Archive for the ‘atlanta braves’ Category

Nats Fall (Again) To The Pirates, Now At .500

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals rallied in the 6th inning in Pittsburgh, then again in the 8th inning and then again in the 9th inning, but all of these comebacks fell short — and Washington fell to Pittsburgh, 4-3. The Nationals recent spiral puts them at .500 for the season, with the team searching for answers.

The Nationals have now lost four of their last five games and are 3.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the N.L. East. On Friday night the problem was scoring runs in key situations, a problem Washington has dealt with all year. The Nationals were 1-9 with runners in scoring position.

The key to Pittsburgh’s victory, on the other hand, was solid pitching — or rather, solid enough pitching in tough situations that kept the Nationals off the board. While Washington outhit the Pirates, Pittsburgh’s arms were able to stifle the Nats scoring chances when it counted the most.

The Nationals loaded the bases in the 6th inning (a Wilson Ramos single, a Jayson Werth single — and an Ian Desmond HBP), but came away with a single run; then loaded the bases again in the 8th, but were unable to tie the game after putting two runs on the board.

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“We just haven’t able to catch any breaks,” center field Denard Span said of his team’s current troubles. “Guys [from opposing teams] are diving for balls — left and right — and are taking away some key hits that could change the game. We’ll stand up and weather the storm.”

The Pirates’ Charlie Morton notched his first win of the year, and while he wasn’t brilliant, he was able to pitch out of a number of jams and kept the Nationals from mounting a comeback. “I don’t think I really pitched great,” Morton said of his outing. “I think I pitched pretty well limiting the guys that got on from scoring.”

Jordan Zimmermann got the start for the Nationals and was his usual steady self. But Zimmermann threw a wild pitch in the second inning, then followed it by giving up a home run to Pedro Alvarez, leaving the game at 4-0 in favor of the Pirates and forcing the Nats to once again play from behind.

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Nats, Strasburg Fall To D-Backs

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

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Stephen Strasburg was his usual steady and solid self on Tuesday night in Arizona, but the Diamondbacks’ veteran righty Bronson Arroyo was better, as the Nationals fell to the Rattlers in Phoenix, 3-1. The Nationals were only able to push across a single run against Arroyo, who threw a seven hit complete game for his fourth victory of the 2014 campaign.

The lone Washington run came in the second inning, when Ian Desmond’s triple scored Wilson Ramos. But the National failed to capitalize on their chances that inning, as Monday’s hero Kevin Frandsen hit into a double play to end the threat. Strasburg kept the Nationals close, nearly matching Arroyo, by throwing eight innings of eight hit baseball.

“Overall I thought he pitched fine,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said of Strasburg’s outing. “Bronson was better tonight though. All over the zone with all the pitches that he had, he kept everybody off balance.”

Arizona scored on Strasburg in the bottom of the 4th on a Paul Goldschmidt double and a Miguel Montero single, then again in the fifth when Goldschmidt scorched another double, scoring Bronson Arroyo and Martin Prado. But it was Arroyo who was the difference in the game.

“That’s the great thing about baseball,” Arroyo said following the victory. “I don’t really have to beat Stephen, I just have to beat their batters for the most part.” A finesse pitcher, Arroyo threw 110 pitches in his complete game outing, 79 of them for strikes.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Arizona G.M. Kevin Towers might be the most unpopular man in Phoenix, with rumors swirling of his imminent firing — the result of a terrible start (4-14 in their first three weeks, the worst in franchise history) and a series of bad trades that have stripped Arizona’s pitching rotation . . .

Even the players have been speaking out. “I’ve never seen anything like it, to be honest with you,” third sacker Eric Chavez said at the end of April. “I’ve been on teams that weren’t very good, but at least I felt like we were competitive. So, it’s a bitter pill to swallow . . . ”

There seems little doubt, Towers has a lot to answer for. Nicknamed “the Gunslinger” for his penchant to pull the trigger on big trades, Towers’ hasn’t hesitated to swap home-grown players who (as he would say) haven’t panned out, for aging if experienced veterans who match manager Kirk Gibson’s “tough and gritty” mold . . .

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Kershaw Handcuffs The Nats

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

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Los Angeles lefty Clayton Kershaw returned to the mound for the first time since the end of March and led to Dodgers to an 8-3 victory over the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on Tuesday. Kershaw showed why he’s considered the best pitcher in baseball — throwing seven innings while striking out nine.

“It’s just good to be back,” Kershaw said of his performance. “It felt good tonight. They’ve got a great team over there. They’ve got a lot of guys that are tough outs over there. They got their hits. I was fortunate to limit the damage.”

While Washington’s line-up hit well against the southpaw, they were never able to string together enough hits to put him in any danger. Plus, as Nats fans no doubt noted, Kershaw was able to pitch out of shaky situations by relying on a curveball that has been compared to the one thrown by L.A. lefty Sandy Koufax.

