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Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014
Two home runs off the bat of Denard Span, plus a solid six inning outing from lefty Gio Gonzalez, led the Nationals to a 6-4 victory over the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Combined with a 7-0 shutout of the Braves at the hands of the Phillies, the Nationals now lead the N.L. East by seven games.
Never known as a long ball hitter (the center fielder has 31 in his seven years in the majors), Span’s round trippers in the third and fifth innings provided Washington with two of its four home runs in the game. Span was 2-5 in the game with three RBIs. Jayson Werth and Asdrubal Cabrera also homered for Washington.
“I really can’t explain it other than the home runs come in bulk,” Span said of his two home run game. “I’m just hitting the ball pretty good. I’m going out there and not trying to hit home runs. I hit the ball hard somewhere, and that’s really it.” The Nationals have hit fourteen home runs in the last four games.
“It’s not something that we live by. We manufacture better than we hit homers, but we’ll take them. You can’t give them back. We’ll try to win games however we can,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said of his team’s home run outburst.
The Nationals homer fest in L.A. came at the expense of Dodgers’ starter Roberto Hernandez, who was pulled by manager Don Mattingly after giving up five hits and five earned runs in 4.1 innings of work. Hernandez (now 2-2 on the season), attributed his poor outing to lack of command — leaving his fastball up in the strike zone to Nats hitters.
“I didn’t have command of my pitches from the first inning,” Hernandez said of his performance. “It was just a matter of things not working for me. It wasn’t that I had lost confidence.”
A frustrated Mattingly agreed that lack of command provided Washington with its early scoring opportunities: “You get behind in too many counts and you’ve got to pay,” he said. “You help them a lot by continuing to get behind in the count.”
But while Hernandez might have lost his command, it was clear that southpaw Gio Gonzalez found his. Gonzalez, who has struggled in 2014, won his first game since his victory against the Cubs on July 5. Gonzalez picked up the victory by pitching six solid innings while striking out four.
A bevy of Washington relievers kept the Nationals in front, with Drew Storen, Matt Thornton and Tyler Clippard giving up a single hit in two innings of work. As usual, closer Rafael Soriano provided a nail biting ending, giving up a run and two hits in the ninth inning before sealing his 31st save.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Four Philadelphia pitchers combined to no-hit the Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta on Sunday, providing the Phillies with a 7-0 blanking of their division rivals. While combined no hitters are unusual, they’re not a rarity. There have been eleven combined no-no’s in MLB history . . .
The combined no hitter came when Phillies skipper Ryne Sandberg decided to pinch hit for starter Cole Hamels when the lefty’s pitch count reached 108 after six complete innings. With a runner on second in the 6th and the temperature in hot and muggy Atlanta soaring, Sandberg thought he had little choice. “He was pretty well spent there,” Sandberg said . . .
Monday, September 1st, 2014
Two home runs from Bryce Harper, one in the second inning and one in the fourth, weren’t enough to lift the Nationals in Seattle, as Washington came out on the losing end of a 5-3 contest. The loss was the fourth in the last six games for the Nationals, who now travel to L.A. to face the Dodgers.
The Mariners win, which salvaged a single victory in the three game series, turned on the bat of Dustin Ackley, who homered and drove in four runs for Seattle — and made a loser of Washington starter Tanner Roark, who registered his ninth loss on the season against twelve wins.
The Nationals took an early lead in the game, posting single runs in the second, third and fourth innings off of Seattle starter Hisashi Iwakuma. Iwakuma threw six complete innings of five hit baseball for his 13th victory on the 2014 campaign.
Seattle’s big inning was the fifth, when Brad Miller singled on a line drive to center, Austin Jackson followed with a soft single to left, and Ackley took a 92 mph Roark fastball deep to right field to plate Seattle’s first three runs.
