Archive for the ‘Fielding’ Category

Nats Poised To Win The East After 3-0 New York Victory

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals continued their dominance of the New York Mets on Sunday, notching a convincing 3-0 victory that extended their lead to ten games over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. The victory brought the Nats record against the Mets to 13-3 for the year, with the team winning nine of ten games at Citi Field.

Oddly, the Mets have a winning record against the rest of baseball, and would finish the season above .500 were it not for their record against the Nationals. That is, while the Mets are 3-13 against the Nats, they are 69-65 against everyone else.

The Nationals win came against Mets starter Jonathon Niese, who stymied Washington’s offense until Wilson Ramos blasted a two run home run against the looming southpaw in the key 7th inning. The loss was Niese’s eleventh of the season, as the Mets record fell to 72-78 on the 2014 campaign.

“Towards the end of the year you want to play your best baseball,” Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann said after the victory, “and I think we’re doing that.” Zimmermann added that he thought it would be “really great” for Washington “to win this whole thing” in their upcoming away series in Atlanta. The win in New York marked Zimmermann’s sixth consecutive win.

Zimmermann threw a solid 6.2 innings, striking out five, in registering his twelth win of the season. The Ace of Auburndale was able to wriggle out of number of tough jams in his six-plus innings of work, which included a bases loaded threat in the bottom of the 4th. The Mets were 0-8 with runners in scoring position.

The Nationals banged out eight hits versus New York pitching, with Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond both continuing their hot-as-a-firecracker September. Werth and Desmond were both 2-4 on the day, with Desmond crossing the plate twice. The Saturday win followed a 10-3 butchering on the Mets on Saturday.

The Nationals bullpen once again provided a stellar outing in relief of Zimmermann. Lefty Matt Thornton and righty Tyler Clippard pitched the Nationals through the 7th and 8th innings, with Drew Storen closing the game in the 9th. Storen picked up his fifth save on the season.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Nationals, at 85-63, own the best record in the National League — by a single game over the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are 84-64. The Los Angeles Angels, with 93 wins lead all of baseball, while the Baltimore Orioles have 88 wins and are nearly shoo-ins to win the A.L. East . . .

The Nationals will now travel to Atlanta, where they will line-up against the Braves in a crucial three game series. The Nationals could seal a division championship with a sweep, while Atlanta needs to win to stay relevant in the Wild Card race in the National League. Atlanta trails the Giants and Pirates by three-and-a-half games in the Wild Card race . . .

The Braves have dropped two in a row to Texas Rangers, the worst team in baseball. Braves fans aren’t happy about it. “Braves lose to Rangers, season all but over,” Braves blog Talking Chop headlined yesterday. The “offense is completely broken” Talking Chop reported, but then focused on Atlanta’s defensive problems . . .

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Swept In Philadelphia, Nats Head West

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

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Just a week ago the Nationals were the toast of baseball, having won 12 of 13 and authored a franchise high number of walk-off victories. But last night in Philadelphia the Nationals capped a poor three game showing against the Phillies by losing decisively, 8-4. The game marked one of the worst outings of the year from Nats starter Doug Fister.

“I let the guys down tonight with some bad pitches. That’s what it comes down to,” Fister said after his loss. “I didn’t do my job. Starting pitcher is supposed to set the tone and be the example, and from first pitch, I didn’t do that.”

The Nationals played well off their usual solid performance almost from the beginning of the game. After scoring two runs in the top of the first inning, Fister gave up a home run to Jimmy Rollins in the bottom of that frame, while Philadelphia scored a second run on an unheard of error from center fielder Denard Span, who let a ball get past him.

While Fister threw into the sixth inning, he gave up ten hits and four earned runs in taking his fifth loss of the season. Fister also gave up a home run to Grady Sizemore in the sixth inning. “It’s just a matter of getting the ball down,” Fister said in explaining his so-so outing. That’s the key to any sort of success. And it’s going to be something that I really have to bear down on.”

