Archive for the ‘atlanta braves’ Category

Strasburg Returns To Form, Blanks The Phillies

Monday, August 4th, 2014

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After a short stint at Cleveland’s Progressive Field (where we saw the Indians blank the lowly Rangers, 2-0), we returned just in time to see Washington righty Stephan Strasburg reclaim his rightful place as the Nat’s starting ace. On Sunday afternoon, Strasburg showed the form that he first exhibited in his first 14k game, taming the Phillies with 10 strikeouts and leading Washington to a 4-0 victory.

Strasburg was dominant: he threw 17 of 25 first strike pitches, tossed seven complete innings, walked a single batter and lowered his season ERA to 3.39 in notching his eighth win of the season. “Stephen was the guy we went to the first day of the season, he’s the guy we went to after the (All-Star) break, and he’s proven why he’s a really good pitcher,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said after the win.

While baseball analysts point to Strasburg’s fastball as the primary reason for his success, the flamethrower’s most effective weapon on Sunday was his curveball and change-up, which had Phillies right handed hitters chasing balls that were low and away and had left handed hitters flailing at inside pitches on their hands.

“He was focused on every hitter,” Washington backstop Jose Lobaton said. “He was just in the corner a lot. He was throwing the breaking ball, changeup, he was using everything today. Everything was good. He knew what he was doing. Today, he was pounding the zone. The fastball had more life today. The key was, he knew the hitters.”

Strasburg (and Washington’s) victory came against Phillie Cole Hamels, who finds himself still in a Philadelphia uniform after everyone had him heading to nearly every team in baseball at the trade deadline. Hamels was not nearly as effective as Strasburg, but he put up a seven inning fight to keep his team within one run of the Nats through seven innings.

This was another wasted game for Philadelphia, which saw their GM do nothing at the trading deadline to improve the team’s chance of lifting themselves out of the National League East cellar. “Tough games, it comes down to timely hitting and execution,” Hamels said after the loss, his sixth of the season. “I wasn’t able to execute the one pitch, and then we weren’t able to execute and get some timely hitting.”

Washington piled on three runs in the eighth inning, after center fielder Denard Span had put the Nationals on the board with an RBI single in the bottom of the third. Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon each had RBI doubles for Washington.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We’re gone for three days and what happens? The Nationals score eleven runs on fourteen hits in a romp against the Phils (and who wouldn’t want to see that?) and Washington extends their lead over Atlanta in the N.L. East . . .

But the trip to Asdrubal Cabrera’s former home city was worth it — as we were treated to a 2-0 Cleveland Indians shutout over the holy-cow-are-they-bad Texas Rangers . . .

Our stint at Cleveland’s Progressive Field provided us the opportunity to eyeball an Indians franchise that is gamely attempting to recreate the magic of the mid and late 1990s, when the Wahoos were the class of the American League and came itchy close to being the best team in the game . . .

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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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Desmond Is 5-5 In Nats 7-2 Win

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

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Ian Desmond was 5-5 with two RBIs, Doug Fister threw 5.2 innings of solid baseball and reliever Aaron Barrett snuffed out a dangerous Rockies’ rally, as Washington went on to beat Colorado at Coors Field, 7-2. The victory, coupled with a Braves’ loss, put the Nationals in first place in the N.L. East.

Desmond’s night was the talk of the Nationals clubhouse following the victory. While the Washington shortstop has hit for power all season, he’s struggled to raise his batting average. But his 5-5 night against the Rockies raised his 2014 batting average to .253, a distinct improvement from his anemic April and May.

“I just thought he stayed middle of the diamond and didn’t overswing,” Nats manager Matt Williams concluded. “He hit a couple of balls back through the middle, one the other way. When he’s swinging it and going good, that’s what you’ll see.”

“I just look for the ball and swing as hard as I can,” Desmond said after the Washington victory. That may be, but whatever the shortstop is doing, it seems to be working. Desmond hit his 17th home run of the season in the top of the 4th inning to spark Washington’s offense.

The Washington win gave starter Doug Fister is 9th victory of the year, as the right hander suffocated Colorado’s bat-heavy line-up into the sixth inning. But the turning point in the game came when reliever Aaron Barrett was called on to douse a Colorado rally with two outs in the 6th. Barrett struck out Brandon Barnes with the bases loaded to end the threat.