Ackley, a highly touted draft pick out of North Carolina, has been a late bloomer for the Mariners. “Listen, he’s a good player,” Seattle skipper Lloyd McClendon said of Ackley. “When he was drafted, he was the best college player in the draft, college hitter. Sometimes, it takes a while.”
The Nationals loss, coupled with Atlanta’s 1-0 win over the Miami Marlins, narrowed Washington’s lead over the Braves to six games in the National League East. After two exciting victories in Seattle on Friday and Saturday, the Nationals offense was non-existent on Sunday, with Washington coming away with only six hits against Seattle pitching.
The good news for the Nationals is that, after several weeks of struggling (after returning from an injury that kept him out 57 games), Harper has finally found his groove — and his swing. Sunday’s outing gave him seven home runs in his last 23 games. The left fielder is hitting .306 with seven home runs and 14 RBIs since August 7.
“I feel pretty good out there. I’m trying to put together some good at-bats,” Harper said after his team’s loss. “I get my work in every day and see how I feel every single day. Stick to the same routine, same plan and try to execute.” New acquisition Nate Schierholtz also homered (in the third inning) for the home towners.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It was all about pitching in Atlanta, where Braves southpaw Alex Wood struck out twelve in leading the Chops to a nail biting 1-0 victory over the lumbering Marlins. The Braves victory came off the bat of Evan Gattis, who’s second inning solo shot proved the difference in the game . . .
In San Francisco, meanwhile, the Giants showed they’re still very much in the race for the N.L. West flag by grabbing a sweep against the suddenly reeling Brewers. Sunday’s victory was a laugher, with San Francisco plating fifteen runs on sixteen hits. Pablo Sandoval had a two run homer and three RBIs in the victory . . .
The San Francisco win was the 15th on the season from Giants’ ace Madison Bumgarner, who notched seven strikeouts in six innings. The game also featured the first appearance of the season of Tim Lincecum in relief. The two time Cy Young Award winner pitched the eighth and ninth innings, but gave up two runs on three hits . . .
Sunday, August 31st, 2014
When Stephen Strasburg is on there is simply no one better, and the Washington ace showed why on Saturday night, throwing 7.2 innings while striking out eight in leading the Nationals to a 3-1 victory against the Mariners in Seattle. Strasburg’s eight Ks set a franchise record for strikeouts in a year, surpassing that set by Gio Gonzalez two years ago.
The Strasburg victory was a vindication for the righty, who struggled in his last outing and has been viewed as inconsistent by many baseball analysts. He was anything but on Saturday, walking none and allowing a single earned run (on a Dustin Ackley home run), in notching his 11th victory of the season.
“Just the fact that he had two good ones and then a little bit of a clunker, and tonight to come back and answer, for him is important,” Washington skipper Matt Williams said of Strasburg. “For him, it’s just that if he throws it where he wants to, he can be dominant out there.
“I had pretty good fastball command today and kind of set up my other pitches,” Strasburg said of his outing. “I wanted to go out and give everything I had until [Williams] took the ball out of my hand. I just stuck to the game plan. I just had to execute pitches. I made them hit my best stuff.”
The Nationals scored early off of Seattle starter Roenis Elias. The Nationals plated two runs in the first inning when Jayson Werth hit his fifteenth home run of the season, scoring Denard Span who had reached on an error. Washington added a third run on an Anthony Rendon double in the fifth, which scored Jose Loboton.
The 3-1 victory put the Nationals up by seven games in the National League East, as the Braves lost to the Marlins 4-0 in Atlanta. The Nationals have a shot at sweeping Seattle today, with Tanner Roark facing off against the Mariners Hisashi Iwakuma.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: MASN on-field analyst Dan Kolko engaged in an interesting bit of speculation on Saturday, pointing out that if the Nationals had finished just a bit better back in 2008, Seattle would have drafted Stephen Strasburg first overall in 2009, with Dustin Ackley falling to the Nationals with the second overall pick . . .
