- - Sunday, June 9, 2019

When a team is 12 games under .500 — as the Washington Nationals were just a couple of weeks ago — talk of potential All-Stars may seem silly.

But despite a terrible start to the season, the Nats have several players who have made a case to be part of the Midsummer Classic with Major League Baseball on July 9 in Cleveland.

And a recent hot stretch by the club, going 11-4 after a win Sunday in San Diego, won’t hurt.

Washington has had at least two All-Stars every year since 2012 and last season Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer and Sean Doolittle were named to the squad when the exhibition was held at Nationals Park in 2018. Harper made the All-Star team five times during his stay in Washington and is now with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Fans votes in “The Primary” ends June 21. The starters will be announced June 27 and the pitchers and reserves will be named three days later. Here is a look at some Nationals candidates this season:

⦁ Max Scherzer, pitcher: A record of 4-5 is hardly All-Star caliber.

But opposing hitters and managers realize Scherzer is still one of the dominant pitchers in the game. And his 15-strikeout performance against the Reds in Cincinnati on June 2 was further evidence of that. He followed that up with seven scoreless innings with nine strikeouts Saturday in a 4-1 win at San Diego.

With analytics such as Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), Scherzer is having one of the best seasons of his career.

In his first 92 1/3 innings he struck out 126 batters to lead the league. He had 11 quality starts, the third-best mark in the majors. All five of his losses came when he received three runs or less of offensive support.

⦁ Sean Doolittle, pitcher: Doolittle was 4-2 with a 3.58 ERA in his first 29 appearances, with 14 saves.

The lefty closer has not been nearly as dominant as last year, when he was 3-3, 1.60 with 25 saves in 43 outings.

It certainly didn’t help that Cubs manager Joe Maddon tried to play with his head May 18 in a game at Nationals Park.

Maddon originally protested the game over Doolittle’s delivery — his foot brushed the dirt on his delivery — but the protest was dropped the next day. Doolittle has been used several times for a possible save of more than three outs. His shot at making the All-Star game this year is probably a long one.

⦁ Anthony Rendon, third baseman: The Houston native is certainly worthy of his first All-Star Game event. But he is hesitant to talk about himself — nearly to a fault.

“Love to be an All-Star, but without going (to the game), if that’s possible,” he told reporters last month.

In games through Saturday he was hitting .320 with 11 homers, 41 RBI and an OPS of .950.

In the previous seven games he was batting .360.

⦁ Howie Kendrick, infielder-outfielder: Kendrick can play second, first, third and the outfield.

And boy can he hit. The veteran was batting .325 with nine doubles, 10 homers, and 38 RBI in just 154 at-bats.

Last year — his first full season in Washington — he was limited to 40 games due to Achilles injury suffered May 19, 2018. That led to the call-up of Juan Soto.

Kendrick has been perhaps the most valuable position player for the Nats through the first third of the season, considered Rendon spent time on the Injured List. He is under-rated in some quarters but deserving of his first All-Star nod since 2011.

⦁ Juan Soto, outfielder: After a slow start, Soto is kicking the sophomore jinx in the teeth. In his first 201 at-bats this year he had 13 doubles, one triple, 10 homers, and 38 RBI.

He was hitting .289 with OPS of .801 in games through Saturday, with three homers and average of .382 in the previous 15 outings.

Last year he was one of the top rookies in MLB as he hit .292 with OPS of .923 with 22 homers and 70 RBI in 116 games after he was called up from Double-A Harrisburg in May 2018.

⦁ Stephen Strasburg, pitcher: Strasburg recorded his 100th career win at home against the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday.

He has been very solid of late, and was 6-3, 3.54 going into his start on Sunday in his hometown of San Diego against the Padres.

⦁ Pat Corbin, pitcher: Signed in the off-season, the veteran lefty has struggled in his last two starts. But he is 5-4, 3.59 and among the league leaders in strikeouts with 89.

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