As it turned out, however, the game turned on a strange series of errors in the top of the 6th inning. In the top of that frame Washington starter Blake Treinen bobbled a ball hit back to him from Kershaw, Dee Gordon reached base on an infield hit bobbled by Adam LaRoche and Carl Crawford reached on a squiggler to catcher Jose Lobaton. The Nationals were assessed two errors on the inning, but it could have easily been three.

By the time the top of the 6th was over, the Dodgers had scored three runs (on singles from Hanley Ramirez and Juan Uribe and a fielder’s choice out from Andre Ethier) and knocked an otherwise impressive Blake Treinen out of the game.

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Despite the loss, Washington rookie Treinen looked good in his first outing as a starter. The young six-foot-five fireballer has a hard fastball (clocked in the first inning at 98 mph) and a solid curve. Treinen was impressive until he reached his pitch count in the 6th, after which he was pulled for Nats long reliever Craig Stammen.

Treinen will now head back to Triple-A, but Nats’ skipper Matt Williams was so impressed by his outing that he says he’s hoping that Treinen will somehow, and eventually, find a way into the rotation. He’ll have a chance now for regular starts in Syracuse: “It will be nice to get him in a normal rotation so he could take it from here — from this start and move forward.”

Stammen was able to wiggle the Nationals out of the 6th inning without too much damage — and with the game still in reach. But the Dodgers touched lefty Ross Detwiler for four runs in the top of the 8th, putting the game out of reach. A mini rally from the Nationals in the bottom of that frame brought the Nationals to within five.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: All this yakking about how the A.L. East is the division to watch has got to stop. There’s no more exciting division this year than the N.L. East, which has turned into the equivalent of a high school fistfight — lots of circling and some wild haymakers . . .

The Atlanta Braves ended their seven game losing skid at home last night, depending for their 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on the spindly arm of veteran Gavin Floyd. Floyd had signed a $4 million one year deal with the Braves back in December, but he wasn’t slated to show up in Atlanta until just now because he was nursing a slow-to-heal right elbow . . .

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Another Failed 1st Leads To Nats Defeat

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals gave up yet another three runs in the top of the 1st inning, but this time the team was unable to fight back — and Washington fell to the Phillies, 7-2 on Saturday. The Phillies started fast, as Nats’ starter Tanner Roark gave up a single (to Jimmy Rollins) and a walk (to Chase Utley) before Ryan Howard hit his sixth home run of the year. That’s all the Phillies would need.

While the Nats are baffled by their first inning problems this season (“We’ve gone over the whole thing, the amount of pitches thrown in the bullpen prior to the game,” team skipper Matt Williams’ noted. “All the preparations are the same.”), on Saturday they faced a veteran pitcher with a reputation for putting his foot on an opponent’s neck and not letting up.

A.J. Burnett, once derided as just average in New York, threw six innings of three hit baseball, while riding Philadelphia’s bats to his second win of the season. Burnett struck out seven Washington hitters, while being backed by a suddenly potent Phillies’s line-up — with four hits from Jimmy Rollins and clutch hitting from Marlon Byrd.

The win on Saturday was one of Philadelphia’s best games of the season — a victory where the team seemed to be hitting (and pitching) on all cylinders. “Good offense up and down the lineup, good starting pitching and good bullpen,” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said of his team’s victory. “Real good combination.”

Tanner Roark’s outing, meanwhile, showed just how important it is for a pitcher to throw low in the zone. Roark threw a complete game shutout in his last outing (against San Diego). but his fastball was up in the zone on Saturday, and he paid the price.

“I didn’t have command of my fastball. That’s my bread and butter,” Roark said of his performance. “When you don’t have command of that and the ball is up, it goes a long way. That’s what happened tonight.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Just one week ago the Atlanta Braves, hobbled by season-ending injuries to two of their front-of-the-rotation starters, were being touted in baseball as the equivalent of the little engine that could. They’d overcome the injuries and were battling like gamecocks, running away in the N.L. East . . .

But last night the Braves lost their fifth in a row, leaving sixteen runners on base against the San Francisco Giants. And this, mind you, after being swept earlier this week by the Marlins, who played like the Miami Yankees — scoring 23 runs against Atlanta’s rebuilt aren’t-they-a-surprise rotation . . .

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Rendon, Zimmermann Crush Houston

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

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The Washington Nationals played one of their few laughers on Wednesday night, shutting out the Astros in Houston, 7-0. Jordan Zimmermann threw 6.1 innings of seven hit baseball in recording his second victory on the season, while Anthony Rendon was 4-5 with three RBIs.

Rendon’s night was one of the best for any Nat for the season, as he hit a home run, a double and two singles — one triple short of the cycle. It was an exciting game for Rendon, because Houston is his hometown. About 200-300 Rendon fans showed up at Minute Maid Park to cheer him on.

“There’s not many young guys that can hit the ball line to line like Anthony does,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said of Rendon’s performance. “He proved it again — double to right-center, single to right, double to left and a homer to right. Pretty impressive night.”

Starter Zimmermann admitted that Houston’s hit count (at 7) was a little high, but that he settled into his normal groove after the first two innings. “The first inning I threw 20-some pitches, and basically, the whole night I was battling back to get the pitch count to where I wanted it to be,” Zimmermann confirmed following the victory.

