Archive for the ‘american league east’ Category

Baltimore Ends Its Drought, Wins A.L. East

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

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The Baltimore Orioles defied the odds-makers, pundits and baseball analysts, sweeping to their first American League East title since 1997, with an 8-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Tuesday night. The victory gave the O’s a 91-60 record on the year, second best in all of baseball.

This is not where the O’s were supposed to be. As the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays retooled in the off-season (with the Yankees spending wildly to rebuild their outfield and pitching staff), the Orioles made do with a late signing of outfielder Nelson Cruz, a decision that brought nearly unanimous hoots of derision from baseball experts.

But the Orioles, who suffered in-season injuries to catcher Matt Wieters and All-World third baseman Manny Machado (as well as the suspension of home run powerhouse Chris Davis), mixed and matched and scratched their way to victory after victory, matching the third best ERA in the American League to the best long-ball hitting team in the majors.

But Baltimore’s pitching and hitting tell only a part of the story. The unsung hero of the O’s 2014 campaign might well be G.M. Dan Duquette, whose mid-summer moves kept the O’s alive when they should have been fading. Duquette shuffled players back and forth to Triple-A Norfolk, getting key starts from journeyman infielder Jimmy Paredes, trading for Bosox reliever Andrew Miller and then swapping two minor leaguers for Alejandro De Aza and Kelly Johnson.

Nearly all of this handiwork was on display in Baltimore last night. Paredes was 2-3 with an RBI while playing third, De Aza stroked a triple and notched three RBIs, Miller provided a two-batter bridge to Tommy Hunter who pitched the 9th, Steve Pierce (released, then re-signed by Duquette back in April) hit his 18th home run of the season — and the O’s laughed their way to an 8-2 victory.

But this is hardly the trash heap O’s. Baltimore boasts perhaps the best outfield in baseball, as well as one of the American League’s favorites for MVP. Cruz, De Aza and Pierce hold down left field, steady veteran Nick Markakis is in right and potent and potential MVP Adam Jones mans center. Nelson Cruz is the DH, and he has 39 home runs on the year — best in the junior circuit.

And then there’s Buck Showalter, now the favorite to win the Manager of the Year Award, not least for shaping (with Duquette) the almost famous “Baltimore Shuffle” — the up-to-the-majors, down-to-Triple-A moves that have characterized the team’s handling of the pitching staff all year. Somehow, it’s all worked out.

And here’s how: Wai-Yin Chen (the underrated Japanese import) is 16-4, Miguel Gonzalez has won seven of his last ten outings, Chris Tillman has been brilliant (a 3.29 ERA and 1.22 WHIP), and the Baltimore bullpen has the fourth best ERA in the American League.

And last night Buck Showalter handed the ball to the up-and-down Ubaldo Jimenez, an unusual act of confidence in a starter who’s been inconsistent — at best. And how did Jimenez react? He threw an improbable five innings of two hit baseball.

“You get older, you want to get a good angle and a good seat and see good people get a return for what they put into it and what they’re trying to achieve,” Showalter told the press after last night’s clincher. “And this is a huge step, to get a chance now. We’ve got to figure out a way to win 11 games.”

Which is to say: in our opinion, the always-underrated O’s are not simply the best team in the fast eroding American League Least, they’re the class of the American League — and our pick as the team to beat in the post-season.

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It’s All Strasburg In Atlanta

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

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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 . . .

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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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Nats On A Roll, Squeeze By The Bucs, 5-4

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

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Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper had two hits and two RBIs apiece, starter Tanner Roark pitched into the 6th inning, and closer Rafael Soriano provided another nail biting ending as the Nationals squeezed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-4 at Nationals Park on Friday night. This was Washington’s fourth victory in a row.

LaRoche and Harper were the big bats in the Nationals win. The Nationals took an early 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first frame, with a LaRoche single plating Asdrubal Cabrera. Then, with the bases loaded, Harper followed up with a single of his own — scoring Anthony Rendon and LaRoche.

Pirates starter Charlie Morton couldn’t keep the Nationals off the board in the early going and was pulled by Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle after just three innings of work. In all, the Nationals sprayed 11 hits versus Bucco pitching, with Denard Span once again hitting his stride, going 3-4 on the night.

While Roark picked up his twelfth win of the 2014 campaign, he gave up three runs on five hits in just 5.2 innings of work. Pittsburgh got back into the game in the fourth inning, when outfielder Starling Marte powered an 84 mph Roark slider into the left field seats, which scored second sacker Neil Walker. The Pirates were suddenly back in the game.

