Steady LaRoche takes it up another notch

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Steady LaRoche takes it up another notch

ATLANTA -- One of the central figures in the Nationals' 5-4 loss yesterday was Adam LaRoche, though certainly not for the reason he would have preferred. After being called by umpire Marvin Hudson for not keeping his foot on first base on a routine, sixth-inning grounder, the veteran's imprint on the outcome of the game was sealed.

If not for that botched call, LaRoche might well have been the central figure in a Nationals victory for what he had done way back in the first inning, something he has done plenty of times this year: Hit a ball out of the park.

With a two-run blast off the Braves' Tommy Hanson, LaRoche recorded his 30th home run of the season, a milestone he would have enjoyed celebrating if not for the events of the remainder of the evening.

"It's always nice to hit a mark or a milestone on a win," he said. "So it's a little bittersweet. But it's nice."

It's more than nice, both for the Nationals and LaRoche. After an injury-plagued 2011 and a rumor-filled winter that had many wondering if general manager Mike Rizzo was going to sign Prince Fielder to a mammoth contract and dump LaRoche (and his 8 million salary) to the curb, it's worth noting now just how much the Nats benefited from sticking with the status quo.

Not that Fielder wouldn't have been a nice addition to what has become one of the most-potent lineups in baseball. But the disparity in performance between the two first basemen isn't nearly as large as the disparity between their contracts (214 million vs. 8 million).

Fielder has put up his customary gaudy numbers in his first season in Detroit: 26 homers, 98 RBI, a .304 batting average, .404 on-base percentage, .513 slugging percentage and .917 OPS.

LaRoche's comparable numbers: 30 homers, 94 RBI, .269 average, .340 on-base percentage, .505 slugging percentage and .845 OPS.

Factor in defense, of course, and LaRoche closes the gap by a significant amount. The two have a nearly identical WAR (Wins Above Replacement) this season, according to Baseball-Reference's formula, with Fielder (3.4) narrowly edging out LaRoche (3.2). Fangraphs, which uses a slightly different formula in calculating WAR, has Fielder at 4.2 and LaRoche at 3.1.

The point, though, isn't to do a complete, side-by-side comparison of the two, but rather to reiterate how valuable LaRoche has been to the Nationals. Rizzo talked all spring about the consistent numbers LaRoche has posted throughout his career and how he fully expected the now-healthy first baseman to return to his career norms.

LaRoche has indeed done that, but he's stepped it up a notch or two as well. Though he's averaged 28.8 homers in each of his last seven healthy seasons, this is only the second time he's hit 30 (he hit a career-best 32 in 2006 with the Braves). And though he's averaged 88.5 RBI during those same seven seasons, he's already notched the second-most in his career (94) with a good chance to top his personal best mark of 100 set in 2010 with the Diamondbacks.

And none of this takes into account the different LaRoche has made in the field, both in his ability to field balls hit in his direction but more importantly his ability to catch wayward throws from his infielders (a skill that isn't measured by any advanced metric).

You don't have to convince Davey Johnson of LaRoche's importance to his team.

"He takes a lot of heat off everybody, and he's having an unbelievable year," the manager said a few days ago in New York. "He should be in the MVP consideration."

While LaRoche won't be a serious challenger to Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen and Ryan Braun in the actual MVP vote, his value within the Nationals clubhouse is well-known.

The Nationals and LaRoche face a key decision this winter. There's a 10 million mutual option left on his contract, which the Nats are sure to pick up, but LaRoche is likely going to want a longer commitment than that, creating a dilemma in which Rizzo has to decide how many more years he's willing to guarantee a first baseman who turns 33 in November.

For now, the Nats are simply happy they stuck with LaRoche for 2012, confident he would post his usual, consistent numbers and thrilled he's taken it up another notch.

VIDEO: Carlin walks off over 'contract year' argument with Brian Mitchell

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VIDEO: Carlin walks off over 'contract year' argument with Brian Mitchell

Watch the full exchange from SportsTalk Live in the video player above, which will begin momentarily.

Stephen Strasburg is off to a strong start with the Washington Nationals as he sets the foundation for how much his next contract will be worth. 

That became a point of contention Wednesday night on SportsTalk Live when co-host Rob Carlin brought up the idea that, if Strasburg indeed finishes strong, the Nationals will need to discern whether this is the start of a sustainable uptick in production or the product of a contract year. 

Brian Mitchell took exception to that entire notion, saying that it is illogical to think that players play better simply because they are in a contract year. 

The argument evolved from there until Carlin couldn't take it anymore -- and walked off the set. Watch the exchange above.

Revere expected to return to Nationals for series vs. Cubs

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Revere expected to return to Nationals for series vs. Cubs

By DAVE SKRETTA

TRAINER'S ROOM:

OF Ben Revere (right oblique strain) will join the Nationals in Chicago on Thursday and be evaluated before being activated. He played nine innings in centerfield for Triple-A Syracuse in his fifth rehab game on Tuesday.

Nationals blow out Royals to continue strong road trip

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Nationals blow out Royals to continue strong road trip

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 13-2 win over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium: 

How it happened: After letting Tuesday night’s game slip out of their hands, the Nationals wasted no time on Wednesday afterrnoon making sure the series finale at Kansas City was theirs right from the jump. The Nats exploded in the first inning with six runs off Royals starter Kris Medlen and never looked back, cruising to a 13-2 blowout victory to move to 19-8 on the season to match the 1979 Expos for the best start in franchise history. They also matched the best 27-game record for a D.C.-based team, tying the 1925 and 1932 Senators.

Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper homered, Ryan Zimmerman had three hits and Daniel Murphy had four to tie a career-high. Stephen Strasburg went six innings with just two runs allowed on five hits and a walk. He moved to 5-0 on the season and now holds a 2.36 ERA through six starts. 

What it means: The Nationals recovered well from their disappointing loss on Tuesday night just in time for a huge series at the Cubs. The Nats now hold some positive momentum as they prepare to face the team with the best record in baseball. The Cubs and Nats will battle in what is about as exciting a series you can find this early in the season. And whatever happensin those four games, the Nats will finish this supposedly scary road trip with at least a .500 record after winning on Wednesday.

Another huge first inning: The Nationals once again got off to a blazing start in the first inning, this time putting up six runs off Medlen. Amazingly, five of those runs came across before Medlen even recorded an out. Harper and Jayson Werth had RBI singles, Zimmerman and Murphy had RBI doubles and Clint Robinson added a sacrifice fly in the frame. The Nationals have scored 32.5 percent (39 of 120) of their total runs this season in the first inning.

Harper has big day: Harper had been in a major slump lately with multiple strikeouts in three consecutive games and just one hit in his previous five outings. On Wednesday, Harper had two hits including his 10th homer of the season, a solo shot to right field in the fifth inning. It was Harper’s first multi-hit game since April 23.

Zim continues to heat up: For the third straight day, Zimmerman posted a multi-hit game. On Wednesday, it was a season-best three hits including his first inning RBI double. Zimmerman is now batting .264 on the season and is 7-of-14 in the month of May. 

Murphy’s career day: Murphy homered for the second straight day, but that was just a small part of what was overall one of the best games of his entire MLB career. He matched a career-high with four hits, had three RBI and scored a career-best four runs. Murphy now has hits in 23 of his 26 games this season with multiple hits in 13 of those outings. He was a triple short of a cycle in the win.

Up next: The Nats move on to Chicago to begin a four-game series at the Cubs. The opener is an 8:05 p.m. ET first pitch at Wrigley with Joe Ross (3-0, 0.79) and Kyle Hendricks (1-2, 3.52) set to start.