September 16th, 2014 / Author: Mark
The Nationals edged closer to playing in October Monday night, downing the Braves at Atlanta’s Turner Field behind the shut-down seven inning pitching of righty ace Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg stymied the Braves, 4-2, leaving the Nationals on the verge of their second National League East championship in three years.
Strasburg has always had difficulty pitching against the Braves at Turner Field and entered the game with a stiff neck, but none of these problems were much in evidence on Monday. The righty gave up five hits while striking out seven and walking none in a 90 pitch outing. The win gave the Nats their league leading 86th win on the season.
“I’ve never seen him pitch bad against us,” Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez said after the Nats win. “You see the numbers, the seven-plus ERA his last four starts here. He’s a pretty darn good pitcher every time we face him. I know those numbers don’t bare that. But he’s a guy that we respect. He’s a guy who has been a big pitcher for them.”
Strasburg’s win was also the result of timely Nationals hitting, which began with a Denard Span double off of Atlanta starter Ervin Santana in the third inning. Span’s double plated Wilson Ramos for Washington’s first score. Ramos then homered in the top of the 5th inning for the Nats second score. The Nats added their third run on a Strasburg single in the 7th and a Nate Schierholtz RBI in the 8th.
The Braves mounted a comeback in the 9th inning, with Rafael Soriano taking the mound to protect a 4-0 lead. Andrelton Simmons greeted Soriano with a double and then scored on a Justin Upton double to left. When Soriano walked Chris Johnson with two outs, Nats manager Matt Williams brought in Drew Storen to get the third out — a B.J. Upton grounder that ended the game.
The Braves frustration at falling out of both the race for the N.L. East crown and a spot as a Wild Card team was evidenced in the 6th inning when first sacker Freddie Freeman was called out on strikes by home plate umpire Tim Timmons. Freeman slammed his bat in disgust and was ejected from the game; when Gonzalez defended his player, he was also tossed.
“We all collectively, from the front office to our coaches to our fans, we want to win,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez. “Anything short of us getting into some playoff game or play-in game is not acceptable. You see guys fighting.”
The loss symbolized the demise of the Braves who, despite their early season woes with a rash of pitching injuries, were supposed to contend with the Nationals for the N.L East title. That’s not what happened: Atlanta played well against the Nats, but poorly against the rest of the league. Last night’s loss put them at a so-so 75-75 for the year. A disappointment . . .
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Baltimore’s Orioles are a single win away from clinching their first American League East title since 1997. Last night, against the Toronto Blue Jays, they continued their dominance of their division, finishing off the struggling Jays, 5-2. If they win again tonight, they’ll win the A.L. East crown . . .
It seemed only right that Wei-Yin Chen would be the pitcher to lead the O’s in Toronto. After last night’s performance (the underrated southpaw scattered nine hits in 5.2 innings of work), Chen is 16-4 on the season, the first time a Baltimore lefty had 16 or more wins in a season since Jimmy Key did it way back when . . .
“I allowed quite a few hits out there, but I was trying to battle,” Chen said of his performance after his team’s victory. “I was trying to keep the ball down without allowing too many runs. Fortunately I can do that with the help of my teammates . . .”
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September 14th, 2014 / Author: Mark
The Washington Nationals continued their dominance of the New York Mets on Sunday, notching a convincing 3-0 victory that extended their lead to ten games over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. The victory brought the Nats record against the Mets to 13-3 for the year, with the team winning nine of ten games at Citi Field.
Oddly, the Mets have a winning record against the rest of baseball, and would finish the season above .500 were it not for their record against the Nationals. That is, while the Mets are 3-13 against the Nats, they are 69-65 against everyone else.
The Nationals win came against Mets starter Jonathon Niese, who stymied Washington’s offense until Wilson Ramos blasted a two run home run against the looming southpaw in the key 7th inning. The loss was Niese’s eleventh of the season, as the Mets record fell to 72-78 on the 2014 campaign.
“Towards the end of the year you want to play your best baseball,” Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann said after the victory, “and I think we’re doing that.” Zimmermann added that he thought it would be “really great” for Washington “to win this whole thing” in their upcoming away series in Atlanta. The win in New York marked Zimmermann’s sixth consecutive win.
