Archive for the ‘Adam LaRoche’ Category

Rethinking The Braves “Ambush”

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

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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”

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

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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-Braves Claw Their Way Through 10

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

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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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Werth’s Slam Downs The Marlins

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

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Jayson Werth’s grand slam in the 8th inning proved the difference against the Miami Marlins, as the Nationals beat their division rival, 10-7. “Crazy game. Back and forth,” Werth said following the hard fought victory. “One of those games where you play that long, you want to win.”

Werth’s line drive howitzer was the coda in a game that saw starter Jordan Zimmermann give up seven hits and five runs in just 1.2 innings, one of the worst outings (and the shortest start) for the righty in his career. Washington relievers were also victimized in the 7th and 8th innings, with Drew Storen giving up a home run to Jerrod Saltalamacchia and Tyler Clippard giving up a run in the 8th.

‘I was terrible out there,” Zimmermann said of his performance. “The fastball was all over the place. That’s not like me. I just couldn’t get a very good feel. I fell behind guys and when you fall behind you’ve got to come in with a fastball — and they’re a good fastball hitting team.”

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Despite Zimmermann’s early struggles (which left the team down 5-0 going into the bottom of the 4th) Washington refused to give in. While Werth’s slam gave Washington the victory, the game might well have turned on Bryce Harper’s brilliant ten pitch at bat in the bottom of that frame.

The struggling youngster (who came into the game batting just a hair about .160), fouled off numerous offerings from Miami starter Brad Hand in a ten pitch at bat before depositing a 95 mph fastball in the third deck of Nats Park. Harper’s home run brought the crowd of 21,000-plus to their feet, scored Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman — and put Washington back into the game.

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“I never felt out of this game, that’s for sure. We battled. We’ve just got to keep pressing,” Werth told reporters after the comeback win. It was the Nationals fifth comeback win this season in only eight games and kept Washington atop the N.L. East standings at 6-2.

Washington skipper Matt Williams noted that the Washington victory would not have been possible without the solid pitching of Craig Stammen, who shut down Miami in the middle innings — giving his team just over three innings of stellar relief while striking out four.

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Nats Notes For Game #7: Nats Arms Leave Fish Gasping

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

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The big takeaway from last night’s shutout of the Miami Fish is that Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rendon are the team’s early season on-base machines. LaRoche went 3 for 3 with a a walk, Rendon went 2 for 4 with 3 RBIs. It’s a good start for LaRoche, who’s noted for swinging a weak bat in temperatures under 90 . . .

LaRoche even took two extra bases on an error and a wild pitch and got thrown out trying to steal! And all in a a single game! When Matt Williams said he wanted the Nats to be aggressive, we doubt that he intended sending the normally speed-challenged good-glove first sacker regularly motoring to second. Denard Span and Danny Espinosa, yes. Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth, sure. But LaRoche? But it’s hard to argue with success; after all, it seems to be working out more often than not — so far . . .

The scouting report on Fish starter Henderson Alvarez was that he’s a good fastball-changeup guy who’s tough to hit when he’s on target, but that he tends to lose his command. That was the case last night. After Alvarez gave up a run in the 1st, the Marlins’ starter kept it close, until the 6th. By then, every other pitch was in the dirt, behind the catcher — or both. So the Nats pounced in the 6th and then pounced again in the 8th, when Marlins reliever Mike Dunn (high and fast) arrived to try to stem the bleeding . . .

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The Nats pitchers, sensing a kill of a team they have dominated, were no slouches. Starter Gio Gonzalez pitched six solid innings. Gio’s pitch count was worrisome after the first two innings, but beginning in the 3rd inning he locked in the strike zone and (as Matt Williams noted in his post game comments), probably could have gone longer had the Nats not scored behind him . . .

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Gio Blanks The Fish

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

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Gio Gonzalez threw six innings of three hit ball while striking out five, leading the Washington Nationals to a 5-0 blanking of the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night at Nationals Park. Washington’s southpaw ace was in mid-season form, and was escorted to victory by eight Nats’ hits, which included three RBIs from third sacker Anthony Rendon.

“He competes every time he goes out there,” Nats skipper Mat Williams said following the shut down performance. “In his last couple of starts, he throws a lot of pitches, but when he has to lock it in, he locks it in. He has been good.” Gonzalez threw 101 pitches, 61 of them for strikes. Jerry Blevins, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Aaron Barrett followed Gonzalez to the mound and held the Marlins scoreless.

Gonzalez seems to own the Marlins. He has won his last four starts against Miami and was 3-0 against them last year, when the Nationals accumulated a 14-5 mark against the Fish. Gonzalez is now 2-0 on the young season, owning a snappy 0.75 ERA on the young season.

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“These guys have some good pitchers but we got to find a way to score some runs,” Miami manager Mike Redmond said of the Marlins’ loss. “We had a couple opportunities. We just didn’t get a big hit. But I’ve said that a lot over the last couple years, too.”

The Washington offense was sparked by a first inning Jayson Werth double and a run scoring single from Adam LaRoche. The Nationals struck again in the sixth on hits from Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rendon. The onslaught chased Miami starter Henderson Alvarez. Washington tacked on two more runs in the 8th on an Anthony Rendon double.

Rendon has been on fire. He is hitting .407 in the early going, which includes a home run and eight RBIs. Subbing for Ryan Zimmerman at third, Rendon also turned in a nifty flip to Adam LaRoche in the 7th inning, when Reed Johnson attempted to bunt his way on.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Major League Baseball’s punditry spent Tuesday, the fortieth anniversary of Henry Aaron’s record breaking HR mark that topped Babe Ruth’s record, explaining why Aaron is the baseball’s real home run king, despite the fact that Barry Bonds owns the record . . .

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Desmond HR Saves Nats Series

Monday, April 7th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals authored a win over the Atlanta Braves on Sunday afternoon, 2-1, riding shortstop Ian Desmond’s second home run of the year to victory — and salvaging a single game win of the three game Atlanta series. The Nationals needed the victory, if only to show that they can beat a team that has consistently had their number.

“It was nice to get that ‘W’ and monkey off our back,” Desmond told the press following the win. “We obviously understand we have some things that need to be addressed when we’re playing them.” Starter Taylor Jordan, who escaped from multiple jams in his first start of the season, agreed: “I love beating the Braves,” he said. “We needed that. They’re our rivals, and it’s great to get one.”

It’s also clear that Nats’ manager Matt Williams was intent on turning his team’s fortunes around, particularly after Washington’s embarrassing 6-2 unraveling on Saturday. Williams gave Bryce Harper (3 for 21 in the team’s first five) a rest, played Anthony Rendon at third base and inserted uber sub Kevin Frandsen in left field.

The alchemy worked, but most particularly on the mound, where Jordan tossed a workmanlike 6.1 innings of six hit baseball — relying on the team behind him to keep him out of trouble. Jordan pitched out of trouble in the second and fourth innings, but was able to notch his first win of the season.

The Nationals were outhit by the Braves, but Desmond’s home run subdued the out-of-towners, who then couldn’t seem to find their swing against a steady Nationals’ bullpen. Washington sent Jerry Blevins, Tyler Clippard and closer Rafael Soriano to the mound the preserve Jordan’s outing.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The baseball always finds the problem, no matter what team you play for. If you’re bullpen is weak you can be damn sure you’ll need it, if your team is having trouble hitting you’ll always face the best pitchers — and if you’re shoulder is tweaky you can be sure there’ll be a tough ground ball hit just to your right that will force a long throw . . .

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