The Washington win was also spurred by Colorado’s sloppy play. Two throwing errors by Colorado starter Franklin Morales in the 4th inning sparked a big inning for the Nationals. Morales threw wide to first on a Doug Fister sacrifice bunt, then overthrew first on a pickoff attempt. The second error cost Colorado a run, as it scored Danny Espinosa from third.

For the second night in a row the Nationals broke out their bats. In addition to Desmond’s impressive five hit performance, Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa (who started at second base) were 2-4. Espinosa was particularly impressive, with a triple and a long fourth inning double that scored Wilson Ramos.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: This is turning into an ugly, ugly year for the Colorado Rockies. Their loss to the Nationals on Monday night was their sixth in a row and the team now finds itself mired in last place in the National League West . . .

It’s easy to identify the Rockies’ failings — lots of injuries and lack of pitching. But that’s only a part of the story. The front office is in chaos, the owner seems to mistrust the team’s head of baseball operations and it’s not clear what the General Manager is doing . . .

Fox Sports reports that team owner Dick Monfort said in a recent radio interview that he blames Bill Geivett, who is the senior vice president of major-league operations, for the Rockies rough year. Geivett has put his office in the clubhouse, putting pressure on manager Walt Weiss — and making Geivett a kind of deputy manager, or perhaps advisor-in-chief . . .

The Geivett move has touched off a kind of civil war inside the Rockies organization, with players befuddled by the teams plans — and wondering if there are any . . .

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Nats Outhit The Crew, But Fall 4-2

Saturday, July 19th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals proved that Milwaukee Brewers righty Kyle Lohse is very hittable, spraying ten hits in seven innings against him at Nationals Park on Friday night. But it was Lohse who had the last word, working out of threat after threat in delivering the Brewers a surprising 4-2 victory.

All of Lohse’s acrobatics came with two outs, as Washington failed to move runners off the bases — a habit that has victimized the D.C. Nine all season.

In all, Lohse pitched out of jams in the second, third and fifth innings. Of course, the Nationals could rightly claim that it was their lack of hitting with runners on base (and not Lohse’s pitching) that was the problem: The Nats were 1-10 with runners in scoring position.

Lohse was able to joke about his on-base troubles, and his win, after the victory. “I think it was five out of seven innings that got led off with a hit,” he told reporters in the Brewers’ clubhouse. “I was thinking about starting off innings out of the stretch, but I didn’t want to let everybody know I was aware of it.”

The Nationals were hardly anemic at the plate. Denard Span was 3-4 on the night, Ryan Zimmerman was 2-4 (and stroked his 19th double) and Ian Desmond added an RBI double in the bottom of the fourth.

Lohse faced off against Washington ace Stephen Strasburg, who gave up seven hits in seven innings while striking out nine. But unlike Lohse, Strasburg was victimized by two round trippers (off the bats of second sacker Scooter Gennett and outfielder Khris Davis) and a Brewers’ offense that capitalized on their scoring opportunities.

“With Stras as a fastball pitcher, they are a home run-hitting club. That’s going to happen sometimes,” Nats’ skipper Matt Williams noted following the loss. “If you are going to hit a home run, you want it to be a solo home run.”

But the difference in the game was not the long ball, but a bloop single off the bat of Milwaukee third baseman Aramis Ramirez in the third inning. With Gennett and Ryan Braun on base, Ramirez hit a blooper just inside the right field line that scored both runners. The hit was the difference in the game.

The good news for the Nationals was that Bryce Harper seems to be on track after being sidelined for a good portion of the season, and struggling at the plate since his return. Armed with a new and more upright batting stance, the Nationals young left fielder was 3-4 with a home run, his third of the season.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: While the Nationals were losing at home against Milwaukee, Atlanta was winning at home against Philadelphia. The Braves 6-4 victory was their third in a row and put them a single game ahead of Washington in the National League East . . .

The Bravos celebrated the All Star break by making an uncomfortable roster move, releasing second sacker Dan Uggla who had struggled at the plate during the 2013 campaign, then repeated that performance again this year. Uggla has hit just .175 since the beginning of last season and without the power that greeted his arrival in Atlanta in the 2010 off season . . .

