Swept In Philadelphia, Nats Head West

August 28th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Just a week ago the Nationals were the toast of baseball, having won 12 of 13 and authored a franchise high number of walk-off victories. But last night in Philadelphia the Nationals capped a poor three game showing against the Phillies by losing decisively, 8-4. The game marked one of the worst outings of the year from Nats starter Doug Fister.

“I let the guys down tonight with some bad pitches. That’s what it comes down to,” Fister said after his loss. “I didn’t do my job. Starting pitcher is supposed to set the tone and be the example, and from first pitch, I didn’t do that.”

The Nationals played well off their usual solid performance almost from the beginning of the game. After scoring two runs in the top of the first inning, Fister gave up a home run to Jimmy Rollins in the bottom of that frame, while Philadelphia scored a second run on an unheard of error from center fielder Denard Span, who let a ball get past him.

While Fister threw into the sixth inning, he gave up ten hits and four earned runs in taking his fifth loss of the season. Fister also gave up a home run to Grady Sizemore in the sixth inning. “It’s just a matter of getting the ball down,” Fister said in explaining his so-so outing. That’s the key to any sort of success. And it’s going to be something that I really have to bear down on.”

The homer happy Phillies hit three round trippers in all in the game; in addition to Rollins and Sizemore, veteran Marlon Byrd hit his 24th of the season off of lefty reliever Ross Detwiler The Nationals fought back to take a 4-2 lead in the fifth, but a three run sixth (with a key hit from Dominic Brown) and a two run seventh (Byrd’s home run) put the Nationals out of the game.

The Nationals attack was led by Span, who hit his second home run of the year in the fifth inning off of Philadelphia starter Kyle Kendrick (who notched his seventh win of the season) and Ian Desmond, who was 3-4 on the night.

“I think it’s going to be good for us to get an off-day tomorrow,” Desmond said after the three game sweep in Philadelphia. “Everyone regroup and then go into the next series and forget about this one.” The Nationals now head to Seattle, where they will face the revived Mariners in a three game set.

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A.J. Pitches Philly Past The Nats

August 26th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Veteran Phillies righty A.J. Burnett tamed the Nationals with twelve strikeouts on Monday night, leading Philadelphia past Washington at Citizens Bank Park, 3-2. Burnett’s victory was his first since the All Star break, and came against Washington starter Tanner Roark, who was saddled with his eighth loss of the season.

Burnett’s victory was supported by home runs from third sacker Cody Asche and catcher Carlos Ruiz, who hit only his fourth of the year. Dominic Brown had two hits and an RBI for Philadelphia, while the Washington attack was led by two solo home runs from Wilson Ramos and Anthony Rendon.

The Nats defeat followed on the heels of an offensive outburst against the San Francisco Giants, in which the Nationals notched 23 runs, which included a 14 run shelling on Sunday. The Nats performance against Philadelphia on Monday was much more modest, as Washington banged out just two runs on six hits.

As in many of Washington’s losses, the game was filled with a number of might-have-beens. Washington hitters led off the seventh and eighth innings with doubles (from Ian Desmond and Kevin Frandsen), but were unable to plate the runs. Nor could Washington mount one of its by now legendary comebacks — with a Wilson Ramos home run in the 9th giving only a taste of the kind of heroics the team is known for.

Righty Roark, meanwhile, provided a workmanlike outing, while giving up thigh high gift to Asche in the 5th. “It was a changeup but it didn’t change,” Roark said of the Asche home run. “It was just a BP fastball. It was right down the middle, thigh high. He got me.” Roark gave up just five hits in the game, and one walk.

Jerry Blevins relieved Roark for the 7th inning, but gave up a round tripper to Philadelphia’s Ruiz. “It was a bad pitch, mistake. Sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you don’t. He got all of it,” Blevins said. “Track record shows that I’m better than what’s going out there. And I don’t feel like I’m pitching as bad as it looks.”