Zimmermann threw a solid 6.2 innings, striking out five, in registering his twelth win of the season. The Ace of Auburndale was able to wriggle out of number of tough jams in his six-plus innings of work, which included a bases loaded threat in the bottom of the 4th. The Mets were 0-8 with runners in scoring position.
The Nationals banged out eight hits versus New York pitching, with Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond both continuing their hot-as-a-firecracker September. Werth and Desmond were both 2-4 on the day, with Desmond crossing the plate twice. The Saturday win followed a 10-3 butchering on the Mets on Saturday.
The Nationals bullpen once again provided a stellar outing in relief of Zimmermann. Lefty Matt Thornton and righty Tyler Clippard pitched the Nationals through the 7th and 8th innings, with Drew Storen closing the game in the 9th. Storen picked up his fifth save on the season.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Nationals, at 85-63, own the best record in the National League — by a single game over the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are 84-64. The Los Angeles Angels, with 93 wins lead all of baseball, while the Baltimore Orioles have 88 wins and are nearly shoo-ins to win the A.L. East . . .
The Nationals will now travel to Atlanta, where they will line-up against the Braves in a crucial three game series. The Nationals could seal a division championship with a sweep, while Atlanta needs to win to stay relevant in the Wild Card race in the National League. Atlanta trails the Giants and Pirates by three-and-a-half games in the Wild Card race . . .
The Braves have dropped two in a row to Texas Rangers, the worst team in baseball. Braves fans aren’t happy about it. “Braves lose to Rangers, season all but over,” Braves blog Talking Chop headlined yesterday. The “offense is completely broken” Talking Chop reported, but then focused on Atlanta’s defensive problems . . .
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September 13th, 2014 / Author: Mark
The Mets have been nearly hopeless in playing the Nationals in New York, but on Friday night they ended their drought, notching a 4-3 victory over Washington behind the pitching of starter Dillon Gee and the bat of Juan Lagares. The victory ended a twelve game winless streak for New York against the Nationals at Citi Field.
The New York victory came at the expense of Washington southpaw Gio Gonzalez, who reacted angrily to Matt Williams decision to take him out of the game in the 7th inning. Gonzalez slammed the ball into Williams’ hand when the skipper relieved him, then exchanged words with him in a heated conversation in the dugout.
Gonzalez later downplayed the mini-confrontation. “Matt did his best to defuse it as much as possible,” he said. “It’s part of the sport. It’s high intensity, trying to keep the game close. He has been part of it; it’s part of baseball. You want to keep pitching, you want to keep going out there.”
Gonzalez pitched well on Friday night, but not well enough to notch the win, or keep the Mets out of the scoring column. The Mets put three runs on the board in the bottom of the first inning on an Eric Young, Jr. single, a Juan Lagares HBP, a walk to Lucas Duda and a Travis d’Arnaud double to deep left field. The three run inning forced Gonzalez to start over in the second.
“Second inning, it was a clean start, and I just tried to pound the strike zone, keep going after them,” Gonzalez confirmed after the loss. “Throwing the changeup for strikes. I’m trying to work fast and get us back in the dugout as soon as possible to get our guys to swing the bat.”
The Nationals struck back by plating two runs in the top of the third and a single run in the fifth, but New York answered with another Lagares double in the bottom half of that frame. Anthony Rendon provided most of Washington’s offense, including a home run in the top of the 5th (his twentieth of the season) to tie the score at three.
“He has been unbelievable,” teammate Denard Span said of the Nats third sacker. “He has been our most valuable player from start to finish. He has been in the lineup pretty much every day, giving us everything we need. He is scoring runs. We need him to steal a bag, he steals a bag, driving in runs. He is doing it all.”
Mets manager Terry Collins was visibly relieved by his team’s win, particularly after a winless lull against Washington at Citi Field that goes back 14 months. “There’s been a lot of nights where we’ve had them late in the game and they’ve come back and done some big damage against us, but it was a good win for us tonight for sure, ” Collins said.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The nation turns its lonely eyes to the West Coast, where the most interesting baseball is being played. The Giants opened what could be a winner-take-all series against the Dodgers in San Francisco last night, derailing the N.L. West leading Trolleys 9-0 in the first of a three game set . . .