You really have to wonder what happened to Uggla’s power stroke. While the former Marlin could never hit for average, his penchant for hitting high and long drives into the upper deck made him a nemesis in the N.L. East. Uggla hit thirty or more home runs five seasons in a row, including 36 in 2011 . . .

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Nats Slug Their Way To 6-2 Win In Baltimore

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

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Home runs by Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth — and seven solid innings of pitching from starter Doug Fister — led the Washington Nationals past the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards on Wednesday night, 6-2. The Nationals victory in the Orioles slugfest secured Washington’s hold on first place in the National League East.

After the extra innings loss to the Orioles in Washington on Monday (during which the O’s slammed four round trippers), the Nationals not only needed the win, they needed to show they could stand toe-to-toe with one of the best hitting teams in major league baseball. They did that last night.

“This is a good ballpark to hit home runs in,” Nationals manager Matt Williams acknowledged following the Washington victory. “All you need to do is look at the other dugout to see that.” Given Fister’s solid showing, and a Nats bullpen that was in shutdown mode, the Ramos-Desmond-Werth show was more than enough to give the Nats the victory.

The Nationals started the night against O’s starter Bud Norris by putting two runs on the scoreboard in the first inning, courtesy of a Jayson Werth double that scored Anthony Rendon and an Adam LaRoche RBI single that brought in Werth. At the end of two, the Nationals led 3-1, thanks to Wilson Ramos’ third home run of the year.

Doug Fister, meanwhile, was befuddling the O’s potent line-up, though he and Nats skipper Matt Williams admitted that the steady righty was struggling with his command. But despite his early troubles (the O’s scored early on an RBI single from Chris Davis, then on a home run from Manny Machado in the 4th), Fister worked to stay in the game.

“Doug continues to battle,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said. “We stretch him out. We sent him back out there with the notion that if he got in trouble, we’ll go get him. He really found the zone the last inning, especially. He pitched really well.”

The victory on Wednesday also showed why the Nationals and their fans believe Anthony Rendon should be an All Star. With Ryan Zimmerman penciled into the line-up as a Designated Hitter, Rendon was slotted in at third, where he flashed his leather, robbing Baltimore hitters of at least two singles.

“Their third baseman had a great night playing third base,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter told the press following the O’s loss. “We could have got back in it a little bit, but they didn’t let us defensively.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Battle of Texas (it’s now called, alternately, the Lone Stars SeriesĀ or the Silver Boot series) has never gone well for Houston. The Astros lost 17 of 19 games to their cross-state rival Texas Rangers last year, and were seemingly fated for another last place finish against their sprinting A.L. West rivals in 2014 . . .

Projected as a powerhouse prior to the season, the Rangers had everything: A strong starting staff anchored by Yu Darvish and a line-up that featured one of the game’s best long ball hitters in Prince Fielder. But Fielder is injured (with neck surgery) and out for the year, Darvish is struggling — and now the Texas Rangers are in last place . . .

The Astros made the Rangers fall from grace official last night, pummeling Darvish while running away from the Rangers in a decisive 8-4 victory. The win capped a Houston sweep of their three game series against the Rangers, in which they scored 28 runs while stroking 42 hits. This was a slaughter . . .

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Nats Recover In Chicago, Take Two From The Cubs

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals relied on their starting staff, and the arms of Gio Gonzalez and Blake Treinen, on Saturday to sweep an unusual doubleheader in Chicago (the first since 1983) on scores of 3-0 and 7-2. The sweep of the twin bill followed on two successive losses to the last place Cubs, placing Washington’s hold on the top spot in the N.L. East in jeopardy.

While Nationals fans were treated to acrobatic plays from Denard Span in the 4th inning of the first game, it was Gio Gonzalez who dominated the game’s headlines, throwing seven innings of two hit baseball in shutting down a weak Cubs line-up. The Nationals capped their scoring in the first game victory in the 8th inning with a triple from Anthony Rendon (which scored Denard Span) and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Adam LaRoche.

Gonzalez now appears to be all the way back from the shoulder aches that sidelined him for two weeks. “Obviously coming (off) the DL and trying to work your way back is going to be a process,” Gonzalez said after the victory. “It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s good to see little by little using fastball and changeup at the same time. It’s good to know when you need them they’ll be there.”

