Archive for the ‘Arizona Diamondbacks’ Category

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

Monday, August 25th, 2014

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

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

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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

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

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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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LaRoche Blast Lifts Nats, Streak Now At Seven

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

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Adam LaRoche’s dramatic 11th inning home run lifted the Nats to their seventh straight victory (and their third walk-off win in a row), as Washington slid past the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night, 5-4. The round tripper came off of rookie reliever Will Harris and was the first walk off home run of LaRoche’s career.

The LaRoche homer hit off the facade of the upper deck in right field, as Nationals fans rose in a deafening cheer. “I got every bit of that one,” LaRoche said after the Nationals victory. “I don’t know how we got these walk-off situations the last few days, but we have. I managed to get my first one. It took me long enough. So it’s a good feeling.”

The walk off homer was the culmination of a strange night for the ball club, which found itself in a see-saw battle with a team that is nearly twenty games under .500. While Nats starter Jordan Zimmermann pitched well (seven innings, four hits and three earned runs), the D’Backs had victimized the righty on a pair of lead-off walks in the 5th and 8th innings. In both cases, Arizona was able to turn the walks into runs.

In the 5h inning, Zimmermann walked Mark Trumbo, who moved to third on a single and sacrifice bunt and then scored on a Jake Lamb sacrifice fly. In the 8th, Zimmermann walked Lamb, who then scored on a Didi Gregorius home run. The Nationals forfeited a 2-1 lead and were six outs away from a victory before the Gregorius homer.

“One pitch, and it looked a little worse than what it is. In that situation, I want to throw a strike,” Zimmermann said of his eighth inning troubles. “Everyone knows I don’t want to walk another guy. [Gregorius] was ready for it and got the bat on the ball.”

The strange night continued for the Nationals, who entered the 9th with a one run lead. But reliever Tyler Clippard, pitching in a closing role to give Rafael Soriano a rest, gave up a game-tying home run to David Peralta. It was the first home run given up by Clippard since mid-April and ended any chance the Nats had of ending the game in nine.

The Nationals kept pace with the D’Backs, but only just — waiting until the seventh inning to put their first two runs on the board (the result of an Ian Desmond walk and a Wilson Ramos home run blast to center), then following it up with two more in the eighth, when Denard Span doubled, Anthony Rendon tripled and Jayson Werth sacrificed Rendon home.

With the score knotted at four apiece and the game headed into extra innings, Nats skipper Matt Williams called on reliever Craig Stammen to keep the D’backs off the board. As usual, Stammen played Houdini for the Nationals crowd, loading the bases in the top of the 11th before striking out Lamb, Gregorius and inducing a Cliff Pennington ground out.

“It feels like every break is going our way,” Stammen said of the Nationals victory. “You don’t get out of a bases-loaded jam very often. It’s a 1-in-25 thing. Walk-off home run, two outs in the 11th inning. Coming back when we’re down and all that stuff. And giving up home runs and then coming back and scoring more runs, it’s just resiliency.”

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The Wisdom Of Section 1-2-9: There were just over 21,000 in attendance for Monday night’s theatrics, but the regulars of Section 1-2-9 didn’t seem to mind. “There’s a football game on, so there’s that,” one season ticket holder remarked. Another regular shook his head. “I’d rather be here,” he noted. “We can always see those other guys . . .”

Not surprisingly, the early innings of the game were taken up with verbal replays of the two weekend victories over the Pirates (“you shoulda been here, I’ve never seen anything like it,” one fan noted), and praise for a team that, as one regular noted, ” wasn’t nearly this good back in April or May . . .”

Soon enough, and predictably, the talk turned to the struggles of Bryce Harper, a common theme among Nationals fans who think it’s past time that he broke out. “It must bug him that he’s not the face of the franchise,” one 1-2-9 veteran commenter noted. And so who is? he was asked. There was only a moment’s hesitation: “Right now, it’s Denard Span . . .”