“He was a little off on his command tonight, the ball was up in the strike zone a little bit,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said of Roark’s performance. “Marte hit a slider for the homer and the ball just kind of elevated. But he battled. He got through the innings he needed to get through. He pitched well.”

The feisty Pirates showed why they’re still in the hunt for the National League Central crown, pushing the Nationals until the final out. The Pirates three run fourth was followed by a nail-biting 9th in which Starling Marte singled off of Nats closer Rafael Soriano, then scored on a Pedro Alvarez single to bring the Buccos to within one run of tying the game.

Soriano, struggling to notch his 29th save, then gave up a single to Chris Stewart, which put the tying run on base. But with Stewart looking to score, Soriano induced a foul pop off the bat of Josh Harrison (which landed in the glove of Wilson Ramos) to end the game.

On Wednesday, Soriano had told the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore that one of the reasons for his sometimes shaky outings was that he wasn’t getting enough work. The Soriano statement was apparently heard loud and clear by skipper Williams. “That’s three games in a row for Soriano. He got through it tonight. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” Williams said after last night’s win.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Pirates fans begin each year with the dream that they’ll relive 1979, the last year that the Bucs brought home the World Series trophy. But what’s usually missing from the Pittsburgh narrative, and often forgotten by baseball pundits, is that the 1979 win was notched against a Baltimore team that was among the most celebrated in franchise history . . .

The 1979 Orioles won 102 games, had a winning record against every American League team except the Yankees, led the A.L from mid-April to the wire, featured a 23 game winner (in Mike Flanagan) and a lights-out closer (in Don Stanhouse), and dominated baseball in one run and extra inning games . . .

Which is to say: if the Pirates could just start playing a bit better (and reach the playoffs) a replay of the Baltimore-Pittsburgh seven game, down-to-the-final-out tilt of 1979 is not out of the question. To make this even plainer, we would claim that the 2014 edition of the Orioles might even be better than their 1979 ancestors . . .

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Nats Sweep The Mets, Head Home

Friday, August 15th, 2014

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Washington righty Stephen Strasburg reversed his road woes (he is 2-8 while pitching away this year), throwing seven innings of snappy three hit baseball, as the Nationals extended their dominance over the New York Mets, winning 4-1 at Citi Field and sweeping their three game series.

Strasburg was all but unhittable in the Nationals triumph. “He really had fastball command from both sides of the plate. That’s where it starts with him,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said of his starter’s outing. “If he can do that, it just opens up everything else. He pitched well. He had a jam in the middle inning and he got out of it with a great double-play ball. He pitched well.”

The Nationals line-up, meanwhile, was just as dominant as Strasburg. The Nationals runs came on two home runs. Adam LaRoche hit his 17th home run in the first inning with Asdrubel Cabrera on base, while a revived Bryce Harper hit his sixth of the season with Ian Desmond on base in the fourth.

Harper’s recent performance has been a boon for the Nationals, who are counting on added production from their left fielder now that Ryan Zimmerman is on the disabled list. “If Bryce gets on track, watch out,” MASN commenter F.P. Santangelo said after Harper’s fourth inning home run.

“His strength is coming back, and if he gets a ball that is in a little bit, sometimes it hurts him. He feels it for a day or so, but that is part of the process coming back from that,” Williams said of his young star. “He is getting stronger by the day. He is seeing it better.”

The Nationals scored their runs against New York starter Dillon Gee, who proved effective against the Phillies in his last outing (one run in seven innings), but was undone by Washington round-trippers on Thursday. Gee was among the stalwarts on New York’s injury riddled starting rotation at the beginning of the year, but he left the ball in the middle of the plate in last night’s loss.

But the big news of the night was Stasburg, who was trying to bounce back from his worst outing of the season against the Braves — a five inning seven-earned-runs affair versus Atlanta. The righty ace was anything but shaky against the Mets, throwing 101 pitches, 66 of them for strikes.

“This game is funny,” Strasburg told the press after his win. “You can always learn something new. I think I’ve had bad games on the road. I think there’s things that I do that put me in a position where they can take a better swing at it. I’m just going to keep trying to learn as much as I can.”

Washington wrapped up its three game set in New York by relying on their shut down bullpen after Strasburg left the game at the end of seven. Tyler Clippard pitched a no hit eighth, while closer Rafael Soriano held the Madoffs hitless in the 9th, notching his 28th save.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The lone New York run on Thursday night came off the bat of Lucas Duda, whose single scored Nats killer Daniel Murphy, who’d singled off Strasburg to start the bottom of the 4th. Murphy has always hit well against the Nats, but as Matt Williams put it earlier this week — “the truth is that Murphy hits well against everyone . . . ”

The Nationals sweep in New York probably ended whatever hopes the Mets had of a post-season berth. Mets manager Terry Collins told the New York press following his team’s schooling of Philadelphia (last week), that they shouldn’t count New York out of the post-season just yet. But it now looks official: the Mets are eight games under .500 and 10.5 games back in the N.L. East . . .

