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April’s Unlikely “Derby”

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014


Monday was home run day in Major League Baseball. In Miami, on their way to a 9-2 crushing of the wayward Miami Marlins (the fish have now lost eight in a row), Washington’s Tyler Moore and Sandy Leon hit dingers (it was Leon’s first ever), while the Marlins got their second run on a moon shot from Garrett Jones.

In Anaheim, where the A’s played the Belinskis, John Jaso’s pinch hit home run topped the Halos, but only after Albert Pujols put his 496th career round tripper into the Anaheim stratosphere. That was the second game of ESPN’s nightly offering, which led off with a head-shaking match-up between the Braves and Phillies.

The Braves-Phillies tilt was nearly unwatchable until the 8th inning, when Dominic Brown’s three run blast sent Philadelphia to what seemed an unlikely late-inning victory. That was not the story, as it turned out: Atlanta had scored its runs on back-to-back-to-back skyballs in the previous frame, courtesy of Evan Gattis, Dan Uggla and Andrelton Simmons, then went on to beat the Ponies in the 9th, when Dan Uggla homered.

Even then (with Washington, Miami, Oakland, Anaheim, Atlanta and Philadelphia all going long), April’s most impressive home run derby took place in Cincinnati, where the stinking Reds and mighty Pirates put ten (count ‘em) ten balls over the fence. It was a sight to behold: Pittsburgh had three sets of back-to-back home runs, while Cincinnati hit four solo shots. Pittsburgh’s Gaby Sanchez hit two, as did Neil Walker.

Ironically, while home runs played vital roles in all of these match-ups, the Cincinnati derby (at the Great American Bandbox, so there’s that) counted for nothing, with the game suspended in the 7th inning due to rain. Don’t think it was impressive? Take a look at this:

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So? So what the hell is going on? Right here would be a good time for some statistical analysis, reputedly showing that April 14 was a “statistical anomaly” — an argument any old wag could make except that nearly every game in baesball (or so it seems) provides some kind of “statistical anomaly.”

Last year at about this time, baseball writers were going on about how 2013 was the “year of the pitcher” (when I was younger, the year of the pitcher was 1968). By June of last year, it was official, with analysts pointing out that over a period of five years the majors had seen 18 no hitters and six perfect games.


Cardinals Sweep The Nats, 4-1

Thursday, September 26th, 2013


With their chances of a playoff berth at an end, the Washington Nationals played flat in St. Louis on Wednesday, losing to the Cardinals, 4-1. The loss notched a St. Louis sweep of the Nationals in the three game set and put the Cardinals a single game from winning the N.L. Central crown.

The loss also ensured that Washington righty Jordan Zimmermann will not reach twenty wins on the season, his 2013 campaign finishing at 19-9. The Cardinals were led by rookie pitcher Shelby Miller, who stifled Nats’ hitters through six innings, giving up just four hits and one earned run.

The St. Louis offense was not overwhelming, but it was enough to seal the win: St. Louis got its first run on a Matt Carpenter ground out that scored Daniel Descalso in the 3rd, a Yadier Molina single that scored two runs in fourth and a Matt Adams home run in the bottom of the 6th.

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The Cardinals have dominated the Nationals following their victory against them in the playoffs in 2012. The Nationals have faced the Cards six times this year and lost every game; they were swept in Washington in April (in three close games) and, now, in St. Louis in September.

“I’ll tell you: They kicked our butt in just about every aspect of the game,” Washington manager Davey Johnson said in the clubhouse after this team was swept yesterday. “I tip my hat to them. Matheny has done a good over there, I wish them luck. They had their way with us.”

In each of the two series this year, the Nationals have had trouble scoring runs off the Cardinals pitching staff. The key in the most recent series has been the St. Louis relief corps, and on Wednesday four Cardinal relievers (Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal) combined to hold the Nationals to a single hit and no runs.

“The Cardinals have done a good job with their pitching staff. They have good starters, but I think what sets them apart is their bullpen,” right fielder Jayson Werth acknowledged after Wednesday’s loss. “The bullpen is good. They have a lot of velocity and they have a lot of depth.”

MLB relief statistics show just how effective Cardinal relievers have been — they’ve given up just 3.74 runs per game, good enough for fifth best in baseball and are particularly good when holding a lead (fourth best in the National League). More impressive still is that the Cardinals relief corps is young: each of the four relievers on Wednesday were rookies.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The media powers that be are yakking about the “unbalanced schedule” in baseball, the topic providing running commentaries yesterday on both Mike & Mike on ESPN and then, later in the evening, on the MLB Network . . .

“The schedule is designed with the division races in mind,” Jayson Stark noted on ESPN. “For the first time every team in a division plays essentially the same schedule.” The problem (Stark noted) is that while baseball’s schedule emphasizes division rivalries (with each team in a division playing other division rivals up to nineteen times) that unbalance has a significant impact on the Wild Card races . . .


