

15. American League C (.226/.298/.368)

Top five: Gary Sanchez Jersey, Brian McCann Jersey, Salvador Perez Jersey, Jonathan Lucroy Jersey, Welington Castillo Jersey

Weak spots: Mike Zunino Jersey, Derek Norris Jersey, Stephen Vogt Jersey

Getting Sanchez back will help, but outside of McCann and a fluky 60 at-bats from Alex Avila Jersey, nobody is doing much damage at the plate. Perez is probably vastly overrated at this point, a sub-.300 OBP guy who has never graded well as a pitch-framer, and Lucroy hasn’t hit at all. Zunino and Sandy Leon are showing that their solid 2016 seasons at the plate were probably accidents more than real improvement.

16. American League 1B (.246/.318/.423)

Top five: Miguel Cabrera Jersey, Yonder Alonso Jersey, Carlos Santana Jersey, Jose Abreu Jersey, Chris Davis Jersey

Weak spots: Mike Napoli Jersey, C.J. Cron Jersey, Danny Valencia Jersey

Yuck. As you can see, this group is barely outhitting middle infielders. This is a reminder that all things are cyclical. In 2001, Jim Thome hit .291/.416/.624 with 49 home runs, and in 2002, he hit .304/.445/.677 with 52 home runs. He didn’t make the All-Star team either season.

It’s official: Dusty Baker’s bullpen is a nightmare for Nationals

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BALTIMORE — If a dumpster fire and a train wreck had a baby, it’d be the Washington Nationals Jersey’ bullpen.

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Dusty Baker is well aware of this, which might have had something to do with the Nats’ skipper allowing his ace to face Baltimore Orioles Jersey star Adam Jones Jersey in the eighth inning. To be clear, Max Scherzer Jersey had no earthly business facing Adam Jones Jersey in the eighth inning.

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In the sixth inning, the first three Birds batters all hit balls that left the bat at 90-plus miles an hour, including Seth Smith Jersey, who drilled a homer to right-center that ended the no-hit bid and tied the game at 1-all. In the seventh, even though Scherzer managed to not allow a run, Baltimore’s Chris Davis Jersey (single), Trey Mancini (lineout) and Jonathan Schoop Jersey (double) all hit screamers that featured triple-digit exit velocity.

Limited Chris Taylor Jersey By the time Jones stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eighth, right after Smith launched a 99-mph rocket to center for the second out, Scherzer had already thrown 108 pitches. And now he was about to face a guy who “gives him the blues,” as Baker said ruefully before the game: Entering Tuesday, Jones was a .480 lifetime hitter against the two-time Cy Young winner with three home runs in 25 at-bats and an Xbox-ish 1.440 OPS. And yet Baker left his ace out there.

Chris Taylor Jersey #1 Enny Romero Jersey failed to close out a win for the Nationals on Tuesday night, surrendering two runs to the Orioles in the ninth inning. AP Photo/Nick WassIn the interest of full disclosure, the bases were empty with two outs, and the Nats were up 4-1 at this point following a three-run pinch-hit jack by Adam Lind Jersey in the top of the eighth.

“If there had been somebody on base, he wouldn’t have faced Jones,” Baker said of Scherzer. “But you’ve got to get your nemesis out sometime. He had gotten him out pretty good tonight. Certainly that’s not what cost us the game, because he got the next couple guys out.”

True enough. But it’s hard not to think that, if this were 2016, Baker would’ve lifted Scherzer and his 108 pitches right then and there. Hard not to think that if this were last year, when the Washington bullpen was actually good at its job and finished second in the majors in ERA, the Nats’ skipper would’ve yanked his ace quicker than a dentist yanks a decaying tooth. Instead, he allowed Scherzer to stay in, which in turn allowed Jones to go yard on the very next pitch and make it a 4-2 game. But wait, there’s more.

Immediately after the Jones jack, Baker paid a visit to the mound to potentially relieve Scherzer of his duties, whereupon the hurler told his manager (and I’m paraphrasing here): I got it. I gee-golly got it. It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time that Scherzer has lobbied for Baker to leave him in a game. Not the first time he’s dropped an F-, um, I mean, a G-bomb. It’s also worth noting that studs who earn $30 million a year (like Scherzer) typically get the benefit of the doubt from their skippers in situations like this. Especially when they drop G-bombs. Not that it was Scherzer’s words that did the trick.

