Archive for the ‘american league east’ Category

Nats Fall In Home Opener, 2-1

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

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A sellout crowd of over 42,000 rabid Nationals’ fans watched as Washington dropped its home opener to the Atlanta Braves, 2-1 on Friday afternoon at Nationals Park. The game was marred by a controversy involving a replay and three questionable Nationals’ base running gaffes.

The controversy erupted in the bottom of the 5th inning, when Washington’s Ian Desmond hit a ball down the left field line that skittered to the base of the outfield wall. Atlanta left fielder Justin Upton threw up his hands, claiming the ball had become lodged under the tarp as Desmond circled the bases.

Adding to the controversy was the fact that Upton threw up his hands (here is the video of the play) to indicate his inability to get to the ball, then picked it up and winged it back into the infield — but too late to nab Desmond. As the crowd chanted “home run, home run,” the umpires decided to review the play and, after consulting with replay officials in New York, awarded Desmond second base on a ground rule double. The decision took a Washington run off the board.

“One of the reasons we have replay is to make sure that we get the calls right. I have a question with that one, though, because of what happened after the fact,” Washington manager Matt Williams said after the game. “The fact that when he had to, he reached down and threw it in.”

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The reversal of the Desmond home run kept the Nationals from tying the Braves, who went on to score the winning run on a Chris Johnson sacrifice fly in the top of the 8th. The Nationals were also victimized by over-aggressiveness on the bases: Bryce Harper was caught between first and second and tagged out in the bottom of the second, Adam LaRoche was sent home and tagged out at the plate in the 4th and Desmond was caught between second and third after his ground rule double in the 5th.

Williams, who has said he will bring a more aggressive approach to the team, admitted that Desmond was probably over-anxious when he broke for third and was caught stealing in the 5th. “We want to take advantage of it when it’s there for us, but we also want to make sure that we are sure in that situation, so it was little overaggressive,” he confirmed.

Despite the loss, the Nationals continued to show that they have a more potent offense this year than last, outhitting the Braves 8-6. The team also got a solid start from Jordan Zimmermann, who threw five solid innings of four hit ball. The only Zimmermann hiccup was a home run off of the bat of Evan Gattis, subduing the sell-out crowd.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: There wasn’t anything particularly memorable about the Yankees’ Thursday tilt against the Astros in Houston, excepting for the 26,000-plus Houston fans who came to the ballpark expecting to see former free agent and Yankee newbie Jacoby Ellsbury in center field. Instead, he was on the bench because (as Yankee manager Joe Girardi noted) “he needed a rest . . .”

The decision brought derisive comments from baseball analysts, who questioned whether signing a player like Ellsbury (seven years, $153 million) and then sitting him makes any sense. Ever. Don’t teams sign players in order to play them? MLB Radio’s Jim Bowden, the former Nationals’ G.M., hooted the Ellsbury decision during his Sirius XM talk show yesterday . . .

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Cardinals Sweep The Nats, 4-1

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

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With their chances of a playoff berth at an end, the Washington Nationals played flat in St. Louis on Wednesday, losing to the Cardinals, 4-1. The loss notched a St. Louis sweep of the Nationals in the three game set and put the Cardinals a single game from winning the N.L. Central crown.

The loss also ensured that Washington righty Jordan Zimmermann will not reach twenty wins on the season, his 2013 campaign finishing at 19-9. The Cardinals were led by rookie pitcher Shelby Miller, who stifled Nats’ hitters through six innings, giving up just four hits and one earned run.

The St. Louis offense was not overwhelming, but it was enough to seal the win: St. Louis got its first run on a Matt Carpenter ground out that scored Daniel Descalso in the 3rd, a Yadier Molina single that scored two runs in fourth and a Matt Adams home run in the bottom of the 6th.

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The Cardinals have dominated the Nationals following their victory against them in the playoffs in 2012. The Nationals have faced the Cards six times this year and lost every game; they were swept in Washington in April (in three close games) and, now, in St. Louis in September.

“I’ll tell you: They kicked our butt in just about every aspect of the game,” Washington manager Davey Johnson said in the clubhouse after this team was swept yesterday. “I tip my hat to them. Matheny has done a good over there, I wish them luck. They had their way with us.”

In each of the two series this year, the Nationals have had trouble scoring runs off the Cardinals pitching staff. The key in the most recent series has been the St. Louis relief corps, and on Wednesday four Cardinal relievers (Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal) combined to hold the Nationals to a single hit and no runs.

“The Cardinals have done a good job with their pitching staff. They have good starters, but I think what sets them apart is their bullpen,” right fielder Jayson Werth acknowledged after Wednesday’s loss. “The bullpen is good. They have a lot of velocity and they have a lot of depth.”

MLB relief statistics show just how effective Cardinal relievers have been — they’ve given up just 3.74 runs per game, good enough for fifth best in baseball and are particularly good when holding a lead (fourth best in the National League). More impressive still is that the Cardinals relief corps is young: each of the four relievers on Wednesday were rookies.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The media powers that be are yakking about the “unbalanced schedule” in baseball, the topic providing running commentaries yesterday on both Mike & Mike on ESPN and then, later in the evening, on the MLB Network . . .