The homer happy Phillies hit three round trippers in all in the game; in addition to Rollins and Sizemore, veteran Marlon Byrd hit his 24th of the season off of lefty reliever Ross Detwiler The Nationals fought back to take a 4-2 lead in the fifth, but a three run sixth (with a key hit from Dominic Brown) and a two run seventh (Byrd’s home run) put the Nationals out of the game.

The Nationals attack was led by Span, who hit his second home run of the year in the fifth inning off of Philadelphia starter Kyle Kendrick (who notched his seventh win of the season) and Ian Desmond, who was 3-4 on the night.

“I think it’s going to be good for us to get an off-day tomorrow,” Desmond said after the three game sweep in Philadelphia. “Everyone regroup and then go into the next series and forget about this one.” The Nationals now head to Seattle, where they will face the revived Mariners in a three game set.

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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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Lost Opportunities Sink The Nats

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

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The book on Zack Wheeler is that if you give him enough time he will implode — losing his command, walking hitters and giving up key hits. But after a mid-game tweak on Tuesday, New York’s young righty worked through his problems and delivered a strong outing to lead the Mets to a 6-1 victory against Washington at Nationals Park.

“I didn’t have my best stuff. And it wasn’t very fun. But you’ve got to find a way through it,” Wheeler, who picked up his seventh win said after his victory. “You’re mad at yourself, and you’re trying to figure out what it is. I wouldn’t say it’s mentally draining, but it’s just frustrating.”

Which is to say: while Wheeler pitched well when he needed to, the Nationals failed to take advantage of his weaknesses and were unable to score big in a tough second inning that might have knocked Wheeler from the game. The Nationals scattered eight hits on the Mets, with Adam LaRoche going 2-2.

The lost opportunities continued on into the third inning, when Washington again seemed poised to score. Denard Span and Anthony Rendon led off the inning with singles, but Jayson Werth grounded into a double play. After Adam LaRoche walked, Ian Desmond followed with a ground out.

The Mets victory came against Washington starter Gio Gonzalez, who had difficulties of his own. The southpaw pitched through six complete innings, but gave up four runs on six hits. While Tuesday marked an improvement over Gio’s last outing (a 3.2 inning eight hit disaster against Philadelphia), Gonzalez has not returned to the form the Nationals expect.

The Mets got a big night from Daniel Murphy who was 3-4 and pushed across two runs. Murphy has been the big bat this year for the Madoffs and last night raised his season batting average to an even .300. Murphy has shown he’s one of the best contact hitters in the league, leading the N.L. in hits with 137. At the age of 29, he’s arrived.

There’s little doubt that Washington has hit a rough patch, after performing well (and hitting well with runners on) against the hapless Phillies. The team has lost two in a row and is now just nine games over .500. Luckily, the Nationals have maintained their grip on the top spot in the N.L. East with the Braves losing seven in a row.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It was forever our intention to provide a longish piece on Atlanta’s chances in the second half, but it never seemed to quite happen. What we were going to say was that the Bravos had recovered nicely from injuries to their pitching staff, and were poised for a solid run as top team in the N.L. East . . .

We were also going to mention that the Braves are a streaky bunch, having accumulated nine wins in row just before the All Star break, before going on a short but pointed losing streaking. Staying consistent (we were going to say), was Atlanta’s big problem . . .

The Braves haven’t done anything recently to change our view. The pre-All Star nine game winning streak has been more than offset by a cripping seven game losing skeen, complete with a 10-1 pasting at the hands of the Padres last Friday. That embarrassment inaugurated a San Diego sweep of the Bravos, who suddenly looked like they would join the Mets and Phillies as N.L. also-rans . . .

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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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Nats Notes: Reviewing The Oakland Meltdown

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals finished a disheartening series against the Oakland A’s, who have become the powerhouse of the AL West the last couple of years. The Nats were shut out, blew a save and lost in the 10th, and then were damn near shutout again. Things were so bad that MASN commentators Ray Knight and F.P. Santangelo both expressed their frustration with the Nats’ play in almost heated terms on Nats Xtra after the final game.

