Nats Boot The Ball, Drop St. Louis Series Opener

April 18th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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In his post game press conferences, Nationals skipper Matt Williams sometimes appears as a barely controlled caldera — like Yellowstone, he seems always on the verge of exploding, particularly after a loss. So it was on Thursday night, after his Washington Nationals dropped a sloppily played error-filled game to the St. Louis Cardinals, 8-0.

The loss led to a short post game team meeting, at which Williams spoke — but he said the message he conveyed would not be made public. “That’s for me and my team.” he said. “I seem very upset? I’m just not answering that question. That’s for me and my team, and nobody else’s business. Regarding the game, it was probably the worst one we played.”

Williams had plenty to be upset about. The first play of the game featured a booted ball by shortstop Ian Desmond, which was followed by starter Taylor Jordan’s inability to dig a squiggler off the bat of Kolten Wong out of his glove. The play was scored as a single, but it was an error — and suddenly the Cardinals, with the fans still filing into the ballpark, were threatening.

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That’s twenty errors in Washington’s first sixteen games, and this from a team whose manager prizes defense. “The first ball of the game, you boot it, that doesn’t set the tone,” Desmond said of his performance. “If I ever want to be the captain of this team — and I do — I’m going to have to be better than that.”

St. Louis, meanwhile, played flawlessly behind the two hit pitching of righty Adam Wainwright. Wainwright kept the Nationals off the bases and off the board, depending on an attack from Matt Holliday (2-3 with two RBIs), Matt Adams (1-4 with three RBIs) and Jhonny Peralta (who was 2-5).

We’ll keep grinding away at it,” Williams said. “We will go out there tomorrow and we’ll certainly take a full [batting practice], full grounders. It is scheduled to be extra work for the pitchers tomorrow. It’s part of the schedule. … We do it all the time. What to make of [the bad defense]? I don’t know.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: There was an odd semi-takedown of MASN broadcasters Bob Carpenter and F.P Santangelo on the Sporting News website last week. Headlined “Nationals broadcasters let cliches, homerism get in the way . . .” the article purported to show how amateurish and boorish the two are . . .

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Nats Take The Miami Series, Head Home

April 17th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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The hobbled Washington Nationals escaped Miami with a 6-3 win on Wednesday night, taking two games of three from their division rivals. The Nationals were powered by sloppy Marlins fielding, a three run home run off of Miami starter Jose Fernandez by Jayson Werth in the top of the 6th (which tied the game at 3) and a pinch hit home run from rookie Zach Walters.

The errors from Miami and the two Nats home runs were the difference in the game, besting Miami ace Fernandez. In the 6th, the usually sure-handed Jerrod Saltalamacchia allowed Jose Lobaton to scamper to third on a throwing error and the Miami catcher then dropped a pop foul off the bat of Anthony Rendon.

“We’re in a funk out there, for whatever reason,” Miami manager Mike Redmond said after the loss. “We just have got to keep throwing these guys out there and get them going. Another pinch-hit home run. Stuff like that just can’t happen late in the game. We’ve given up a lot of big hits late in the game. Those are crushers. We’ve got to find a way to make an adjustment.”

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The Nationals were shut down by Fernandez, who owns a snappy 2.66 ERA on the season — and who only gave up a four hits in seven innings last night. “He’s an animal,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said of Fernandez. “He’s one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.”

The Nationals’ runs in the 6th inning were all unearned, leaving Fernandez the victim of his teammates poor play. After the Fernandez departure, the Nationals put three runs on the board off of two Miami relievers: Mike Dunn and A.J. Ramos.

After being swept in Atlanta, the Nationals needed the Miami salvage operation, and they got it. The team put up nine runs on sixteen hits in the first game of the series, and last night were able to get a solid starting performance from righty Tanner Roark, who pitched into the 7th inning while notching five strikeouts.

