The Nationals will send three players to next week’s All-Star Game, all of them first-time selections, while their most decorated star stays home - at least for now - despite producing one of the best first halves of his storied career.
Trea Turner, Juan Soto and Kyle Schwarber all were named reserves to the National League All-Star team this afternoon, each earning a spot in the Midsummer Classic for the first time. They’ll head to Denver to represent the Nats, but unless there’s a need to add another pitcher they won’t be joined by Max Scherzer, who wasn’t selected for the first time since 2012.
It’s a bit of a surprising accolade for a lineup that, as a whole, has struggled through the season’s first half but nonetheless has seen some impressive individual performances.
“You saw the last month or so what we’re capable of as a team,” Turner said during a press conference with all three selected players. “We’ve been playing good baseball. We hit a little bit of a speed bump (this weekend against the Dodgers), but I think you saw the last month what us three and everyone else is capable of as a team. It’s fun when we’re all clicking and playing together.”
Soto was the only member of the Nationals who reached Phase 2 of fan voting, and even then he finished last among the nine finalists in the NL outfield. The 22-year-old was selected to be a reserve, though, despite a severe decline in power numbers so far this season.
Soto ended play Sunday batting .278 with nine homers, 37 RBIs and an .832 OPS. His .400 on-base percentage remains elite, but his .431 slugging percentage is by far the worst of his career as he tries to figure out how to start elevating the ball off his bat again.
“It’s like a dream for every player to come to the All-Star Game,” he said. “To be around all those stars and famous people, it’s just going to be a great experience to be out there and have fun with all those guys.”
Depressed stats or not, there’s no denying Soto’s star power and marketability as one of baseball’s best and more charismatic young players. And there’s no denying Turner’s growing status as one of the best all-around players in the sport, especially at a premium position.
Turner didn’t make the top three in initial voting for the NL’s starting shortstop, but he’ll be at Coors Field nonetheless as a backup to the Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr. It’s the first All-Star selection for the 28-year-old, who is batting .318 with 14 homers, 38 RBIs, an .879 OPS and a league-leading 18 stolen bases.
Turner hasn’t played since jamming his left middle finger into third base Wednesday afternoon as he completed the triple that sealed the record-tying third cycle of his career. There’s reason to believe he’ll return to the Nationals lineup this week and thus have a chance to play in next Tuesday’s exhibition.
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to play in some capacity; I want to,” he said. “But we’re taking it day by day and see how it feels. I’d love to play.”
Schwarber, sadly, won’t be able to play after suffering a significant hamstring strain Friday night while rounding first base. The 28-year-old slugger, though, still plans to attend the festivities and soak in some well-deserved adulation for one of the greatest power binges in baseball history.
Over an 18-game stretch from June 12-29, Schwarber hit 16 homers, driving in 27 runs, all from the leadoff spot in the Nationals lineup. Prior to that run, he was batting .218 with nine homers, 26 RBIs and a .716 OPS. He’s now batting .253 with 25 homers (second-most in the NL), 53 RBIs (fifth-most) and a .910 OPS (seventh-best).
“I’d like to go and still kind of experience everything,” said Schwarber, who did participate in the 2018 Home Run Derby at Nationals Park, but couldn’t stay for the game the following night. “You only get one first. So I want to experience it and just make the most of it. It sucks I won’t be able to play. But I’m still very excited to be a part of it.”
The three who will wear the curly W cap in Colorado all had deserving cases, but arguably Scherzer had the most deserving case of anyone on the roster, yet wasn’t chosen after seven consecutive selections as a member of the Tigers and Nationals.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner ranks fifth in the NL in ERA (2.10), fourth in WHIP (0.848), fourth in strikeouts (127). He has allowed two or fewer runs in each of his last 11 starts, the longest such streak of his storied career.
There was not, however, a place for Scherzer on the initial All-Star roster. He’ll find out in the coming days if any injury replacements are needed.
“If he’s not an All-Star, there’s something wrong,” Turner said. “I mean, we pulled up the stats when we found out. I know there’s a lot of good players, I get it. But he’s top five in every category, not only just in the NL, but mostly in MLB as well. I just thought they didn’t notify pitchers today or something, because that’s the only thing that makes sense to me, that they just didn’t tell pitchers today and were telling them tomorrow or something. I think he’s more than deserving.”