While Philadelphia remains mired in last place in the N.L. East, the performance of Burnett, who has been struggling, provided a needed tonic for their team. Burnett attributed his win to a change in his mechanics, solving a glitch he noticed in his delivery. “I wish I could have found that little glitch about a month, two months ago,” Burnett said after his team’s victory. “Unfortunately it took a long time, but better late than never.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: If only the Chicago Cubs could face American League East teams all the time. Back in late June, the Cubbies swept the Red Sox in three games and this past Sunday they completed a surprise sweep of the A.L. East leading Baltimore Orioles . . .

The Cubs victim on Sunday was Baltimore righty Miguel Gonzalez, who threw a solid 6.1 innings, but couldn’t come away with the win. The problem for Gonzalez wasn’t Chicago’s hitters (who scruffed a measly six hits off of him), but Cubbies southpaw starter Tsuhyoshi Wada, who carried a no hitter into the seventh inning before giving up a home run to Steve Pierce . . .

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One For The Books: Nats Blast The Giants, 14-6

August 25th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Can the Nats hit in big games? Can they move runners over, hit behind them, launch massive home run shots that plate big runs? Can they play from behind? Are they an offensive powerhouse, or a team that sometimes (and really not that often), loses its center, allowing their opponents back into a game?

While sometimes nothing will convince a skeptic, Sunday afternoon’s Nationals 14-6 victory against the San Francisco Giants will assuredly silence all the negativity that followed the team through April and May. Yesterday, in front of 35,000-plus, the Nationals blasted the Giants with eighteen hits, six of which were doubles and three home runs. It was one of the most satisfying wins of the season.

Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Asdrubal Cabrera, Bryce Harper, Scott Hairston and Jose Loboton doubled during the game and Ian Desmond, Harper and Danny Espinosa each hit home runs. The Nationals were 10-17 with runners in scoring position. The victory marked the end of a remarkable homestand in which the Nationals were 9-1, with five walk-off wins in a six game stretch.

“This was a great homestand,” Scott Hairston, who hit a clutch pinch-hit double in the fourth inning yesterday, said of the Nationals victory. “I’ve never experienced anything like it. I think it’s safe to say nobody has. And it’s a lot of fun.”

In spite of the fireworks that Nats hitters enjoyed on Sunday, the game started ominously, with righty Stephen Strasburg being pulled by Nats skipper Matt Williams after just four innings. Strasburg gave up eight hits and five earned runs, which included home runs to Gregor Blanco and Travis Ishikawa.

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Strasburg, who had pitched well in his previous two outings, with decisive performances against Arizona and the Mets, “didn’t have his A-game,” as reliever Craig Stammen noted, and had to be bailed out by the Nationals bullpen. Strasburg agreed with the assessment.

“I was making dumb pitches,” Strasburg said after the win. “On a 3-2 pitch, I have to execute a better pitch there to Blanco. The same with Ishikawa on the 1-2 pitch. You want to challenge them, but at the same time you have to focus on hitting your spots. I really wasn’t doing that today.”

With Strasburg on the bench, the Nationals mounted their comeback, taking advantage of Bruce Bochy’s decision to bring in Jeremy Affeldt in relief of Giants’ starter Ryan Vogelsong in the sixth inning. Affeldt faced five Washington hitters without getting an out — giving up a Bryce Harper double, singles to Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Loboton, a Scott Hairston double and a Denard Span infield hit.

The Nationals bullpen also came through (as they almost always do) in a big way. Craig Stammen, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano gave up a single earned run in five innings of work, with Soriano closing out the game on a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

“Son of a gun, you just wanted an out anywhere and we couldn’t get it,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of the Nationals sixth inning offensive. The usually reliable Affeldt agreed, shaking his head in frustration at his own outing. “I take full responsibility for that game,” he said.

The Nationals also piled on five more runs in the 8th, though by then the Giants were well out of the game. Juan Gutierrez (“the human rain delay“) threw just 1.1 innings while giving up five earned runs, including home runs to Bryce Harper (his seventh) and Danny Espinosa (2-2 on the day) — his eighth.

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The Wisdom Of Section 1-2-9: Worries among 1-2-9 regulars over Bryce Harper’s ability to get on track after being on the disabled list have now been replaced by worries over the inconsistent pitching of Stephen Strasburg.  The section was moodily silent after Blanco and Ishikawi authored moon shots against the Washington “ace” . . .