This is a damned near ancient rivalry in the Great Game, made all the more important by the fact that prior to last night’s contest the Giants trailed the Kershaws by just two games. Madison Bumgarner stepped up in his start last night, throwing seven innings of three hit baseball . . .
Dodger fans need to take a quick gulp: southpaw starter Hyun-Jin Ryu was removed after the first inning with left shoulder irritation — he’d just given up four runs. Bumgarner, meanwhile, notched his 18th win and struck out eight . . .
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September 12th, 2014 / Author: Mark
On a night when beanballs and inside pitches seemed to dominate the game (and which saw Miami Marlins superstar Giancarlo Stanton go down in Milwaukee), home runs from Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rendon sparked a 6-2 Nationals win against the Mets at New York’s Citi Field.
LaRoche continued his hot hitting in September and has turned into a Mets killer. He is hitting .361 against the Mets this year and is hitting .393 with five home runs and 15 RBIs since September 5. LaRoche has turned into the Nats dominant bat in the final run to October.
The Nationals victory came at the expense of New York starter Bartolo Colon, who had his own problems with inside pitches. After LaRoche homered in the first to score two runs, Colon hit the next batter, shortstop Ian Desmond. When Anthony Rendon homered in the fourth, Colon then hit Jayson Werth — and Colon was tossed from the game.
While it was obvious that Colon had hit Werth on purpose, the Nationals right fielder later said he wouldn’t speculate on whether that was the case: “I don’t know. It doesn’t matter what I think,” Werth told reporters. “The umpire thought so. He hit Desi earlier in the game after a homer. He hit me right after. The home-plate umpire thought that was enough.”
While the Nationals ended up putting six runs on the board, the two home runs (and the four runs they plated) would be all that Washington needed. The Nationals were rewarded with a solid performance from starter Tanner Roark, who threw 6.1 innings, giving up seven hits and just two earned runs.
“I was commanding both sides of the plate. I’m not trying to nibble. I’m trying to make pitches, but trying to go right after them,” Roark said of his performance.
The Colon HPB’s earned retaliation from the Nationals, as reliever Matt Thornton hit Daniel Murphy in the bottom of the 8th. Murphy left the game with a contusion on his wrist and is reportedly day-to-day.
The Nationals also got solid pitching from the Washington bullpen, which worked out of two potential Mets rallies. The Mets loaded the bases in bottom of the seventh and the bottom of the eighth innings, but Craig Stammen dampened the Mets in the 7th while Tyler Clippard tamed the Mets in the 8th.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Okay. Okay. Okay. We were wrong. Back before the All Star break would took issue with the decision to put Pirates outfielder and sometime third sacker Josh Harrison on the All Star team, pointing out that his numbers didn’t reflect the honor, and plumping for our own nominee, Adam LaRoche . . .
We’ll stick by the spirit of our claim, particularly given LaRoche’s amazing September, while acknowledging that Harrison has become Pittsburgh’s MVP — and that in spite of (and while acknowledging) yet another solid season from last year’s MVP, Andrew McCutchen. Harrison led the N.L. in total bases in August with 71, extra base hits with 19 and a slugging percentage of .602 . . .
Harrison could also win the N.L. batting title. Harrison is hitting .314, while N.L. leader Justin Morneau is hitting .317. And Harrison has been tearing up opposing pitching in September: he’s 11-32 since September 1 with four doubles. And at third base, Harrison has been a whiz . . .
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September 10th, 2014 / Author: Mark
The Nationals sent nine hitters to the plate in the first inning against Atlanta starter Ervin Santana last night at Nationals Park and scored four runs, an avalanche of offense that stunned the Braves and led Washington to its second win in a row against their division rivals. The final 6-4 score extended the Nationals lead in the N.L. East to nine games.
“They came out swinging the bats and were really, really aggressive with the first couple pitches of every at-bat,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Usually, when they do that against [Santana], they get quick outs. But they found the outfield grass and put a big number up — four runs. We weren’t able to recover after that, but we battled.”