Roark was at his best in the 5th, when he ended a Miami rally that had Marcell Ozuna on third with one out. Roark struck out Giancarlo Stanton and Garrett Jones flied out to left to end the threat. “It was a big momentum swing,” said Roark of his clutch pitching. “I felt like we had a good weight off our shoulders and my shoulders as well.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: No one likes to hear this, but it’s true. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the standard of success in the American League is the New York Yankees; it’s impossible to read anything about baseball without reading about them. But that’s also true for the St. Louis Cardinals, the N.L. version of the Bombers. For good reason . . .

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Rethinking The Braves “Ambush”

April 15th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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As we said (and repeatedly) yesterday — after the Nationals were swept by the Atlanta Braves: “It’s still early.” Much has been said of the state of this I-95 rivalry. “They” have the Nats’ number. “They’re” inside the Nats’ heads. They’re Washington’s kryptonite. Maybe, but we’ll leave that particular analysis to the sports psychologists.

In looking back on the series, we here at CFG have come up with something else: in spite of having dropped five of six to the Bravos, there is no real overall difference in quality between Atlanta and the Nationals. For two of the three games in that Atlanta series, the Braves didn’t actually win — so much as the Nationals lost.

Consider: for the first two games, the Nationals outhit the Braves 25-22, while losing both contests by four fewer runs (13 to 9). The reason? Sloppy fielding and poor base running. The usually sure-handed Ian Desmond committed an unheard of three errors, exacerbated by one from Nate McLouth in a call that should have gone the other way. Bryce Harper was caught stealing, and both he and Zimmerman were picked off.

Game three of the series was a legitimate Bravos victory, to be sure, but that’s to be expected in any series against a quality team, which the Braves certainly are. The Braves outhit and outplayed the Nationals in that game, but that wasn’t true for the first game — or the second.

The Braves’ bullpen (with the possible exception of Craig Kimbrel), is not some unhittable juggernaut — as was clear last night in Philadelphia. The Nats chewed up starters Julio Teheran for 10 hits and 5 runs and Alex Wood for 6 hits and one run – and generated nine hits and three runs in the first two face-offs against relievers Kimbrel, Jordan Walden, David Carpenter, and Anthony Varvaro.

Early as the season is, there are still plenty of reasons for confidence. Harper has gotten comfortable at the plate again, banging out six hits over the course of the series. New acquisitions Kevin Frandsen and Nate McLouth and Nats veteran Danny Espinosa have shown themselves to be solid bench players.

The Nats are snake-bit against the Braves, for sure. Snake bit? That just means that, for whatever reason, they’ve played poorly against them. That won’t last. The next time the Nats face the Braves (a four game set in mid-June), Wilson Ramos, Doug Fister, and Ryan Zimmerman should be off the disabled list — and the team will be out to prove that April was a fluke. And there will have been plenty of games (both easy and tough) for the boys in the field to learn each others ticks.

Then too, Nats manager Matt Williams may have even settled on a lineup by then.

April’s Unlikely “Derby”

April 15th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Monday was home run day in Major League Baseball. In Miami, on their way to a 9-2 crushing of the wayward Miami Marlins (the fish have now lost eight in a row), Washington’s Tyler Moore and Sandy Leon hit dingers (it was Leon’s first ever), while the Marlins got their second run on a moon shot from Garrett Jones.

In Anaheim, where the A’s played the Belinskis, John Jaso’s pinch hit home run topped the Halos, but only after Albert Pujols put his 496th career round tripper into the Anaheim stratosphere. That was the second game of ESPN’s nightly offering, which led off with a head-shaking match-up between the Braves and Phillies.

The Braves-Phillies tilt was nearly unwatchable until the 8th inning, when Dominic Brown’s three run blast sent Philadelphia to what seemed an unlikely late-inning victory. That was not the story, as it turned out: Atlanta had scored its runs on back-to-back-to-back skyballs in the previous frame, courtesy of Evan Gattis, Dan Uggla and Andrelton Simmons, then went on to beat the Ponies in the 9th, when Dan Uggla homered.