“It was a look,” Baker said. “I go by how you look in your eyes and how you look in your face. Sometimes you see tiredness. Sometimes you see fear. And sometimes you see determination. And I saw determination, and that was good enough for me.”

Then again, given the sorry state of the Nats’ bullpen, it’s not like he needed a whole lot of convincing.

Like Baker said, leaving Scherzer in to face Jones, as well as the next guy (Manny Machado Jersey, for the record, who flied out to left) isn’t what cost his team the game. What did cost Washington the game — a contest that Baltimore ultimately won 5-4 in 12 innings — was a bullpen that’s in absolute shambles.

Opening Day closer Blake Treinen Jersey, who was brand new to the role, lasted all of about two weeks before being demoted and entered this week with an ERA north of nine. Veteran setup man Shawn Kelley Jersey replaced Treinen, but has given up five homers in 10 innings and is currently on the disabled list with a lower-back strain. Rookie Koda Glover, who carries the closer-of-the-future tag, was in the mix, too, but has since landed on the DL with a hip problem. Next was Enny Romero Jersey, who blew the Nats’ two-run lead in the ninth on Tuesday and boasts a career ERA of five-plus, followed by Matt Albers Jersey, a 34-year-old journeyman who prior to picking up his first-ever save last week had made a major-league-record 460 relief appearances without one. If you’re scoring at home, that’s five different closers that the Nats have already used in barely more than a month. And that coyote ugly picture doesn’t even include Joe Blanton Jersey, who was supposed to be a dependable setup type but has been serving up gopher balls as if his contract has an incentive for serving up gopher balls (6 HRs in 12 IPs).

The fact that the Nats’ bullpen has issues should come as no surprise. Not after an offseason in which Washington GM Mike Rizzo whiffed on big-name free-agent closers such as Kenley Jansen Jersey, Aroldis Chapman Jersey and former National Mark Melancon Jersey. Not after they failed to make a trade for a proven back-end arm like White Sox closer David Robertson Jersey or Tampa Bay’s Alex Colome Jersey (both of whom were linked to the Nats this winter). What does come as a surprise is just how grave those issues are. The thinking was that between Treinen, Kelley and Glover, somebody would rise to the top and everything would be hunky-dory. But clearly, that thinking was wishful.

Even if Kelly or Glover returns from the DL and is able to seize the closer gig, Baker’s beleaguered bullpen — which currently carries an NL-worst 5.47 ERA — still has more holes than a Whack-a-Mole factory. As it stands right now, it’s hard to imagine those holes being filled without making some kind of trade. Of course, acquiring relievers is nothing new for the Nats.

In 2015, they traded for Jonathan Papelbon Jersey because they weren’t happy with Drew Storen Jersey as their closer. In 2016, when it became clear that Papelbon wasn’t working out, they picked up Melancon. Both those deals happened in late July, right before the trade deadline. Given how weak the NL East has looked so far (Washington is currently 4½ games up on the Mets), it’s possible that Rizzo could once again wait until July to pull the trigger. Then again, given how bad the Nats’ pen has been, waiting until July might not be an option.

Because by then, the spawn of dumpster fire and train wreck might have already grown out of control.

One speech won’t fix everyone’s opinion of Matt Harvey

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NEW YORK — Matt Harvey Jersey delivered two apologies Tuesday at Citi Field. The first came in a somber and attentive New York Mets Jersey clubhouse, where he stood before his teammates and took full responsibility for his recent actions. By all accounts, Harvey’s message went over well because it seemed so heartfelt in delivery and tone.

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Shortly thereafter, Harvey took a seat at the front of the media room and broadened the scope of his contrition. He apologized to the Wilpon family, the Mets organization and all the fans who weren’t thrilled by the news that he spent Friday night clubbing and Saturday at the golf course when he should have been preparing for his next start.