“Look, it’s Gregor DiMaggio,” one regular noted when Gregor Blanco went deep. “Stras just looks terrible.” Another section season ticket holder shook his head. “You know, it could be that they’re just not letting him loose,” he argued. “This guy can throw 98 and once upon a time he did that regularly. They’re easing him back, when they should just let him throw what he wants . . . ”

“So what do we do with Strasburg?” a 1-2-9 regular asked as Craig Stammen emerged from the bullpen in relief of the big righty in the top of the 5th inning. “If this game is an indication, he’s no longer number one in the rotation. You can’t put him up front in the post-season, he’s just too inconsistent . . .”

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Zimmermann Gets Nats Back On Track

August 24th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Washington righty Jordan Zimmermann threw eight complete innings, Jayson Werth plated two RBIs and Asdrubel Cabrera homered as the Nationals snapped back from their Friday 10-3 loss, defeating Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants on Saturday at Nationals Park, 6-2.

“Last night they score 10 runs, they kind of put a dagger in us a little bit,” Nationals center fielder Denard Span said of his team’s victory. “The first inning they were swinging away again. For us to respond, and come out and get a win is definitely good for us.”

The Giants scored all of their runs in the first inning on a Hunter Pence home run that gave the Giants the lead. But that was the only glitch in Zimmermann’s outing, as the Auburndale, Wisconsin native threw 107 pitches, 78 of them for strikes. “His most effective pitch was his fastball,” backstop Wilson Ramos said of Zimmermann’s outing. “It was really working well.”

“I had a good fastball.. I was locating in and out. The slider was there. I mixed a curveball the second and third time through the lineup,” Zimmermann said of his performance. “I started throwing more curveballs. The last two innings, I mixed in a few changeups and got some ground balls.”

The Nationals showed their resilience after the Giants put their runs on the board early. Trailing 2-0, Denard Span led off the bottom of the 1st inning with a triple, Anthony Rendon walked and Jayson Werth followed with single that scored Span. Rendon then scored when Adam LaRoche grounded into a fielder’s choice — and the Nats were suddenly back in the game at 2-2.

The Nationals piled on a shaky Lincecum in the 2nd inning, chasing three more runs across the plate. Asdrubal Cabrera led off the inning with a walk, was sacrificed to second and then scored on a Denard Span single. Span then scored on a Pablo Sandoval error that put Anthony Rendon on second and Rendon scored on another Jayson Werth single.

The Nationals added a sixth run to their total on a long home run off the bat of Asdrubal Cabrera in the bottom of the third. The Cabrera home run marked the end of the night for Giants starter Lincecum, who gave up four earned runs in just 2.2 innings of work. Lincecum took the loss for the Giants and is now 10-9 on the year with a 4.64 ERA.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Giants are frustrated with Tim Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young award winner and four time All Star who’s had an up-and-down season, but mostly down. Saturday was only the most recent example of what ails Lincecum, who kept his now 92-mph fastball out over the plate, where Nationals hitters crushed it . . .

While the Giants are frustrated, so too is Lincecum, who described his Saturday outing as “horseshit, just horseshit.” While that was obviously true, there was a time this season when opposing hitters couldn’t touch the righty. Starting on June 25, when he threw a no-hitter against the Padres, Lincecum was brilliant, notching a 0.92 ERA in his next five outings . . .

But starting on July 25, against the Dodgers, Lincecum has been repeatedly roughed up. The one exception came earlier this week, when Lincecum notched a win against the Phillies, though he gave up seven hits and four walks in just five innings of work. While beating the Phillies, Lincecum was all over the place, a sign of what was to come on Saturday versus the Nationals . . .

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. . . And Here Come The Giants

August 22nd, 2014  / Author: Mark

MLB: San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres

The San Francisco Giants were our pick to win the National League West, and we had good reason to suppose so. The Giants had a snappy starting rotation, we thought that Tim Lincecum would recover some of the velocity on his fastball, and the team could hit — not least because they added Michael Morse to their mix.