“It’s important for us. I’m happy for him that he feels good about it and he’s had no shoulder issues, so that’s a good sign,” Nationals skipper Matt Williams said of Gonzalez’s recovery. “Velocity’s come back, the ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes is huge for him. He pitched really good.”

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The Nationals leaped on Chicago pitching in the second game of the twin bill, notching seven runs on ten hits, victimizing Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija. The big blows came off the bats of Wilson Ramos, Kevin Frandsen and Jayson Werth in the four run fifth. The outburst followed on Adam LaRoche’s 11th home run in the 2nd and an Anthony Rendon sacrifice fly in the 3rd.

“They came out of the rain delay and they jumped on me right off the bat,” Samardzija said of the Nationals 5th inning rally. “They hit some fastballs over the plate and hit them up the middle and made me keep throwing pitches. They did a good job. They were ready out of the break. I probably needed to spin a couple more pitches and give them a different look.”

The Nationals victory also marked the first MLB career victory for rookie Blake Treinen, who threw five innings of four hit baseball in a game interrupted for one hour because of rain. “It means a lot,” Treinen said of his first victory. “I’m definitely excited, that’s for sure.”

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Roark (And The Nats Bullpen) Stump The Braves

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

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Nationals skipper Matt Williams remained his usual unsmiling self after the Nationals bested the Braves on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park, but allowed himself a fleeting moment of semi-humor. “I am going to respectfully not answer that question, if that’s okay,” he said when asked if the Nationals now had momentum in the N.L. East. “I know how this works.”

It’s not superstition exactly, but it’s pretty close: As Williams himself noted, “there’s a long way to go” and “we need to take one game at a time.” But Washington’s 4-1 win and a split in the Atlanta series in front of 39,000-plus Nats fans must have come as a relief to Williams, as it did to the Nationals players.

“Oh yeah, they’ve had our number,” Nats center fielder Denard Span, who got a key hit in the win, said after the victory. “So it’s good to come away with a win today.” The Nationals Sunday win came on yet another strong pitching performance from starter Tanner Roark — and a shutdown bullpen that yielded nadda, zippo, zero (3.2 innings, no hits and three strikeouts) to a tough hitting Braves line-up.

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Roark, who lasted 5.1 innings, did not have his best stuff, but set the tone by holding the Braves to four hits. Roark was frustrating for Braves hitters, who argued several high strike zone calls from home plate umpire Mark Carlson. The Braves Chris Johnson was ejected in the top of the 6th (here’s the video, and we trust you can read lips) and Justin Upton was tossed just prior to the end of the game.

The Nationals put two runs on the board in the bottom of the 1st (on an Adam LaRoche single and a Ryan Zimmerman sacrifice fly), added single runs in the 5th (on a clutch Denard Span double that scored Sandy Leon), and added an insurance run in the 8th when Anthony Rendon scored on a wild pitch.

The Nationals broke out for nine hits in their win on Sunday, but the key to the series split was the team’s pitching — and particularly their relief corps. Storen, Clippard and Soriano all pitched well in the series, but Craig Stammen was the standout, throwing 4.2 innings in relief while giving up a single hit. If we had to pick a hurler to go to Minneapolis for the All Star game, it would be Stammen.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Speaking of superstition — as soon as we wrote that Cincinnati should shovel their bats into a wood chipper they scored eleven runs on Saturday and another four today. This followed the 14-8 stunner on Friday night, in which they led Toronto 8-0 after two, but ended up losing the game . . .

We know how it looks, but we’re going to stick with what we said. Of all the teams in the National League, the Cincinnati Bridesmaids are the most disappointing. They hit more home runs than the Nationals (not a surprise, come to think of it), but can’t seem to put runs on the board when they need to, and seem to fall asleep in big games. It’s a puzzle . . .

The only reason we mention this is that our cheeky coverage of the Redlegs sparked an avalanche of reader emails (well, an avalanche for us), decrying our anti-Cincinnati bias and our “premature prediction” (all predictions are, by nature, premature — but nevermind) in counting them out of the running in the N.L. Central . . .

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