Collins has been under scrutiny in New York, where Mets watchers have consistently questioned his odd in-game decisions, as well as his team’s inability to get on base. But the questions have apparently had little effect on the front office which, according to some baseball analysts, has decided to bring him back for a fifth season . . .

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Nats Outlast The Rain, And The Braves, 4-1

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

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After a nearly four hour rain delay that pushed Washington’s game against Atlanta into the early morning hours, the Nationals overcame the Braves in an 11 inning marathon, 4-1. The Washington win marked Atlanta’s ninth loss in ten games and pushed the Nationals 4.5 games ahead of the Braves in the National League East.

A bases loaded single off the bat of Wilson Ramos in the 11th inning was the difference in the game, as the Washington catcher plated Anthony Rendon for the go-ahead run. Kevin Frandsen followed Ramos with a double over the head of Jason Heyward, scoring Adam LaRoche (who had singled) and Bryce Harper (who had walked).

Skipper Matt Williams was pleased with his team’s effort. “Considering all that happened today, and the way we had to fight through the last couple of days, it was pretty good for us,” Williams said after the hard-fought victory. “We fought all the way.”

The game featured a solid pitchers’ duel, with Washington’s Tanner Roark matched up against Atlanta’s Aaron Harang. The two hurlers numbers were similar, with the Nats and Braves trading singles and runs through ten straight innings. Roark’s and Harang’s final lines (each threw seven complete and gave up a single earned run) reflected just how tightly the two teams play.

Washington scored first, in the sixth inning, on Adam LaRoche’s 16th home run of the season. Atlanta responded in the bottom of that frame, when Jason Heyward’s sacrifice fly scored Tommy La Stella. Washington’s bullpen was, once again, outstanding: Matt Thornton, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano held the Braves scoreless through four complete, with Soriano picking up his 26th save.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It’s mid-August (the dog days, when the season seems to go on forever), so analysts, pundits and columnists are searching for things to write and talk about. On Friday, MLB Network listed nominees for the A.L.’s MVP award, apparently because it’s never too soon to speculate . . .

Among those listed were Baltimore’s Adam Jones, L.A.’s Mike Trout, Detroit’s Victor Martinez, Seattle’s Robinson Cano and Oakland’s Josh Donaldson. The surprise in the list (at least for us), is Victor Martinez, who is worthy but often overshadowed by Detroit superstar Miguel Cabrera, who’s having an off year — at least for him . . .

Our pick is Adam Jones, who’s the heartbeat of the first place Orioles. You won’t find Jones at the top of the league in batting average (he’s hitting a respectable .285 on the year), but he’s plated 22 round trippers, which puts him in the company of Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols and he’s knocked in 70, which puts him 11th in the A.L . . .

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Roark Punishes The Reeling Reds

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

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Tanner Roark was all smiles when he walked off the mound after the 7th inning in Cincinnati last night, and for good reason. The young Washington righty was on his way to his tenth victory of the season, with the only thing left for the Nats to do was to call on one of baseball’s best bullpen to nail down the victory.

And that’s precisely what happened. Tyler Clippard came on the 8th to throw a 1-2-3 inning, while closer Rafael Soriano pitched the 9th inning to notch his 24th save of the season. And so that Nationals rolled to a 4-1 victory — winning for the seventh time in nine games and solidifying their tenuous place atop the National League East.

While Roark was supported by a 12 hit Washington attack (Denard Span was 4-5 and Anthony Rendon 2-4), this game was Roark’s. The righty gave up just three hits, struck out six and walked just one.

“It’s pretty cool just to think about,” Roark said of his performance during the 2014 campaign. “You dream ever since you’re a kid of getting to the big leagues. I took the opportunity and tried to run away with it.”

The Nationals attack victimized Cincinnati starter Alfredo Simon, who has struggled since the All Star break. In particular, Simon just couldn’t seem to master Span who, in addition to four singles, stole a base and knocked in a run. Span is 9 for 18 on Washington’s road trip with two four-hit games.

“He’s been great,” Nationals’ manager Matt Williams said of his star centerfielder. “The key for him is hitting the ball back through the middle. We’ve seen that over the last week or so, hitting the ball up the middle or the other way.”

The Reds, on the other hand, are in desperate need of a speedy singles hitter and a little bit of power. Since Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips went on the disabled list, Cincinnati has suffered a singles and power outage that has dimmed their prospects in the N.L. Central.