For much of the season our prediction looked solid. The Giants appeared to be running away with the West, the Dodgers were struggling (and Clayton Kershaw was on the disabled list for a short time), and Morse was hitting the snot out of the ball, and still is.

But starting in late June and extending well into mid-August, the Giants were hit by a series of devastating injuries: Matt Cain went down for the season, Brandon Belt and Hector Sanchez were hit with concussions, Marco Scutaro went down with a bad back and a stiff neck and the McCoverys spiraled out of first place.

But the real loss for the Giants came in late June when center fielder Angel Pagan was hit with a back injury that refused to heal. Pagan is San Francisco’s spark and had led the Giants in BA and OBP prior to sitting out an eight game streak in late June. Finally, realizing that he just wasn’t healing, the Giants took Pagan off the bench and put him on the disabled list.

The Giants went 19-26 without Pagan, though G.M. Brian Sabean did his best to back-and-fill off the Pagan injury. Sabean signed struggling second sacker Dan Uggla to a contract on July 25, then swapped two minor leaguers for Red Sox starter and veteran tosser Jake Peavy the next day.

Sabean’s moves haven’t worked out. Uggla went 0-11 with six strikeouts in two weeks of work for the Giants (who then outrighted him, putting him back on the street) and Peavy has been just so-so. The former San Diego righty began his time in San Francisco by going 0-3, though he’s recovered lately, authoring two key wins in his last two outings.

It hasn’t been enough. While the Giants have been able to patch together a workable starting rotation and supplemented it with a solid, very solid, bullpen, the Giants are just middling run scorers. The McCoveys offense is not only not as good as L.A.’s, it’s probably worse than Arizona’s, with a sorry .305 team OBP.

Yes, we know: the Giants have heavyweights Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Morse in their line-up. But the guy the Giants really have to have (they’re 21st in runs and 21st in BA) is Angel Pagan — who needs to get healthy and stay healthy. Pagan is the key, the one guy that makes it all work. Without him, they’re just not the same team.

Nats Edge Rattlers In Another Walk-Off, Streak At Ten

August 22nd, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Denard Span scored on a throwing error from Arizona D’Back’s third baseman Jordan Pacheco in the bottom of the 9th inning, as Washington authored another dramatic walk-off win, 1-0 on Thursday evening. It was the Nationals tenth win in a row.

The Nationals were unable to push across a run against Arizona pitching the entire game, with Washington starter Gio Gonzalez also effective against Arizona’s bats. Arizona starter Wade Miley scattered eight Nationals hits, while Gonzalez threw seven complete while holding the D’Backs to a measly four hits. Gonzalez walked three.

The Nationals were victorious despite going 0-13 with runners in scoring position, and squandering numerous opportunities to score. Span, Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos each had two hits for the Nats, but Adam LaRoche grounded into two double plays, while Danny Espinosa grounded into one.

The Gonzalez start reversed a series of bad outings for the Washington lefty, who was pleased with his performance. “It was fun just being a part of something that is going on,” Gonzalez said. “We had such great pitching lately. Our bullpen has been fantastic. Again, Nats win on a walk off. I just wanted try to blend in with the rest of the rotation, try not to stick out like a sore thumb.”

The victory on Thursday was Washington’s fifth walk-off win in the last six games; the last team to do that were the 1986 Houston Astros. The normally phlegmatic Matt Williams remained so after the dramatic win, insisting that the Nationals had to keep playing game-to-game, with the same effort.

“I’ve experienced a lot in my time in baseball, certainly not as much as other folks,” Williams said after the victory. “But I understand appreciating what you have and working hard to get what you want. That’s important to me and it’s important to those guys, so that’s how we approach it.

Washington’s ninth inning dramatics began with a Scott Hairston (hitting for Rafael Soriano) out on a fly ball, bringing Span to the plate. The fleet Nats center fielder singled for his second hit of the game then, with Anthony Rendon at the plate, stole second on southpaw reliever Oliver Perez. Span would later call it “the most important steal of my career.”

It was then that Arizona’s Pecheco committed his fatal error. Rendon hit the ball down the third base line and Pecheco threw the ball to first, but the ball bounced past first baseman Mark Trumbo and into the first base camera well. The umpires awarded Span home plate. Pacheco late said that he simply didn’t have a good grip on the ball.