Even then (with Washington, Miami, Oakland, Anaheim, Atlanta and Philadelphia all going long), April’s most impressive home run derby took place in Cincinnati, where the stinking Reds and mighty Pirates put ten (count ‘em) ten balls over the fence. It was a sight to behold: Pittsburgh had three sets of back-to-back home runs, while Cincinnati hit four solo shots. Pittsburgh’s Gaby Sanchez hit two, as did Neil Walker.

Ironically, while home runs played vital roles in all of these match-ups, the Cincinnati derby (at the Great American Bandbox, so there’s that) counted for nothing, with the game suspended in the 7th inning due to rain. Don’t think it was impressive? Take a look at this:

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So? So what the hell is going on? Right here would be a good time for some statistical analysis, reputedly showing that April 14 was a “statistical anomaly” — an argument any old wag could make except that nearly every game in baesball (or so it seems) provides some kind of “statistical anomaly.”

Last year at about this time, baseball writers were going on about how 2013 was the “year of the pitcher” (when I was younger, the year of the pitcher was 1968). By June of last year, it was official, with analysts pointing out that over a period of five years the majors had seen 18 no hitters and six perfect games.

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Nats Swept In Atlanta

April 14th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Repeat after me: “It’s still early, it’s still early, it’s still early.” And that’s a mighty good thing, because if this was September, with the N.L. East a dogfight between its two best teams (Atlanta and Washington), the Nationals would be in deep trouble.

Just days after rolling out of Washington with a series sweep against Miami under their belts, the Nationals are now departing Atlanta feeling as the Marlins must have felt. Yesterday’s loss, a 10-2 whupping at the hands of the Braves, only emphasized the Nationals problems — in the three game series the team was outscored (23-11), outhit (33-31) and (well) outplayed.

Sunday’s matinee only highlighted Washington’s problems, which seem to be magnified against their division rival. Ace Gio Gonzalez lasted six innings, but was hit hard, giving up six runs on nine hits over six innings. The middle of the Braves line-up seemed to play with Washington: B.J. Upton was 2-5, Freddie Freeman was 2-3, Justin Upton was 2-3 and Andrelton Simmons was 2-5.

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Worse yet, Washington’s hitters couldn’t seem to touch Atlanta starter Aaron Harang, the 35-year-old well traveled righty who Atlanta fans doubted could fit into a rotation that the Braves front office vowed would get younger year-by-year. It was Harang, and not Gonzalez, who ended up on top, with Harang throwing six innings of five hit ball and taming a suddenly anemic Washington line-up.

“The Braves have the Nationals’ number,” Baseball Tonight’s Karl Ravech said during last night’s broadcast. The numbers seem to prove it. Yesterday’s 10-2 pasting was Atlanta’s 18th win in its last 25 match-up against the Nationals, and its fifth win this season in six meetings.

“It’s going to happen sometimes, but what we can’t do is get out of ourselves,” manager Matt Williams said following the loss. “We can’t allow anything to take us out of our game. It didn’t work for us this weekend. We have another one tomorrow against the Marlins. We have to concentrate on that one.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: That long deep sigh you hear comes to you all the way from the North Side of Chicago, where the Cubbies have started the season with a 4-8 record. The most recent example of North Side futility came yesterday, against the Cardinals, when Chicago pitching was victimized by 11 Cardinal hits and a snappy 6.1 innings from starter Michael Wacha . . .

Baseball’s punditocracy has written off the Cubs for 2014, saying the team is headed for 90 losses — at least. But there’s light at the end of Chicago’s endless tunnel, faint though it may be. Chicago has a keeper in first sacker Anthony Rizzo (who’s hitting .319 on the young season), and has a farm system stacked with talent, including third sacker Kris Bryant, center fielder Albert Almora and shortstop uber prospect Javier Baez . . .