The Nationals have an odd day off on Thursday (their second this week), before opening a weekend series in Philadelphia. The Nationals are now two games back of the Braves, who lost again last night in Miami, where they were pounded, 9-3.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The days of “The Killer B’s” (Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Derek Bell –among others) are long gone in Houston. The forever rebuilding Astros must now wait for the development of a semi-stocked farm system, which could make them a contender in a couple of years. They hope . . .

“If you’re writing about Houston, it’s more of a prospect report than a major league report,” one scout told SI prior to the season. In essence, the Astros have three solid major league players in second sacker Jose Altuve, third baseman Matt Dominguez and center fielder Dexter Fowler, who they got from Colorado this last winter . . .

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LaRoche Grounds The ‘Stros

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

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Adam LaRoche’s RBI double to deep center in the top of the 8th tied the game, then his single in the 9th scored the winning run — and the Nationals went on to defeat the Astros, 4-3 on Tuesday night in Houston. The LaRoche hits did justice to his fast start: the first sacker is now hitting .312 on the year with 17 RBIs.

“It’s good for him because he’s not traditionally a fast starter,” manager Matt Williams said following the victory. “He really focused on it in spring training and really focused on driving one in. He’s going to hit homers with guys on base but that one’s big for us as evidenced tonight.

The Nationals also got a solid start from lefty Gio Gonzalez, who had problems early in the game in commanding his curveball; but Gio provided six solid innings of five hit baseball while striking out nine. The victory provided a lift for the Nationals on the road, after the team notched an only so-so homestand.

“Just need to get out of that cold air once in a while,” Gonzalez said in explaining the team’s performance in Houston. “Rooftop open, put a little humidity out there, and that helps. Then it was just back-and-forth battling.”

The game provided another example of how Washington can battle back from an early deficit. The team was down 3-2 until LaRoche came to the plate in the 8th, then battled to score the go ahead run in the 9th. Rafael Soriano provided his usual excitement in notching his fifth save, putting two Houston runners on in the 9th inning with two out.

The Houston victory also provided some improbable defensive plays, including a falling-backwards catch in center by Denard Span in the fourth inning. An inning earlier left fielder Kevin Frandsen snagged a ball high off the left field wall with an improbable (or impossible) backhanded snag. The Frandsen catch saved Washington a run in a tight ballgame.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: How will the Nationals fill the gaping hole left by Bryce Harper in left field? Don’t look to the line-up in Houston for answers. Matt Williams started Kevin Frandsen in left field in place of Harper (it’s now speculated that Harper won’t be back until after the All Star break), with Nate McLouth in center and Jayson Werth as the DH . . .

But that’s in inter-league play. We’d be surprised if McLouth didn’t play upwards of 80 percent of the games in left against N.L. opponents. After all, filling in for an injured outfielder is why G.M. Mike Rizzo went out and got him. So it’s McLouth in left, and get used to it  . . .

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Is There A “Nats Nation?”

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

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Last week the New York Times published a fascinating, and unusual, look at baseball loyalties. “Using aggregated data” provided by Facebook, the Times published a map of U.S. baseball loyalties, color-coded by team — then accompanied the map with fourteen separate maps showing the boundaries separating the teams.

As the Times explained: “The maps were created using estimates of team support based on how many Facebook users ‘liked’ each team in a ZIP code. We applied the algorithm to smooth the date and fill the gaps where the data was missing.” Put another way: using the maps, readers can find out which team a large aggregate of fans support in a specific ZIP code. The process can get obsessive, but it yields sometimes surprising results.

The Yankees and Red Sox (in particular), but also the Braves (to a lesser extent) have national followings. The Yankees are an “empire” and the Red Sox are a “nation.” The Yankees have more followers in Emery County, Utah for instance, than any of the closest nearby teams — the Rockies, Diamondbacks and Giants (who are third). Alaska? Alaska has a lot of Mariners fans, but the Red Sox and Yankees have a loyal following.

“A popular team like the Yankees has a huge presence in the New York area,” the Facebook entry on the findings says, “but its presence is felt all over the country and indeed the world.  The ‘Red Sox diaspora,’ despite being from a much smaller city, are also spread all over the country.”

As you might expect, the Braves (the Cobb Country Braves, as we have taken to calling them), dominate the Georgia fan base, but their loyalties extend well to the west and northeast, much as the Rangers dominate nearly all of Texas, except for the ZIP codes surrounding Houston.

We would have thought that the Cubs would have a loyal national following, but that’s not the case. But they dominate Chicago — except for the area around U.S. Cellular Field (on the South Side)) which then trails off into parts of northwest Indiana. But Chicago is, essentially “Wrigleyville.”

The New York Times says that California’s baseball loyalties reflect a group of “city states” — with the area divided by team loyalties based strictly on metropolitan areas. That’s right, but Angels and Padres’ fans are surrounded by the more popular Dodgers and Giants — who have been around longer (even in California) and have won more national championships.

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