The Nationals have now swept, in succession, the Mets, Pirates and Diamondbacks. Rafael Soriano came away with the win for the Nats. “We just feel confident that somehow, some way we’re going to find a way to inch off a victory,” Span said of his team’s win, but skipper Williams had a different take. “It’s not how you plan it,” he said.

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It’s Epic: Streaking Nats Walk Off Again

August 21st, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Pinch hitter Anthony Rendon, given a day off by skipper Matt Williams, singled home Bryce Harper with the winning run in the bottom of the 9th inning on Wednesday night, sealing Washington’s ninth victory in a row and downing the Arizona Diamondbacks, 3-2. It was the Nationals fourth walk off win in the last week.

“It’s absolutely epic. That’s the best word I can put out there,” Washington left fielder Bryce Harper said of the Nationals’ triumph. “It’s been incredible. This team has a lot of fight, a lot of heart. We never die.” Harper was a solid 3-4 in the victory and is 5-15 in the Arizona series.

The game began as a pitchers’ duel, with Washington’s Tanner Roark facing off against Arizona’s Trevor Cahill. Cahill, who has been inconsistent this year but has had a good August, allowed just two Washington runs in 6.1 innings of work. But Roark was even better, throwing seven shutout innings, albeit (as Matt Williams later admitted), without his best stuff.

At the end of seven innings, Roark exited the game in favor of reliever Tyler Clippard, having thrown 99 pitches while giving up just five hits. The young righty was supported by two Nats runs, one on a Wilson Ramos RBI fielders choice grounder in the 2nd, the other on consecutive doubles by Asdrubal Cabrera and Jayson Werth in the 6th.

“I felt good. I felt early on, the first two innings, I was nibbling a little bit on my fastball,” Roark said of his outing. “After that, I started attacking more and being aggressive.”

Roark’s outing assured the Nationals of a 2-0 edge at the end of seven, but the lead didn’t last long. Reliever Tyler Clippard, in his second shaky outing in as many appearances, walked Arizona’s Jordan Pecheco to start the 8th, then gave up a round tripper to promising rookie Ender Inciarte, allowing the D’Backs to tie the game.

Arizona’s failure to score in the top of the 9th (with Rafael Soriano throwing for the Nationals) set up Washington’s dramatic walk-off win in the bottom of the frame. With rookie reliever Evan Marshall on the mound for the D’Backs, Bryce Harper hit a line-drive up the middle and advanced to third on a Kevin Frandsen hit past a diving Aaron Hill.

It was then, with just one out in the inning and runners on first and third, that Matt Williams decided to pinch hit Rendon. With the count at 1-0, Rendon hit a streaking grounder past third sacker Cliff Pennington to score the winning run.

“It’s a good feeling. We are definitely rolling right now,” center fielder Denard Span said of the Nationals impressive victory. “It was very impressive for Rendon to kind of cut the switch on, having the day off and all of a sudden get thrown in the game and get the big hit for us. He has been doing it all year. So it really doesn’t surprise me.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It’s been a season of dramatic wins for the Nationals, but no one has led the N.L. in late inning theatrics more than the Pittsburgh Pirates. Entering last night’s game in Pittsburgh against the Atlanta Braves, the Bucs had authored 31 come-from-behind victories in the 2014 campaign . . .

Veteran thespians, the Pirates have needed all the luck they can muster, particularly lately. The Pirates fought a tough away series in Washington (where they were swept), and hardly showed at all while facing the Braves at Turner Field. In the midst of a seven game plunge, and with their season on the line, the Stargells were in desperate need of a break . . .

They finally got it on Wednesday night, in front of a raucous crowd of home town rooters, when usually sure-handed outfielder Justin Upton dropped a fly ball in the 9th inning in the midst of a 2-2 tie. The dropped fly (bobbled on a sprint in which Upton nearly collided with brother B.J.) allowed the Bucs to win on a walk-off sac fly from Gaby Sanchez, scoring Jordy Mercer . . .

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