“The schedule is designed with the division races in mind,” Jayson Stark noted on ESPN. “For the first time every team in a division plays essentially the same schedule.” The problem (Stark noted) is that while baseball’s schedule emphasizes division rivalries (with each team in a division playing other division rivals up to nineteen times) that unbalance has a significant impact on the Wild Card races . . .

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Nats Fall In St. Louis, Eliminated From The Postseason

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

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Carlos Beltran homered and Adam Wainwright subdued Washington’s line-up and the St. Louis Cardinals went on to defeat the Nationals, 4-3 at Busch Stadium. The loss eliminated the Nationals from the post-season: they are six games out of the last Wild Card slot with five games to play.

The key to the St. Louis win was Beltran’s fifth inning home run (his 24th on the year) that scored John Jay, breaking a 2-2 tie and putting the Cardinals ahead 4-2. Washington could only muster a single run the rest of the way. “It doesn’t feel too good,” manager Davey Johnson said of the loss. “We gave it a good fight. We just came up short.

The Nationals put on a run in September, going 16-6 on the month and winning a key day-night double header against the Atlanta Braves on September 17 that vaulted that team back into contention for a playoff spot in the National League. But the Cardinals has always played Washington tough, and that was true on Monday night.

Washington starter Tanner Roark notched his first loss of the season after an impressive 7-0 run, but the Cardinals heavy hitting line-up victimized him for nine hits in just five innings. “I was getting behind hitters a lot,” Roark said after the loss. “When you do that with a good team, they are going to hit your mistakes when you get them back in the count. They are going to battle like they did tonight.”

Washington’s scoring came early, on a home run from Jayson Werth that scored Denard Span and gave the Nationals an early 2-0 lead. St. Louis clawed back, despite an additional run put on the board from the Nationals in the 8th inning: a fielder’s choice on a Ryan Zimmerman grounder the scored Anthony Rendon.

But three runs are rarely enough to defeat the Cardinals, who score just under five runs every game. Then too, Adam Wainwright got stronger on the mound as the game went on: Wainwright’s night ended after the 7th, with five strike outs while scattering five hits. The St. Louis victory was Wainwright’s 18th win on the year.

The Nationals stared into the night after a three-up-three-down ninth inning, stunned that their run for the postseason was over. The clubhouse was reportedly silent after the loss, as the team took stock of its “World Series or bust” season. “You put the uniform on to win, and we didn’t get it done,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “So I feel bad for everybody.”

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Mea Culpa: We take no special pride in getting things right and, like everyone else who writes about baseball, we get plenty wrong. We said at the beginning of the year that the Los Angeles Dodgers were overrated and would tank: that players who finished with an attitude in Boston would bring that same attitude to Los Angeles. Well . . .

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Harper’s Blast Leads The Nats

Friday, September 20th, 2013

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Bryce Harper’s first inning three run home run was enough to push the Nationals past the Marlins, as Washington downed Miami 3-2 on Thursday night at Nationals’ Park. Harper’s blast with Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth on base kept the Nats slim hopes of a playoff spot alive, with the home towners five games behind Cincinnati in the Wild Card hunt.

Harper’s home run provided the only scoring for Washington, leaving the game in the hands of southpaw starter Gio Gonzalez and three relievers. Harper was all smiles in the dugout after his dinger as he joined four other Nationals (Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche) in hitting twenty home runs on the year.

“He’s only going to get better,” Nats manager Davey Johnson said of his young slugger. “I think when you go through a period where you have all this attention and you try to live up to hype you try to do too much. I think he’s getting over that. I think he’s back to enjoying the game, and that’s great to see.”

Harper’s three RBIs might not have been enough against the Marlins line-up, but Gio Gonzalez provided a steady outing (two earned runs in six complete innings, while scattering seven hits) in notching his 11th win on the season. A trio of Nationals’ relievers (Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano) then shut down Miami in the last three frames.

The two Marlins’ runs came off an Ed Lucas single that scored Donovan Solano in the first and a Justin Ruggiano double that scored Giancarlo Stanton in the 6th. The Washington win slapped righty Henderson Alvarez with the loss, his fifth on the season.

The Washington victory came at a small personal price for Denard Span, who went 0-4, thus ending his 29 game hitting streak, the longest in the major leagues this year. The crowd of nearly 26,000 fans, realizing the Nationals center fielder would not extend his streak, gave Span a standing ovation after his fourth at bat. He was greeted by his teammates in the dugout with high-fives.

“You gotta tip your cap to Joe DiMaggio because that’s a record that I don’t think will ever be broke,” left fielder Bryce Harper said of Span’s streak after the game. “Denard made a good run at it. I tip my cap to him and I think everyone in baseball did.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Back in March, new ESPN analyst Alex Cora questioned whether the Red Sox had made the right decision in signing former Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino, saying that Boston should have gone after someone younger and more athletic . . .

