Archive for the ‘atlanta braves’ Category

Strasburg, Cabrera Spark Eighth Straight Win

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

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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.

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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 . . .

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Nats Notes: Washington’s XBH Machine

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

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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.

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Nats Walk Off (Again), This Time In Extras — And In “A Classic”

Monday, August 18th, 2014

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Think of all the baseball cliches, and you will almost certainly touch on one that describes Washington’s 6-5 eleven inning walk-off triumph over the Pittsburgh Pirates: If you didn’t see it, you should have — if you weren’t there you should have been. Indeed, the Bucs-Nats tilt of August 17 will go down in D.C. baseball history as “a classic,” the kind of win remembered for a long time.

The game began modestly enough, with Washington’s Doug Fister facing off against Pirate ace Edinson Volquez. Fister had his usual ace stuff, allowing just five hits and no earned runs (the Pirates scored two in the 6th on two D.C. errors), while striking out five before being lifted after seven complete for 8th inning relief whiz Tyler Clippard.

Volquez was nearly as good (he’s 10-7 on the season, and is a workhorse), though he gave up a single earned run through 6.1 innings, while notching five strikeouts. But in the bottom of the 7th frame, the Nationals put three runs on the board, when Michael Taylor was hit by a pitch, Kevin Frandsen and Denard Span singled — and the Nationals plated three runs on fielders choice singles off the bats of Asdrubal Cabrera and Anthony Rendon.

Then, with the Nationals leading 4-2 in the 9th inning (and coasting to a seemingly assured victory), it all fell apart for the home towners. With Rafael Soriano on the mound to close the game (and searching for his 30th save), the Pirates struck for three runs.

Soriano’s troubled 9th began when the big righty hit Pirates outfielder Starling Marte. Soriano then gave up a single to Travis Snider, then allowed Marte to score and pinch runner Michael Martinez to advance to second on a wild pitch. Ike Davis was then walked. And although the Nats picked up an out on a Gaby Sanchez fielders’ choice, rookie sensation Gregory Polanco doubled to center to score sprinting pinch runner Jordy Mercer and Sanchez.

With Soriano slumping on the bench, reliever Matt Thornton got the Nationals out of the 9th, but the Nationals seemed deflated by the blown save — and headed for defeat. It was then that the fireworks began, courtesy of Jayson Werth, who’d been sidelined for the last week with a tweeky shoulder.

With one out in the 9th, Werth (who was hitting for Thornton) drew a walk from Pirates reliever Mark Melancon. Werth’s reappearance in the Nationals line-up reenergized the Nationals, with the right fielder advancing to third on a Denard Span single and scoring on a clutch fielders choice off the bat of Asdrubal Cabrera. Unaccountably, but dramatically, the Nationals had knotted the game at 5.

The dramatic Nationals fall, and rise, lasted through the scoreless 10th, with lefty reliever Ross Detwiler holding the Pirates scoreless. Then, in the bottom of the 11th, the Nationals walked off in dramatic fashion: on a Werth double, a move-em-over grounder to the right side from Denard Span and a game-winning sacrifice fly off the bat of uber-sub Scott Hairston.

“Today was a tribute to just the team mentality in general,” starter Doug Fister said of his team’s victory. “That’s a lesson learned for us, knowing that [if] something goes wrong, there’s 24 guys right behind you that pick you up. Whether it’s offense, whether it’s defense, guys are playing well together.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Pirates came into Washington with high hopes, but have now dropped five games in a row. “We get to play in front of 120,000 people over the weekend, playing a good team,” Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle said of his team’s effort. “Got to keep battling, score one more run than they — that didn’t happen for us this weekend . . .”

The three game Washington-Pirates set was worthy of October, with two walk-off Nationals wins and each game decided by a single run. The Nationals were saved from their sloppy play (two errors on Sunday that allowed two Pittsburgh runs, both in the 6th inning), by clutch at bats from Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos, Denard Span and Scott Hairston . . .

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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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“Wahoos” and “Chops” and “Chiefs” (cont.)

Monday, August 11th, 2014

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A reader writes of our column on the Indians, Braves and the Tomahawk Chop yesterday that, contrary to what we wrote, scalping was practiced by American Indians prior to the arrival of Columbus. The reader then provides proof of the claim. The article cited (“Who Scalps Whom?” and written by Diane E. Foulds) appeared in “Hawthorne In Salem”. It’s fascinating and well worth the read.

More plainly, the article provides solid evidence to refute what we so offhandedly and carelessly noted (but then, we are partisans on this kind of thing) and so we’ll take our medicine and bow to the facts. But we’ll add (in deference to being half right), that at least Indians weren’t the only ones to take scalps.

The reader then adds: “Personally I don’t associate the Tomahawk Chop with scalping, do you? I associate it with the Florida State cheer and axe chop that went to the Braves with Deion Sanders. The Braves have a tomahawk on their jerseys. What else do you do with a tomahawk but chop with it?”

All good points, and again we agree, but (once again) only in part. Tomahawks are (indeed) meant for chopping and that’s what you do with them, but the association with “scalping” seems to us obvious. Hmmm, well maybe not. After all, American Indians don’t seem to have a problem with the Chop, so maybe it’s just us.

Okay, okay, okay. We’ll come clean. What really bothers us is the fact that Atlanta fans do the Chop and all too regularly; it really drives us nuts. It’s particularly galling when it comes with Atlanta runners on base against the Nats (an all too often occurrence these days) and was much in evidence last night during Atlanta’s 3-1 triumph over our beloved Nine. We hate the Chop.

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Nats Drop Atlanta Series, Head To New York

Monday, August 11th, 2014

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At the end of their 3-1 loss in Atlanta on Sunday night, Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez waxed philosophical on his team’s series loss to the Braves. “There is still a lot of baseball left,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s not over yet. We still have to go out there and try to compete. We have the Mets coming up. We have to do our job and keep playing one series at a time.”

Gonzalez is precisely right of course, though Washington fans are clearly wondering if the Nationals can reverse their fortunes against Atlanta if the Nats end up playing the Braves in the off-season. The Nationals are 4-9 against the Braves this year, and 10-22 since the start of 2013, but squandered an opportunity to distance themselves from their N.L. East nemesis, despite a Braves losing streak that lasted through eight games.

There’s no denying — there are just some teams that Washington has trouble with. St. Louis is one of them, Atlanta is the other. “It’s almost like a playoff game when we play them, no matter when it is,” Atlanta starter Alex Wood said, following the Braves victory. “I think we’ve got some guys that are gamers in here and really enjoy that challenge and enjoy rising to that occasion.”

The Nationals inability to score with runners on board was not much in evidence on Sunday, instead it was Wood that was the problem. The Atlanta southpaw fanned twelve Nats in 7.1 innings of work, a season high for him. “Wood understood what this game meant and he made pitches when he needed,” Braves catcher Gerald Laird said. “He knew we needed some innings out of him, and he went out there and put up a really good performance.”

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Gio Set To Face The Braves In Series Finale

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

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