Seattle thought that the North Carolina hitter was bound for stardom and he might well be, but it’s taken him some time to develop — so long, in fact, that many Mariners fans were will to label him as a “bust” at any point over the intervening years. But Ackley, after hitting just .215 up to July 1, has found his swing and is hitting .313 since . . .
Seattle partisans point to the addition of Robinson Cano as the reason for Seattle’s revival, but the club was 16-8 in August, when Ackley drove in 19 of his 55 RBIs. Ackley credits his turnaround to fixing a glitch in his swing . . .
Saturday, August 30th, 2014
Six Washington home runs, and six steady innings from righty Jordan Zimmermann, pushed the Nationals past Felix Hernandez (perhaps the best right-handed pitcher in the American League), as the Nats went on to down the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Park on Friday night, 8-3.
With “the King’s Court” along the left field line looking on in stunned silence, Hernandez gave up home runs to Anthony Rendon (in the first inning), Jayson Werth (in the third inning), and Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos — both in the fourth inning. It was the third poor outing in a row for Hernandez.
“It was a tough day,” Hernandez admitted to the press in talking about Seattle’s loss. “I couldn’t get out of the middle of the plate the first four innings. I was up and I got crushed. Everything was off.”
The victory snapped a three game losing streak for the Nationals, who were swept in Philadelphia earlier in the week. “They were aggressive with Felix,” Nats skipper Matt Williams noted in speaking of his hitters. “They got some balls up in the zone to hit. It’s a big ballpark. You don’t expect that in a park like this. But then, we put some good swings on it.”
Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann, meanwhile, righted himself after a after a shaky first inning (Dustin Ackley tripled, Robinson Cano walked and Kendrys Morales and Kyle Seager singled to score two), to throw six complete innings in striking out eight Mariners. This was Zimmermann’s tenth win of the season.
“I was a little strong the first, second inning. Fastball was up and I couldn’t get it down,” Zimmermann said after his team’s victory. “Throwing that many pitches helped me a little bit.”
The Nationals tacked on three runs in the 8th and 9th innings, once again as a result of the long ball. Bryce Harper hit the 50th home run of his career in the 8th, followed by a 409 foot shot by Wilson Ramos — his second home run of the game. Adam LaRoche put the game away in the 9th with a sacrifice fly that scored Denard Span.
Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano pitched well in relief of Zimmermann. The trio gave up three hits and one run (all of them while Soriano was on the mound) in three innings of relief.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Atlanta Braves are gamely attempting to stay in the N.L. East race, downing the Marlins last night in Atlanta, 5-2. As usual, the Braves relied on the long ball to secure the victory, with Justin Upton and Jordany Valdespin each hitting home runs . . .
It’s interesting to track the fate of both the Nationals and Braves through a comparison of their schedules. Earlier in August, Atlanta made nearly the same road trip to the Left Coast that the Nationals are making now. The Braves dropped a three game set to the Padres, lost both of their games versus the Mariners and then (after facing the Nats), dropped three of four to the Dodgers at home . . .
Last night’s win in Atlanta kept the Braves just six back of the Nationals, as teams enter the final month of the season. An N.L. East pennant isn’t necessarily out of reach for Atlanta, but there’s only 29 games left to play and Atlanta would have to come close to sweeping Washington in the six games they have yet to play against them to have a shot at the flag . . .
Thursday, August 21st, 2014
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.”
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 . . .
Wednesday, August 20th, 2014
Stephen Strasburg threw eight complete innings of three hit baseball and newbie Nat Asdrubal Cabrera’s line drive double capped a six run third inning and the Washington Nine notched their eighth win in a row, in a convincing 8-1 rout of the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday night at Nationals Park.
This was a dominant outing for Strasburg who notched his tenth win on the year. “I guess it’s what the doctor ordered,” Strasburg said after his win. “I just wanted to go out there and build off the last start and keep doing the things that I’ve been trying to work on. [Catcher Jose Lobaton] called a great game, we played great defense.”