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Nats Collapse In The 9th, Lose In Miami

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

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In what had to be considered the most important game of the year for the Marlins, the Miami Nine scored four runs in the 9th inning on Monday night, and walked off with a stunning 7-6 win against the Nationals. The Nationals entered the 9th with what seemed a sure-thing victory, but Miami capitalized on a poor outing from Nats closer Rafael Soriano to win the game.

Soriano began the catastrophic 9th by walking Casey McGehee, the Marlins’ lead-off hitter, then gave up a double to Garrett Jones. A Marcell Ozuna single then scored McGehee and Miami was suddenly in the game with no one out. Jones then scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Adeiny Hechavarria then laced a triple, after Soriano gave up a wild pitch.

Even then, the Nats were still in the game, though Miami had tied it at six. But after closer Soriano hit Donovan Solano with a pitch, Nats manager Matt Williams pulled Soriano in favor of lefty Jerry Blevins. Blevins struck out Christian Yelich before giving up the game winning single to Jeff Baker.

The game was an absolute heart breaker for Nationals fans, who’d seen their team take two of three from Cincinnati and play well on the road. Before Monday night, it even looked as if the Nationals might put some distance between themselves and the second place Atlanta Braves, who scraped by the Padres, 2-0.

The loss came at the expense of Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann, who’d pitched one of his best games of the year. Zimmermann threw seven complete innings while giving up just four hits and striking out six. The young righty ace of the Nationals staff had a fastball that Miami’s hitters couldn’t seem to touch.

“He was really good tonight. He was down in the zone, he had a great slider,” Nats’ skipper Matt Williams said of Zimmermann’s outing. “Much better than his last one. The last one was just rust. Tonight, he proved that he is back on it.”

Ross Detwiler and Drew Storen came in in relief of Zimmermann, and while lefty Detwiler gave up a single run on two hits, the Nationals were still in line for the victory — with their top closer (“the best closer in the game,” as the Washington Post described him today) coming into the game.

“Bad day for me,” Soriano said of his performance in the ninth inning. “Every pitch that I threw, I had no command. Everything that I tried to throw didn’t work.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Marlins are trying to decide whether to be buyers or sellers, with the decision hinging on how they would do against the Nationals. Their stunning win tonight will undoubtedly help them to make the decision, though they remain under .500 by a single game and six games back in the standings . . .

It’s easy to see what the Marlins need: all you need do is take a look at their line-up. The Marlins can hit; they are an on-base team that registers just a tick above the Nationals in runs scored. That’s not true for their pitching staff, which ranks 11th in the National League with a 3.92 ERA . . .

The problem is that pitching isn’t that easy to find and Miami would probably hesitate to give up a top prospect for either a rental or a high-priced starter. Nor are the Marlins willing to part with any of their bullpen pieces, though they’ve reportedly received calls on fireballer Steve Cishek, who wracked up five saves in Miami’s just-completed 6-1 road trip . . .

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Padres Are No Match For Zimmermann

Monday, June 9th, 2014

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The Padres saw the very best the Nationals have on Sunday, as Jordan Zimmermann had a perfect game going into the 6th inning and delivered a two hit shutout, leading the Nationals to a 6-0 win over San Diego. The Zimmermann gem captured the series 2-1 and provided the best antidote possible to the tough loss the team had suffered on Friday.

In the complete game shutout, Zimmermann threw 114 pitches, 83 of them for strikes. “For the most part he was down in the zone, painting corner to corner,” Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso, the Padres’ hero on Friday, said. “He commands the ball so well, gets ahead of guys really quick. We couldn’t really put any good swings on him.”

“I was throwing strikes and the guys got me some runs early,” Zimmermann said following his victory. “My mentality changed to pour strikes into the zone and fill it up. Big ballpark, just let them hit the ball and I had a lot of strikeouts today which means my fastball was pretty good and I was able to locate it pretty good.” Zimmermann is now 5-2 on the year.