It would now take a near miracle for the Braves to overtake the Nats for the division crown, though four games remain between the two teams. The beneficiary of last night’s victory, played before an excited crowd of nearly 30,000 partisans, was Jordan Zimmermann, who threw six complete innings in picking up his eleventh win on the season.
The Nationals first inning onslaught included a double from Denard Span, a Jayson Werth walk and singles from Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos — all of which led to three early D.C. runs. An Asdrubal Cabrera sacrifice fly scored the fourth run of the inning.
The Washington victory marked another great game for hot-hitting first sacker Adam LaRoche, who was 2-3 with two RBIs on the night. “It feels like we’re just that much closer,” LaRoche told the press after the victory. “Not to take anything for granted until this thing is sewn up, but these are big. This time of year, playing the team chasing you, to be able to win a couple.”
While the game dimmed the end-of-season prospects for the Braves, Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman said his team wasn’t about to give up. “We still have a chance,” Freeman said. “Once we’re fully eliminated from the division race, then we’ll worry about the wild card.”
Atlanta attempted to climb back into the game by putting two runs on the board in the fourth and sixth innings, which included a home run off the bat of Justin Upton. But other than the Upton home run, righty Jordan Zimmermann was steady and efficient in setting down Atlanta hitters.
“I felt OK. I didn’t have my best stuff. The fastball was like a tick off. I ran into some deep counts,” Zimmermann said of his six inning outing. “A couple of at-bats by Bonifacio cost me 15 to 20 pitches. That’s why I wasn’t able to go longer. Overall, I felt OK. It was just a little bit of a battle tonight.”
As has now become common practice, Nats manager Matt Williams successfully mixed and matched his relievers against Atlanta’s long-ball hitting line-up. Aaron Barrett, Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen took the Nationals through the end of the eighth inning, while Drew Storen notched his third save in a row and his fourth on the season.
September 9th, 2014 / Author: Mark
The Nationals are playing October playoff baseball in September at Nationals Park, with dramatic pitching performances and clutch come-from-behind victories that are vaulting Washington to the top of the National League East. Last night, in a dramatic playoff atmosphere, the Nationals edged the Altanta Braves behind the pitching of Doug Fister, 2-1.
The victory put the Nationals eight games ahead of second place Atlanta and reduced the team’s magic number to win the East at 12 games. Fister, who threw seven inning of two hit baseball to notch his 13th win of the season, was the key to the win. Fister induced eleven ground ball outs and struck out three in the victory. Atlanta’s Mike Minor took the loss.
“We’ve struggled all year against the Braves,” Drew Storen, who pitched a 1-2-3 9th inning to register his second straight save, said of the win. “It’s nothing new to anybody, but for us to go out and play our game — and that’s a tight game that can swing either way — for us to lock that down is really good.”
The Nationals scored early against Minor, with Anthony Rendon, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond singling in the first inning. Desmond’s single scored Rendon for the Nationals first run. The Nats scored again in the bottom of the 7th when Jeff Kobernus, pinching running for Wilson Ramos, scored from third on a fielder’s choice grounder off the bat of Rendon.
Atlanta’s Mike Minor matched Fister pitch-for-pitch, until being pulled by Atlanta skipper Fredi Gonzalez after six complete innings. The scrappy Minor kept the Braves in the game just enough that, in the seventh inning, the Braves threatened to grab the lead after Fister walked Freddie Freeman and Tommy La Stella. But Fister was able to pitch out of the jam, inducing a ground ball out from shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
“Tonight was a baseball game, a well-played baseball game on both sides and well pitched,” Braves right fielder Jason Heyward said. “No errors or mistakes there for either team. Their pitcher was able to hold us to one less run, and them getting the extra run with a groundout. It didn’t take a lot. That’s the definition of a good game.”
A crowd of 25,000-plus watched the Nats victory, but was more raucous than usual — a sign that Nats fans know that their team doesn’t always play its best against their division rivals. Which gave added drama to the victory and made the contest feel like a do-or-die October playoff game.
“It would be nice to win the division knowing that we can beat the Braves more than winning the division knowing that we can’t beat the Braves,” Washington reliever Craig Stammen said. “This proves we can play good baseball against a good team and prepare us for a playoff-type atmosphere if we get to that point.”