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Done And Done? Nats Fall Hard To New York

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

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It might have been possible for the Washington Nationals to survive the 3-2 squeaker against the Mets on Friday, but it is going to be harder for Washington to keep its hope for a post-season slot alive after the Nats were routed by New York, 11-3 on Saturday. The Nationals now trail Cincinnati by 7.5 games in the N.L. Wild Card Race.

The hero for the New Yorkers on Saturday was Zack Wheeler, the young right handed hurler that has teamed with the now-injured Matt Harvey to give the Madoffs hope for the future. Wheeler tamed the suddenly hot Washington line-up by pitching into the 7th inning while holding the Nationals to five hits and two earned runs.

While the Nationals couldn’t get on track against New York’s rookie, Dan Haren had his worst outing of the year. Haren gave up nine hits and seven earned runs before being relieved in the third. Nearly everyone in the Mets’ line-up teed off against Washington’s pitching: Eric Young, Daniel Murphy, Josh Satin and Juan Lagares each had three hits in the game.

“We know that we’re running out of time,” center fielder Denard Span, who was 3-5 on the night, said. “Each game that goes by, it’s getting even more and more [important] for us to win. Tonight, just a terrible game. The type of loss like this came at the wrong time.”

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Despite the Mets’ seventeen hit barrage, there was little praise for Washington’s in-division competitors. Haren claimed that he had good stuff and Denard Span pointed out that the Mets were lucky to have some hits fall in. But it’s also true that the Nationals didn’t hit when they needed to, spraying eleven hits but leaving fourteen on base.

“We know what we’re up against,” Haren said following the loss. “Everyone is pretty down in here right now. We’ll go home and get sleep and come back and try to win tomorrow and go from there. There’s no use being down about it too long.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The 2003 Seattle Mariners were a heck of a team. Jamie Moyer won 21 games for the Navigators, while Gil Meche and Joel Pineiro anchored a sold staff, including a steady bullpen. But Seattle’s greatest asset was its defense: the team committed just 65 errors in 162 games, an MLB record . . .

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Harper, Roark Lead Nationals Rally

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

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At the end of the third inning in Kansas City on Friday, starter Gio Gonzalez replayed the body language used by Stephen Strasburg when he pitched against the Cubs in Chicago: he found himself on the bench and shaking his head. The difference between Gio and Stras, however, was that Gonzalez lasted just 3.1 innings.

Gonzalez had one of his worst outings of the year, pitching to just one out in the fourth, before being yanked. Yet, at the end of the game, the Nationals found themselves 11-10 victors in a back-and-forth contest that saw the home towners score a breathtaking seven runs in the fourth inning.

As it turned out, the Nationals needed every run they could get and, at the end of the game, wished they had more.

“You are going to have games where you are going to be iffy,” Gonzalez said after the improbable Nationals triumph. “You are going to be all over the place. Today was a perfect example. Fastball was flat and I couldn’t find the strike zone. When you fall behind on a good hitting team, they are going to do some damage.”

What was true for Gonzalez was true for veteran Kansas City starter Bruce Chen, who entered the 3rd with a 6-0 lead, and departed in the fourth behind 8-6. The Nationals onslaught in the fourth inning came courtesy of three singles, a sacrifice fly, a walk, a bases clearing double, another walk and a home run.

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The bases clearing double came off the bat of Bryce Harper, who served up a shot to the base of the right center field wall, while the home run was the work of hotter-then-a-skillet Jayson Werth — and it landed behind the seats in the Kauffman Stadium’s pool in deep center field.

It was then, in the wake of Gonzalez’s struggles, that new found wonderboy Tanner Roark entered the game. He was nothing less than brilliant and, along with a Bryce Harper diving catch with one out in the 9th inning, saved the game for the Nationals.

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Nats Triumph In Wrigley Long Ball Contest

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

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 The Nationals were outhit by the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday night (14 to 11), but home runs from Jayson Werth (his 18th on the season) and pinch hitter Scott Hairston (traded by the Cubs to Washington back in early July), propelled the home towners to an 11-6 victory at Wrigley Field.

The key blast came from Hairston in the top of the 7th inning with Bryce Harper and Werth on base. Hairston’s knock came after the Cubs had tied the game at six runs apiece after Washington took an early game lead. “I know that he wants to show these guys what they’re missing, and he did a heck of a job,” Washington skipper Davey Johnson explained.

Washington’s eleven runs were welcome after a nearly all-season scoring drought from Washington, who now stand at twelfth in the league in runs scored, ahead of only Miami, Philadelphia and San Francisco. “Eleven runs, you’d think it’s Christmas,” Johnson said. “It was a weird ballgame. All kinds of strange things happened. The offense came around.”

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With the wind blowing out, the Nats needed all the runs they could get, as starter Ross Ohlendorf (returning from the disabled list), gave up four runs on six hits over 4.1 innings. Nor did the Nats’ bullpen, a strong point for the team over the last weeks, step up to dampen the Cubs’ potent offense.

The usually reliable Tanner Roark relieved Ohlendorf in the fifth, but gave up two runs on four hits while pitching just 1.2 innings. Roark might have been nervous, as a bevy of family and friends cheered him on from Wrigley’s left field bleachers. But Craig Stammen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano capably closed out the game.

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