The only, and we mean only, bright spot for the Nats Nation was Tanner Roarks’ start in Game 2: 7.2 innings of two-hit, one-run baseball. It seems Tanner shook off his poor showing against the Phillies the week before and immediately returned to form, illustrating why he’s one of the best starting pitchers no one is talking about. If we have to stretch for a second bright spot, it’s that former Nats prospects Tommy Milone and Derek Norris, the A’s starting pitcher and catcher, both had great series. Cold comfort.

Aside from Roark, the Nats pitching staff was in meltdown. Doug Fister’s first start as a Nat only lasted 4.1 innings after giving up nine hits and seven runs, a performance Gio Gonzalez would repeat in his game. Fister couldn’t get anything down in the zone, and the only way Gio could find it was to throw two-seam heaters down the middle. Closer Rafael Soriano didn’t do anything different, pitching wise, but a wonky cut-off of rookie benchman’s Zach Walters throw from left field blew the save for the first time this season.

The defense, the one aspect of play manager Matt Williams really wanted to improve when he took his new position, was farm league. Lost flyballs, weird relays, poor fielding choices, they all added up. Theoretically, all of that could have been overcome if the lineup was moving and runs were scored. A’s general manager Billy Beane had a whole movie made about him for doing just that. But they weren’t. In the series, the A’s outhit the Nats two to one and outscored them four to one.

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Nats, Fister Bombed In Oakland

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

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Doug Fister returned to the mound for the first time in the 2014 campaign, but struggled against the A’s — giving up five earned runs on nine hits in just 4.1 innings of work, and Oakland coasted to an 8-0 laugher on Friday night. Former Nats lefty Tommy Milone kept Washington off the scoreboard, while throwing a two hit seven strikeout gem.

Fister looked rusty in his first outing, though he later told the press that he was prepared for the game. “Physically, I felt like I was in the right place,” Fister said after the loss. “I felt strong. It was lack of execution. I was excited for tonight, no more than normal, everything felt good.”

Fister may have felt good, but he didn’t look good. His patented sinker ball was left too often in the middle of the strike zone. Fister gave up a home run to A’s catcher John Jaso in the 3rd and he allowed Yoenis Cespedes across the plate on a wild pitch in the 5th. Washington also committed three errors, which included an airmailed throw by Fister to first base in the first inning.

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“That’s what you ask for when you do that,” Nationals’ skipper Matt Williams said of Washington’s sloppy play. “Want to play clean baseball, certainly, and you’re asking for trouble if you give them extra outs.”

Soft-tossing lefty Tommy Milone, meanwhile, was brilliant for Oakland. The hard luck southpaw (he was 0-3 entering the game and struggled to start the season), befuddled Nationals hitters, moving the ball in and out of the strikezone until relieved by Fernando Rodriguez to start the 9th.

“I don’t think he missed a location all night,” A’s catcher Derek Norris (also a former Nat) said of Milone’s performance. “I don’t think he missed a location one single time.” Milone threw 108 pitches, 71 of them for strikes — and was backed by home runs from Jaso, Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes. Oakland sprayed 12 hits against the punchless Nationals.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: MLB Network’s late night baseball wrap-up show is often well worth watching, even if the knock-down-drag-outs between Harold Reynolds and Mitch Williams can be taxing. Last night’s disagreement was more of the same, while peeling back a fascinating debate about MLB scoring . . .

The argument came as a result of Yu Darvish’s near perfect game, which ended in the 7th inning in Arlington, Texas when the official scorer decided a “tweener pop up” off the bat of David Ortiz that landed between second and right field should be scored an error. The decision ended the chances for a perfecto, but kept Darvish’s chance for a no-hitter in place . . .

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Reynold’s called the scoring decision “the worst decision in the history of baseball,” while Williams defended it by citing Baseball Rule 10.12, noting that it isn’t necessary for a fielder to touch the ball for it to be called an error if, in the scorer’s judgment, the ball could have been caught “with normal effort . . .”

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