Washington’s onslaught victimized Arizona starter Chase Anderson, who was pulled in the third inning after pitching to six batters, but without getting an out. The frame featured a single (and stolen base) from Denard Span, singles from Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, and Bryce Harper, a walk to Adam LaRoche and Cabrera’s gap double that cleared the bases.
Cabrera has had key hits in each of the last four games, but notched three RBIs on Tuesday. “He’s a pro,” Manager Matt Williams said of his new second sacker. “His time at shortstop I think helps everything. Coming in, he hadn’t played second base in a while, but switch-hitting capabilities, been in situations like this, hitting in the middle of the order of a team, and a contending team, helps everything.”
Ian Desmond wielded the other big bat for the Nationals, going 3-4 on the night while accumulating four RBIs. “It’s one of those nights where I didn’t hit it super well, but I got some hits,” Desmond said. “Fortunately for me, guys were on base in front of me. They have been doing that all year long. I’ve been trying to do a better job getting on for Bryce [Harper].
The punchless D-Backs were powerless against Strasburg, but even less so against close-out lefty Jerry Blevins, who fanned two in a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth. But the night was Strasburg’s.
“He had his fastball working, he was locating,” D-backs second baseman Aaron Hill said. “He’s one of the better fastball pitchers in the game, and we were hoping to maybe get his pitch count up a little bit and get into the bullpen, and it just didn’t happen.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We’re not inclined to give Baseball Tonight commenter and former major league righty Rick Sutcliffe any kind of love at all — his BT monologues are off-putting, long-winded and sometime incoherent. We loved him as a player, honestly, but . . .
But just this once we’ll give him credit. Back on August 8, Sutcliffe told Baseball Tonight aficionados that the reason Strasburg had authored such a lousy outing that day against the Braves was that he “wasn’t throwing the ball inside.” Strasburg’s inability to “control the inside part of the plate,” Sutcliffe said, was allowing hitters to lean into his outside pitches . . .
We’ve learned since then that Sutcliffe’s views reflected what the Nationals themselves were thinking. In the wake of the righty’s poor outing against the Braves, pitching guru Steve McCatty had an intense side session with Stras to polish his inside pitching. The results have been impressive . . .
Tuesday, August 19th, 2014
There are now less than 40 games to go in the regular season and we are one game into a home series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Washington Nationals are seventeen games over .500 and lead the division by six games on the back of a series loss in Atlanta and sweeps of the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Nats are working on their longest winning streak of the season (currently seven games long), a good place to be in the home stretch.
The last three wins were each walk-offs, courtesy of catcher Wilson Ramos on Saturday, pinch hitter Scott Hairston on Sunday, and first sacker Adam LaRoche on Monday.
The compulsion to grind has been key over the streak. The Nats have pulled off multiple come-from-behind wins over the past ten games and came within a hair of doing so in the first game against the Barves.
Offensively, these wins were built not so much on the long ball, but on extra base hits and small ball. The addition of Asdrubal Cabrera and, most recently, Nate Schierholtz will only enhance that capacity: both of them are notorious gappers and Cabrera is a doubles machine.
Over the last ten games, these are the XBHs the Nats have tallied (not including the fourteen homers):
• Denard Span: a triple, three doubles, and a stolen base
• Anthony Rendon: a triple and a stolen base
• Wilson Ramos: two doubles
• Asdrubal Cabrera: a double and a sac fly
• Kevin Frandsen: a double and a sac fly
• Jayson Werth: a double and a sac fly
• Adam LaRoche: a double and a stolen base
• Bryce Harper: a sac fly
• Scott Hairston: a sac fly
• Ian Desmond: a stolen base
• Stephen Strasburg: a sacrifice
In other words, over the past ten games, every member of the regular starting lineup, two bench guys, and a pitcher were getting in scoring position, driving in runs, and moving runners. That’s not only impressive, it’s been the key to the recent Nats surge.