Nats Late Rally Stuns The Mets

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

The Washington Nationals waited for New York’s Matt Harvey to exit the game — then rallied late against the Mets’ bullpen and pulled out a stunning 6-4 victory at Citi Field on Friday night. Washington skipper Davey Johnson said the victory might be the biggest one of the season for Washington.

As expected, the talented Harvey provided a solid outing for the New Yorkers: he gave up just three hits in seven innings of work, while striking out eleven. His only mistake came in the fourth inning, when he gave up a home run to Washington shortstop Ian Desmond.

Harvey showed why he’s considered the best pitcher in the National League. He struck out Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth three times, more than half his strikeout total. “He’s always got no-hit stuff. He throws 97 miles per hour with a breaking ball, cutter, slider, changeup, everything else you got. He has it,” Ian Desmond said of Harvey.

Washington rallied after Harvey’s departure, scoring three runs with two outs in the eighth inning. The Nationals’ runs came off of reliever Brandon Lyon, who entered the game with Denard Span and Roger Bernadina on second and third. Lyon then walked Anthony Rendon and gave up a clutch double to Ryan Zimmerman, who cleared the bases and tied the score.

Reliever Tyler Clippard entered the game to pitch the bottom on the 8th, and kept New York off of the board. Washington then put the game away by scoring two in the top of the final frame: Ian Desmond doubled scoring Jayson Werth and Kurt Suzuki hit a sacrifice fly to score Desmond. Drew Storen picked up his second save of the season by pitching a perfect, lights-out ninth.

“The beginning of the year, we had no comeback wins, no runs scored late,” Ryan Zimmerman said following the victory. “The past couple of weeks, we have been getting a lot better at that. That’s the team we were last year. Hopefully we can continue to do that, because we are not going to get to the starter every day. Sometimes you have to come from behind. It’s not easy, but good teams do that.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It was another night of entertaining Left Coast baseball, especially in Oakland — where the St. Louis Cardinals, the National League’s best team, got a whiff of A’s ace Bartolo Colon. Colon made it look effortless: he threw eight innings of six hit baseball in notching his eleventh win as the Elephants stomped the Redbirds, 6-1 . . .

Colon is 40-years-old (but who knows, really), stands 5-11 and weighs 267 (but who knows, really) and (as you might recall), won the the Cy Young while pitching in Anaheim in 2005 (he was an eye-blinking 21-8). This year, at 11-2, he might actually be better . . .


Werth, Desmond “Eat” Philadelphia’s “Face”

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

After losing to the Phillies on Tuesday, Washington Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth sat in front of his locker at Citizens Bank Park and talked about how his team needs to start winning. “You’ve got to show up tomorrow ready to eat somebody’s face,” he said.

Werth said it with a smile, but he meant it — and that’s exactly what the Washington Nationals did on Wednesday night in Philadelphia, as an 11th inning grand slam home run off the bat of Ian Desmond provided a thrilling, and badly needed, 6-2 victory over the Phillies.

Desmond’s home run came after a single from Jayson Werth that scored Denard Span tying the game in the top of the 9th. But unlike the Nationals showing in the first game of the series, when the team also tied Philadelphia in the 9th, this time the Nats’ bullpen propelled the Anacostia Nine into extra frames, setting up Desmond’s heroic blast.

“Ian is quite a character. He got a lot of big hits for us in the past,” skipper Davey Johnson said of Desmond’s home run. “The only thing that I worry about sometimes is that he tries too hard. It seemed like he was a little too geared up, and then when he got to two strikes, he shortened up and he crushed that ball.”

Werth and Desmond’s late innings offensive put a coda on what was one of lefty Gio Gonzalez’s better outings of the year. While the Nationals’ southpaw came away without a decision on Wednesday, he held the Phillies to just two hits over seven innings, while striking out eleven.


Nats Squeeze By Chicago

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

Adam LaRoche ended his standard early season drought with two home runs in consecutive at bats and the Nationals squeaked by the Chicago White Sox, 8-7 to bring their record to 5-2. LaRoche’s homers helped the Nationals stave off a surging Chicago line-up — and helped the team to survive some shaky bullpen outings.

LaRoche’s blasts came in the 6th inning with one on and in the 8th with no one on. Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth also went deep for the home towners. “You get into the second week of the season, that’s never a good feeling to look up there and not have a hit,” Laroche said following the win. “I felt great that first series at home, I just couldn’t get the ball to fall. To come back and get a couple [tonight] was nice.”

The home runs were needed: Chicago’s Paul Konerko blasted a three run home run in the 7th inning off of Tyler Clippard to bring the score within one. Washington came back to tack on a run in the bottom of the 7th, which was followed by LaRoche’s second home run — but Chicago added two more in the top of the 9th off of Rafael Soriano, who then closed out the game.

