1. 19-year-old Juan Soto continues to kill it for the Nationals. He had two homers and a walk in a 5-4 win at the Yankees on Wednesday night off not playing in Game 1 of the series. How can Dave Martinez keep Soto out of the lineup at this point? Soto smashed a two-out three-run opposite-field homer off Sonny Gray in the top of the fourth, blasted a one-out solo homer to right-center field off Chasen Shreve in the top of the seventh and drew a full-count walk off Gray off having been down in the count 1-2 in the top of the second, although Soto did get picked off to end the top of the second. But at 19 years old and 231 days, Soto became the youngest player with a multihomer game in the regular season since Andruw Jones (19 years, 121 days) went deep twice for the Atlanta Braves on Aug. 22, 1996. Soto also became the youngest player to homer at the Yankees in the regular season since Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. homered twice at the old Yankee Stadium on May 30, 1989. Soto now has an OPS of 1.088 over major-league 76 plate appearances. His slash line is a filthy .344/.447/.641. Again, how can Davey keep Soto out of the lineup at this point?
2. As Soto continues to thrive, Bryce Harper continues to largely struggle. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts as the starting center fielder in the 5-4 win at the Yankees on Wednesday night, dropping his OPS to .864 off it having been at 1.073 off his two-homer performance in the 7-3 win over Philadelphia on May 4. That’s a 209-point decline.
Harper in Tuesday night’s 3-0 loss at the Yankees did not record an official at-bat over four plate appearances. He drew two walks and two hit-by-pitches, the last of which came in the top of the eighth off his left foot and resulted in him taking a few steps toward first base and then immediately and scarily turning back toward the Nats’ dugout to exit the game. Thankfully, the word coming out of the game was that he was fine. That second hit-by-pitch came from Delin Betances. Bryce also was hit by a CC Sabathia pitch on the right elbow in the top of the fifth.
Also regarding Bryce on Tuesday was a disturbing-although-ultimately-not-that-meaningful report from Robert Murray of FRS Network. He quoted text messages from a “top National League executive” as saying the following about Bryce: “He’s simply overrated. The good ain’t worth the bad. He’s a losing player. Cares about himself more than the team. If I was in charge and had money, my team would not pursue him. We would use that money to sign 2-3 winning players. He’s a losing player. I would not sign him. I would use that money to sign 2-3 winning players. If he gets more than 10-years, $300 million, I’d be surprised. I would not give him 10 years period and certainly not at that AAV. He’s just not worth it. He’s a selfish, losing player.” Mike Rizzo responded by telling The Washington Post about Bryce, “He’s a champion. He’s a winner. Always has been. Always will be. And these anonymous quotes from these unnamed sources like a National League executive, it’s cowardly, it’s chicken s—, and it’s gutless.”
Rizzo is largely right. Bryce is a phenomenal talent who has come up big for the Nats plenty of times. He and Anthony Rendon were the only two Nats who hit in the 2014 four-game NLDS loss to San Francisco. Bryce’s game-tying one-out two-run homer to right field off Carl Edwards Jr. in a five-run eighth in the 6-3 win over the Cubs in NLDS Game 2 last October was massive. Why in the world a “top National League executive” would put something like this out there is beyond me. What’s their to gain? I love that Rizzo defended Bryce so strongly.
At the same time, this “top National League executive,” as misguided as he may be, does speak to a larger point: Bryce is not having a great contract season. His walks have dried up since April. His batting average is inexcusably low. His defense has not been good. The Orioles’ Manny Machado is having a much better contract season than Bryce is having. And as I’ve said numerous times, the Nats should not fall all over themselves to spend $300+ million to re-sign Bryce when the more prudent thing, especially given that the team has two highly-touted outfield prospects in Juan Soto and Victor Robles, may be to let Bryce leave this offseason.
3. Daniel Murphy on Tuesday night finally made his season debut off right-knee microfracture surgery last October, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts as the Nats’ DH in the 3-0 loss at the Yankees. He struck out on four pitches against CC Sabathia to begin the top of the second in his first plate appearance of the season and then struck out against Dellin Betances in the top of the eighth, though that was the result of a 10-pitch at-bat that included Murphy fouling off seven consecutive pitches at one point. Murphy had a walk in Wednesday night’s 5-4 win at the Yankees.
4. Juan Soto wasn’t the only Nat who thrived at the plate the 5-4 win at the Yankees on Wednesday night. Adam Eaton had a double and two singles as the leadoff man starting in right field. And Matt Adams had three singles, giving him a .932 OPS over 170 plate appearances this season.
5. Defense matters, and Michael A. Taylor is proof of that. He made a spectacular catch to end the top of the fourth in Tuesday night’s 3-0 loss at the Yankees, making a running and catch on the warning track while sliding into the right-center field wall with his glove extended over his head on a Neil Walker fly ball off Tanner Roark. Taylor exited the two-game split at the Yankees with a team-best nine Defensive Runs Saved in center field, putting him tied for third among all qualified players for DRS in center field this season. No, Taylor has not been an offensive force this season. But his defense has been tremendous.
6. Tanner Roark was just OK in Tuesday night’s 3-0 loss at the Yankees. He allowed three runs in six innings. Two of the runs came on homers by Didi Gregorious, who had a one-out solo homer to right-center field in the bottom of the second and a full-count leadoff homer to the second deck in right field in the bottom of the sixth. Tanner now has a 3.63 ERA over 14 games (13 starts) this season.
7. Erick Fedde, the Nats’ no. 1 pitching prospect, was disappointing in the 5-4 win at the Yankees on Wednesday night. Making his second major-league start of the season, he allowed four runs in five innings on two homers, a double, three singles and a walk versus three strikeouts. Fedde allowed a run in four of his five innings, including a one-out solo homer by Greg Bird in the bottom of the second and a leadoff solo homer by Gleyber Torres in the bottom of the fifth. We still have a ways to go before we declare Fedde a bust, but the no. 18 overall pick of the 2014 draft now has a 7.96 ERA and 1.81 WHIP over five career major-league starts.
8. The Nats’ bullpen continues to have quietly righted itself. Nats relievers combined for six scorless innings in the two-game split at the Yankees. Matt Grace and Wander Suero each tossed a scoreless inning in Tuesday night’s 3-0 loss at the Yankees. And Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle combined for four scoreless innings in Wednesday night’s 5-4 win at the Yankees. Miller continues to be the relieving revelation of the Nats’ season, tossing 1 2/3 scoreless innings with four strikeouts. He now has provided 10 2/3 scoreless innings with 21 strikeouts versus no walks. This from a journeyman in his age-31 season who has fought his way back to the majors off time in the Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies and Angels organizations.