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“I understand everybody’s anger and the organization doing what they did,” Harvey said. “I completely understand. It’s me who takes full blame for that, and it is me who needs to fix it and make sure it never happens again.”

Limited Kyle Seager Jersey Based on the initial reaction, Harvey bought himself some time and goodwill with his coworkers. The New York media — and, by extension, a skeptical Mets fan base — might be a harder sell.

Kyle Seager Jersey #15 Matt Harvey Jersey said he should be putting himself “in a better place to perform physically.” Erik S. Lesser/EPAThe 162-game grind beats a sense of resignation and practicality into big leaguers, so the Mets have no choice but to swallow hard and forget. Even teammates who strongly disapprove of Harvey’s antics know they’re going to need him if the Mets plan to be a factor in the National League East race this season. Noah Syndergaard Jersey is down with a lat injury, and Yoenis Cespedes Jersey has hamstring issues, so Harvey’s teammates can’t afford to play behavior police in the coming weeks and months.

“There are rules, and when the rules are broken, there are going to be consequences paid,” outfielder Jay Bruce Jersey said. “But there are no grudges and no lasting effects. We have to move forward. We can’t dwell on anything that happens in the past. That goes for performance or things like this that happen. You have to always move forward.”

It’s a different story outside the clubhouse. Columnists and beat writers are paid to keep score, and they recall how apologetic Harvey was in October 2015, when he missed a mandatory workout during the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Jersey. At the time, Harvey admitted that he “screwed up,” and he vowed it would never happen again. He seemed sincere and contrite that time too.

More on Matt Harvey JerseyInjuries, questions about his work ethic and a suspension put Matt Harvey Jersey’s future with the Mets in doubt. Buster Olney

Podcast: Mets’ choices with Harvey

Over the arc of a career, one unexplained absence can be written off as a lapse in judgment. Two suspicious absences — even stretched over a three-year period — are enough to give an athlete a reputation.

That dynamic helps explain why the tone at Harvey’s news conference hovered somewhere between skeptical and hostile. As several hands shot up, Harvey was asked why anyone should believe him now, when he made the same claims before and lapsed into the same quicksand.

Mets manager Terry Collins also faced some tough questions about the extent of Harvey’s off-the-field transgressions and whether they’re indicative of a bigger problem. Collins talked about the support system in place for Harvey within the organization, but he took a pass when asked if Harvey might have an alcohol problem.

The one thing everybody seems to agree on is that starting today, Harvey will be judged a lot more by what he does than by what he says. He has done that much damage to his credibility.

“I told Matt he needs to make baseball No. 1,” Collins said. “When he did that before, he was on top of the world. This guy was the best pitcher in the game when he made that his priority. And when he makes it the priority again, he’ll be back. You’ve got to be able to put the blinders on and direct yourself down that path and say, ‘I’m not going to let any of that other stuff get in the way right now.’

“I wish I could tell you how many times somebody has said to me, ‘Hey, I’m going to do this.’ The answer I give them is, ‘Don’t tell me — show me.’ That speaks more than anything else.”

At age 28, Harvey isn’t the pitcher he was four years ago. He has been through Tommy John surgery and thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, and his stuff isn’t as jaw-droppingly dominant as a result. Harvey took a step in the right direction when he showed up in better shape in spring training, but his first six starts produced some good days mixed with bad.

As Harvey tries to rehabilitate his public image, he’ll have to overcome the perception that he has taken too much for granted. The whole “Dark Knight of Gotham” celebrity pitcher routine made for some great headlines in 2013. But the Matt Harvey Jersey who shuttled from one apology to another Tuesday looked more like a confused kid trying to find his way than a staff ace and team leader.

For the foreseeable future, Harvey will attract more attention than usual with his performance on the mound. But he’ll also be judged by his dedication and commitment in the four days between his starts. Harvey has earned the scrutiny, and he’s going to have to live with it.

Healthy, homerin’ Bryce Harper looks good as new to Nats

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BALTIMORE — Despite losing to the Baltimore Orioles Jersey, the Washington Nationals Jersey can take comfort in knowing that Bryce Harper Jersey looks good as new.