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Nats Fall Again To Braves; Zimmerman Out 4-6 Weeks

April 13th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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What a difference 48 hours can make. Just two days ago, the Nationals had just swept the Marlins, were sitting atop the National League East and seemed to be clicking on all cylinders. Now, just two days later, the team is struggling against the division rival Atlanta Braves and — in response to mounting injuries — new skipper Matt Williams is shifting his players from position to position.

Those troubles seemed particularly in evidence on Saturday night, as the Nationals dropped yet another game to the Atlanta Braves, 6-3 and Ryan Zimmerman, the team’s third base stalwart, team leader and big middle-of-the-order bat fractured his right thumb during a pick-off play in the fifth inning. Zimmerman will be lost from four to six weeks.

The Zimmerman injury eclipsed Washington’s loss, which was fueled by starter Taylor Jordan’s inability to subdue a powerful Braves’ line-up. Atlanta put four runs on the board in the first inning on a B.J Upton homer, a Justin Upton double and timely hitting from Dan Uggla and Evan Gattis.

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“I wasn’t hitting my spots, and they capitalized on that. It was a very tough first inning,” Jordan said following the loss. “By the third inning, I started to get my slider back, and it was working for me a little bit,” he then added.

The Nationals gamely fought back, but squandered numerous scoring opportunities, leaving 11 on base for the game. The Nationals, who dominated division rivals New York and Miami, couldn’t capitalize against the Braves and were a pathetic 1-16 with runners in scoring position.

Already hit by injuries to Denard Span and Jayson Werth (Span was placed on the 7-day disabled list with “concussion like” symptoms, Werth is day-to-day with a nagging groin), the team will now feature an infield with Anthony Rendon at third and Danny Espinosa at second.

“It is what it is. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us,” manager Matt Williams said following the announcement that the team had lost Zimmerman. “You’ve got to play.” The Nationals have recalled infielder Zach Walters from Triple-A Syracuse for added bench depth and to (presumably) spell Espinosa at second.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The early take on the new MLB rules on umpire reviews has been mostly positive, until recently. Matt Williams was frustrated by an interminable review of a bang-bang play at first base involving Nate McLouth during the second inning on Saturday, which went against the Nationals . . .

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Nats-Braves Claw Their Way Through 10

April 12th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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The Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves scratched and clawed their way through another bitterly fought contest, with the Bravos eventually coming away with a 7-6 10th inning win on a Justin Upton single. The game was another one run contest, which is becoming the new standard in the growing Nats-Braves rivalry.

Atlanta was first on the board, plating four runs in the bottom of the 2nd inning against Washington starter Tanner Roark. Despite the early score, Roark settled into the game, pitching into the fifth inning and allowing his teammates to fight their way back into the game — scoring one run in the 4th inning and three in the 5th, courtesy of a Ryan Zimmerman home run.

“I felt great out there,” Roark said following the tough loss. “I just didn’t really have the command of my pitches that I wanted.” Indeed, Roark had trouble finding the strike zone, plunking Justin Upton, Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman with pitches.

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The teams traded runs after the 4-4 tie, with Atlanta scoring one in the bottom of the 5th and the Nationals responding in the top of the next frame. “The guys continued to fight back. It’s a really good sign,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said following the loss. “It didn’t come out our way tonight, but they got back in it with the lead. We’ll take our chances with that every day.”

The Nationals, who are becoming known for their ability to launch late inning comebacks, were helped by solid performances from the middle of their order. Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper were a combined 7-13, with Zimmerman accounting for half of the Nationals runs.

The Nationals led 6-5 going into the bottom of the 8th inning, but reliever Tyler Clippard gave up a home run to Justin Upton, the Nationals new nemesis. The Braves then brought on closer Craig Kimbrel — perhaps the best closer in the majors. Kimbrel set down the Nats in the top of the 9th, striking out Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman.

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