Nationals skipper Matt Williams had nothing but praise for his young righty. “It’s good. Today helps our bullpen. They have been taxed until now,” he said after the victory. “Jordan has the ability to save your bullpen.” Williams called the Zimmermann performance “outstanding,” particularly coming after a tough loss.

“From the first pitch, he was in the strike zone again,” Williams added. “Strike one is important. He was able to do that today. Fastball command — he was throwing it exactly where he wanted to throw it.” In fact, Zimmermann faced just 29 batters during Sunday’s game and threw first strikes to 22 of them.

Ian Desmond continued to have the hot hand at the plate. He was 2-5 on Sunday with two RBIs and smoked a round tripper in the second inning off of San Diego southpaw starter Eric Stults. Danny Espinosa, who continues to surge, as well as Jayson Werth, each had two hits.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The stars seem to be aligning for the Nationals. The Bravos took a 2-0 lead into the 7th inning in Arizona on Sunday, but came away losers after the Diamondbacks put six on the board in the bottom of that frame. The rally was led by Paul Goldschmidt and rookie David Peralta, who homered for Arizona during the D-Backs comeback, victimizing Atlanta starter Aaron Harang . . .

Say what you will about Arizona (and we have a lot to say, not much of it good), they know how to win when the Nationals need them to. The D-Backs are desperately trying to climb back into the race in the N.L. West (frankly, we will give you better odds on The Second Coming), which means they have to win at home — where they’ve been (at an embarrassing 11-23) simply atrocious . . .

The Arizona win over the boys from Cobb County, when coupled with Miami’s win in Chicago, knots up the N.L. Least, where the Nats, Braves and Marlins are snarling and circling and in a dead tie . . .

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants (the team the Nationals, gulp, will face next), were busy wrapping up their series sweep against the New York Mets, who are slipping and sliding into fourth place, as they sprint to the bottom against the still hapless Phillies . . .

The Giants are almost mindlessly good, though we are left to wonder why. No one on San Francisco’s starting nine on Sunday was (or is) hitting over .300. Of course, Angel Pagan was out of the line-up (he’s at .323, good for fifth in the National League), but still. Their next best hitter is Hunter Pence, at .290. Pablo Sandoval, the Panda (gag) is only at .247, with just eight home runs . . .

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Nats Notes: The Positives In The Arizona Series

Friday, May 16th, 2014

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It wasn’t the absolute best, but the Washington Nationals’ series win over the Arizona Diamondbacks was a much needed positive end to a rough road trip to the Left Coast. The Nats’ bats couldn’t come alive against D-backs starter Bronson Arroyo in Game Two, but that’s hardly a knock against the home towners. Arroyo went the distance and chopped and chipped his stuff so well that it at times the horsehide seemed to move in slow motion. Nats hitters just couldn’t seem to focus.

Jordan Zimmermann again illustrated that he doesn’t do well with extra rest, giving up five earned runs in 5.2 innings in Game 1. And Stras was good, but not good enough to best Arroyo. But the good news for Nats Nation is that new acquisition Doug Fister shook off his (very) lackluster start in Oakland and pitched like the guy the Nats thought they were getting — he threw six strikeouts and induced ten groundball outs in his start against the Snakes.

One might be tempted to say that Fister’s start wasn’t a great test (need we point out: his semi-gem was against the second-worst team in the league), but bear in mind that Arizona is currently fourth in the National League in team batting average. That’s not nothing.

The fielding in this series was . . . fine. Four double plays in three games, but Ian Desmond racked up two more errors at shortstop. Rightfielder Jayson Werth did get an outfield assist and . . . and . . .  and nothing else really notable happened.

The Nationals’ lineup capitalizde where it could. Ian Desmond was a standout (finally), racking up four hits and four RBIs in the series. It looks like he’s taken some of the oomf out of his swing, giving it 75 percent instead of 135 percent, and that’s working well. Finally, finally — he isn’t overswinging. (Hey, maybe he’s been reading CFG.)

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