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After missing three games because of a groin injury, Harper returned to Washington’s lineup for the Beltway Series opener, and he went 2-for-3 with a home run, a walk and two RBIs in the Nats’ 6-4 loss. Given what happened last year, when Harper was a shell of his 2015 MVP self and reports surfaced that he was hampered by a neck injury for much of the season, his productive Monday was a shiny silver lining on an otherwise dull night.

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Starter Gio Gonzalez Jersey, who came into the game sporting a perfect 3-0 record and a 1.64 ERA that was the lowest among major league starters, got torched. In the first inning, he served up three gopher balls, and the O’s jumped to a 4-0 lead. On the night, Gonzalez allowed six earned runs, just one fewer than he had given up in his first six starts combined.Sluggers Ryan Zimmerman Jersey and Daniel Murphy Jersey, who came into the game with an average average (whatever that is) of .388, combined to go 0-for-7. It was just the third time this season that the pair have gone hitless.In the fourth inning, normally dependable third baseman Anthony Rendon Jersey, whose five defensive runs saved are tied for second-best at the position, botched a routine throw to second base that could’ve resulted in an inning-ending double play but instead allowed the Orioles to score their sixth and final run.Last but certainly not least, after rallying in the top of the ninth against closer Brad Brach Jersey, the Nats self-destructed when pinch runner Trea Turner Jersey, who represented the tying run at second base, got caught in what turned out to be a walk-off rundown.Bryce Harper Jersey ranks second in the majors in batting and leads the National League in runs, walks and on-base percentage. Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesNeedless to say, Harper’s productive night was a welcome bright spot, especially after what happened last week in DC. Against the Diamondbacks on Thursday, the 24-year-old right fielder tweaked his groin in the third inning, when he made a spectacular, head-first diving catch along the right-field line. Three innings later, he was pulled from the game. Even though skipper Dusty Baker said afterward that the early exit was purely precautionary, and even though Harper joked about how much he loves playing in Philly (12 homers in 36 career games there), he proceeded to miss the entire weekend series.

Limited Luis Sardinas Jersey “I could’ve definitely played in Philly,” said Harper, who ranks second in the majors in batting (.385) and leads the NL in runs (36), walks (27) and on-base percentage (.511). “But the training staff and the skipper, of course, didn’t think it was a good idea. So we went with that. I had no problem with that. Got work in and did everything I could to stay in the best mindset and shape I could, then just come out here and try to have good at-bats.”

Luis Sardinas Jersey #16 Apparently, his plan worked.

After whiffing (and getting booed by Baltimore fans) in his first at-bat against Kevin Gausman Jersey, Harper walked and hit an RBI single in his next two chances against the O’s starter. Then, facing reliever Darren O’Day Jersey in the eighth inning, Harper battled his way through a seven-pitch at-bat that culminated in a solo shot to left-center. His 10th bomb of the season, it came on the date (May 8) that he hit his 10th homer back in 2015, when he went yard 42 times en route to winning the NL MVP award.

Monday’s blast was also Harper’s first opposite-field home run of the season, and that’s a positive sign that wasn’t lost on his manager.

“He hit that ball to left field like a right-handed hitter,” Baker said after the game. “That shows me that his hip rotation and everything was good. I’m glad I held him out another day. Maybe he’ll start rolling again from here. He looked good. He looked real good.”

Most importantly, he looked healthy.

Ranking every MLB lineup: Who has passed the Cubs?

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Why do the Nationals have such a good record? Why do the Royals have such a bad record? There’s no single explanation for anything as complicated as this, but I can give you a hint as to what has been most significant — the Nationals already have outscored the Royals by more than 100 runs. The Nationals have scored half a run a game more than any other team. The Royals have scored half a run a game less than any other team. In terms of just run prevention, the Royals have been better than the Nationals. I guess you could say they’ve been defined by run prevention on both sides of the game.

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It’s the easiest thing in the world to identify who has had the best and worst offenses. It’s more challenging to think about who has the best and worst offenses. That requires an examination of the future, which, of course, can sometimes feel entirely unknowable. What’s going to follow here is my own picture of the baseball landscape. My own leaguewide ranking of the MLB lineups.

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