Reds fans are feeling it. “The Redlegs played like utter garbage,” Red Reporter intoned after the loss, “while the Senators looked bored. This game ain’t showing up on any This Week in Baseball highlight reels any time soon, unless they make a tape of ‘Least Impressive RBI Singles in Baseball History.’”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We admit — we’ve been a tad bit remiss in posting, but it’s not like we’re sitting at the beach. We’ve been involved in other issues over the last days, and realize that we have a bit of catching up to do. That said, it’s not like we’re not paying attention . . .

For instance. We note with some pride that what we’d said about the Reds just a day or two ago, has turned out to be true. They just can’t hit. A trade for Marlon Byrd now seems in the offing, though the Phillies must be salivating on what they’ll get for him now that the Redlegs are turning desperate . . .

Unless, of course, the Reds stand pat: Which would be the equivalent of waving the white flag. That appears to be what the Red Sox have done, though perhaps with something less than the finality that seems to infect the uncertain Cincinnati front office

Yesterday, the Red Sox swapped Jake Peavy to the San Francisco Giants for two pitching prospects, which is an admission that it’s time to look to the future in Boston. Last year was a feel good story for the Red Sox, but this year is a lot less so, though the Boston press (lacking a real hook on which to hang the Sox) keeps touting Brock Holt, the next best thing in Beantown . . .

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Baltimore Barrage Bombs The Nats In 11

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

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An old-fashioned pitchers’ duel that lasted through seven-plus innings pitting Chris Tillman against Stephen Strasburg gave way to an extra inning Baltimore barrage at Nationals Park on Monday night, with the Orioles coming away with an 11 inning 8-2 win in the first of a four game set of the Battle of the Beltways Series.

The Baltimore victory was triggered in the top of the 11th inning in a 2-2 tie game, when the Orioles sent nine batters to the plate against long reliever Craig Stammen. Over the next half inning (though not in this order), the Orioles scored six runs on two singles (from Nelson Cruz and Nick Hundley), a Nick Markakis double and home runs off the bats of Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado.

The big score in the 11th came off the bat of the otherwise slumping Chris Davis, who entered the game hitting under .200. “Stammen made some tough pitches, some close pitches,” Davis said after his 11th inning heroics. “I was just able to hang in there.” The Davis home run came on a 3-2 count when Stammen threw the power hitter a fastball that was high in the zone.

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“I really did not think he would be able to hit that pitch out,” Stammen said of the pitch to Davis. “He was right on it and he was looking for it. It was a little bit higher than I wanted.” The Davis round tripper seemed to tip the scales against the Nationals, as the Orioles showed why they’re one of the best hitting teams in the game.

In fact, however, the final score didn’t reflect what a tough, well-played and exciting pitchers’ duel the game was until it went into extra innings. Stephen Strasburg was nearly flawless in his start, throwing seven innings of four hit baseball while striking out nine. Baltimore starter Chris Tillman was nearly as good, matching Strasburg’s seven innings while striking out six.

The O’s and Nats both got on the scoreboard in the same way. Baltimore initial two runs came on a Nelson Cruz home run in the top of the 4th that scored Manny Machado, while the Nats first two runs came off the bat of Anthony Rendon who launched his 12th in the bottom of the 6th. Rendon’s round tripper scored Denard Span.

Manny Machado had a big night for the Orioles, going 5-6 with two RBIs. Nelson Cruz accounted for two more Baltimore runs in a 3-5 night. The big bat for Washington was Anthony Rendon, who was 2-5 and raised his season BA to .284.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Washington fans have plenty of reason to gripe about the final All Star selections, and gripe they have. A good case can be made that Rafael Soriano should have made the team as a closer ahead of Milwaukee head-case Francisco Rodriguez . . .

Soriano has better numbers than “K-Rod” and stacks up well against Aroldis Chapman, who made the team (in our opinion) more on the basis of his velocity than his 9th inning wizardry. If it were up to us (and of course, it isn’t), we would have removed K-Rod and Chapman and picked Soriano and savvy San Diego stalwart Huston Street . . .

Washington will be under-represented in Minneapolis, with one player on the roster. But the selection of Jordan Zimmerman was both right and obvious — he’s been Washington’s most consistent and feared starter, even given Stephen Strasburg’s latest snazzy numbers . . .

The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore made a strong case for Anthony Rendon being on the team over Matt Carpenter. Our view is that St. Louis skipper Mike Matheny can be justly accused of being a partisan, which we might come to expect from anyone in a Redbirds uniform. Cardinals fans have always struck us as believing that Busch Stadium is the world’s navel with the clydesdales the equivalent of the Bald Eagle . . .

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