Both Chicago and Washington were hoping their starters would turn Tuesday’s game into a classic pitching match-up, but Jake Peavy gave up six runs on nine hits in 5.1 inning, while Nats’ lefty Gio Gonzalez surrendered four hits in five innings. That wasn’t so bad, but Washington’s bullpen gave up seven hits and four runs in the next four frames.

Washington’s big inning came in the 6th, when the Nationals put four runs on the board — with home runs from Werth and LaRoche.  “Obviously, the sixth inning got away from us,” Peavy said. “I didn’t have much there, and it was hot and humid, and I ran out of gas. I didn’t have much left with LaRoche, and he put a good swing on it.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It’s deja vu all over again for the Los Angeles Angels, who are repeating their slow start from a year ago. The Angels dropped a slugfest at home last night, in their opener, against the forever surprising Oakland A’s. The Angels yielded a one run lead in the top of the 7th by giving up home runs to pinch hitter John Jaso and first sacker Brandon Moss. The A’s went on to dump the Halos 9-5 . . .

Nothing seems to be working for the Belinskys, and you can read the frustration in the face of Angels’ skipper Mike Scioscia. Ace C.J. Wilson came out of the clubhouse and promptly gave up three runs in the top of the 1st, but it could have been a lot worse: Wilson left the inning with the bases loaded . . .


“Building For The World Series . . .”

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

When baseball commentator Ken Rosenthal heard that the Nationals had signed righty Dan Haren to a one year $13 million contract, he shook his head in admiration: “This is a team building for the World Series,” he said on MLB Network, “and the signing of Haren shows that.”

Indeed. And Washington fans have every right to celebrate Haren’s arrival. After all, what’s not to like? The 32-year-old veteran has a track record of success (119-97 in ten years in the majors), racks up innings (238.1 in 2011), is a “gamer” — having thrown for both winners (Anaheim’s Belinskys) and losers (the up-and-down Snakes) and has shown remarkable consistency: never dipping below a .500 win/loss record in each of the last eight seasons.

But then there’s this: at the same moment that Danny and the Halos were tanking in the A.L West back in September, Haren was struggling through the worst season of his career, posting careers worsts in WHIP, H/9, HR/9, tying his second worst K/9 and throwing “only” 176 innings, his worst mark since becoming a starter in 2005.

What’s not to like? Well, plenty as it turns out. For while Haren was once among baseball’s elite fireballers, his fastball hasn’t topped out at an unspectacular 92-93 mph for the last two years and his back and hip problems were so bad that the mighty Cubs called off a proposed swap back in November that would have brought him to Chicago in exchange for Carlos Marmol.

Of course — and perhaps in spite of all of it — the signing of Haren brings a definite upside for the Nats, despite his poor year. The righty rebounded after the All Star break (a 3.58 ERA in thirteen starts), and pitched better even with his injury than Washington’s fourth starter, Edwin Jackson.


The Pitching Rich Halos Get . . . Richer

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim obviously take that old saw that “you can never have enough pitching” seriously. On Friday, the Angels added a sixth arm to their five man rotation — a clear bid to up the ante on the Texas Rangers, their division rivals. The pitching rich Belinskis just got richer.

Or maybe the pitching rich Belinskys haven’t been as rich as they seem from afar. Angels’ G.M. Jerry DiPoto has not been impressed by the Angels’ rotation, despite their cumulative 3.78 ERA, which puts them fifth in the A.L., just a tick behind the Rangers. With Greinke, they’ll be even better.

Think of it: the Angels now have six potential starters. There’s the dominant Jered Weaver (he’s 13-1 for God’s sakes) and C.J. Wilson, followed by Greinke, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, and Jerome Williams. Six. And that’s not counting righty wunderkind Garrett Richards, who many pundits believed would be the major “ask” in any significant trade. He wasn’t. Which means the Angels don’t have six potential starters, but seven.

There are teams in the majors that would kill for just two. But DiPoto made the swap, giving up can’t miss middle infield prospect Jean Segura and Double-A righties Ariel Pena and John Hellweg in exchange for the Brewers’ ace. Everyone is yacking about Greinke, but Segura is destined to start at second, and Pena and Hellweg are on their way to the majors. The Angels paid a steep price.

Was it worth it? While the rest of us look at the Halos’ starters and see possibilities, DiPoto and skipper Mike Scioscia look at their rotation and see problems. Ervin Santana is a big name, but he’s had a small arm this season, doing the equivalent of a face plant while on the mound. He’s 4-10 with a 6.00 ERA. To say that he’s struggled is an understatement.

And he’s not the only problem: the inestimable Dan Haren has not been Dan Haren. Last night, Haren made his second quality start since coming off the disabled list (with lower back problems), throwing a six inning five hitter over the Tampa Bay Rays. But this was only the second quality start for Haren, who had a 6-6 record and 4.86 earned-run average just a few weeks ago.