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The last two weeks have been a nightmare for the Milwaukee Brewers. The Crew has lost 12 of their last thirteen games and plummeted out of first place in the National League Central. They now trail the St. Louis stinking Cardinals by six games and are struggling to stay in the Wild Card race . . .
Last night in Miami, and against a team that is three games under .500, Milwaukee lost a 6-4 decision to the Marlins, while gamely attempting a last gasp two run effort to rally in the eighth inning. It was not to be. “We can’t make the pitch when we need to,” first sacker Mark Reynolds said after the loss. “We can’t get the big hit when we need it. It’s just a culmination of frustration . . .”
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September 8th, 2014 / Author: Mark
Adam LaRoche slugged two home runs, Gio Gonzalez tossed a solid six innings and reliever Drew Storen earned his second save of the season as the Washington Nationals downed the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on Sunday, 3-2. The victory, coupled with an Atlanta loss, reduced the Nationals “magic number” to win the N.L. East to fourteen games.
LaRoche has been on fire for the Nationals over the last week. LaRoche has ten RBIs in his last four games, along with three home runs. His first home run in the second inning on Sunday tied the game at one run apiece, while his second in the fourth tied it at two.
LaRoche has had a career of success over Philadelphia starter Cole Hamels, who provided a solid performance for the Ashburns on Sunday (6.1 innings with three earned runs). “It was just one of those days where he left a couple of pitches right over the plate,” LaRoche said in explaining his success against Hamels.
After two tough losses to the Phillies, and reliance on an over-taxed bullpen, Washington needed a good outing from its starter, and Gio Gonzalez gave it to them on Sunday. The lefty picked up his eighth win on the season in throwing 105 pitches, 67 of them for strikes.
But the game also had its quota of strange, and not very good, plays — at least for the Nationals. The Phillies notched their first run of the game in the first inning on an unusual throwing error from Denard Span in center to Anthony Rendon covering third, who then retrieved the ball and threw it past Jose Lobaton at home plate. The two errors gave Philadelphia its first run of the game.
Then, in the sixth inning, after Nats shortstop Ian Desmond doubled to left field, a Cole Hamels balk moved him to third. Desmond then sprinted home on a long sacrifice fly to left field off the bat of Scott Hairston that barely stayed in the park. It was the first time in Hamels’ memory that he’d lost a game by a balk: “It’s unfortunate,” Hamels said.
The Hairston sacrifice vindicated Matt Williams’ view that Hairston would contribute against Hamels. “He has good numbers against Hamels,” Williams confirmed after the win. “He has seen him well and hit him well over time. I wanted to give him that opportunity, for sure.”
“Cole wasn’t as sharp with his command and just controlling the ball,” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said after the Hamels loss. “And then the balk kind of came into play. It was a questionable call. He does that often.”
With the Nationals up 3-2, Washington skipper Matt Williams called on Drew Storen to save the game, the first time the righty had come on in the role since Williams announced that the team would give a struggling Rafael Soriano some time off to correct the flaws in his delivery.
Storen was philosophical about his new role, which he will presumably share with others in a “closer by committee:” set up shaped by Williams. “Really, the only thing different is the run to the mound — fans are real into it,” Storen said after notching his save. “You soak that in for a second, and move on, and lock in and do what you need to do.”
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Count the Phillies as among those in baseball who have consistently had the Nationals’ number. The Nats had lost five straight against Philadelphia coming into Sunday’s game and finished out the season with a 9-10 record vs. their N.L. East rivals . . .
Among the elite teams in baseball, the Nationals have losing records (as Adam Kilgore points out) against five other solid squads — the Braves, Orioles, Angels, Athletics and Cardinals (of course), and a losing record against Philadelphia . . .
Here’s how Kilgore explains it: “The Nationals went 6-3 against the Phillies before the all-star break, then split a four-game series against them in early August. This month, the Phillies have turned their bullpen from disastrous to dominant . . .”
The Nationals “magic number” to clinch the National League East now stands at 14, the result of Atlanta’s 4-0 loss on Sunday to the Miami Marlins. The 4-0 shutout confirmed what has ailed the Braves in the last part of the 2014 campaign: they can’t hit worth a damn . . .
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