Archive for the ‘Mike Rizzo’ Category

The Nationals Win The N.L. East

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals defeated the Atlanta Braves 3-0 on Tuesday, clinching their second National League East division championship in three years. The Nationals victory doomed the hopes of Atlanta fans for a miracle finish from their hometown Braves.

The Braves hopes for an off-season birth almost certainly died last night in Atlanta. The Tomahawks are now 75-76 on the season and 5.5 games behind Pittsburgh for the last Wild Card spot. “You’ve got to congratulate them on winning the division,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “You’ve got to tip your hat, they’ve had a solid year.”

The Nats sprinted to victory in Atlanta behind a brilliant seven inning outing from righty starter Tanner Roark and Ian Desmond’s 23rd home run of the season in the sixth inning. The Nationals were nearly flawless in shutting down the Braves, their second win in a row against last year’s N.L. East champion.

As Drew Storen registered the last out of the 9th inning (picking up his seventh save of the season), Nats players streamed onto the field in celebration, then took their celebration into Turner Field’s visitor’s clubhouse. Later in the evening, Ted Lerner, the team’s Managing Principle Owner released a statement thanking Washington fans for their support.

“We are so proud of this organization,” Lerner said.  “Watching them clinch their second NL East Division Championship in three years means so much to our fans, our city and our family. Mike Rizzo and Matt Williams should be commended for building and leading a championship club.”

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Asked in the clubhouse about the turning point in the 2014 campaign, Nats skipper Matt Williams identified the team’s ten game winning streak, and its consecutive walk-off wins, as the key to Washington’s success during the season. The Nationals enter tonight’s fine game with the Braves the owner of a 87-63 record, the best in the National League.

Nearby, wearing a fire helmet and goggles, Bryce Harper celebrated the championship while, in the background, pitching coach Steve McCatty posed for photographs with Washington’s beer-drenched starting rotation. “We want to keep going, keep winning ballgames,” Harper said.

Last night’s winner, Tanner Roark, said that he knew exactly what was at stake in the Atlanta game, so worked extra hard for the win. “It’s has been amazing road, and now we are the NL East champs,” he said. “It’s nothing I have ever fathomed. We played hard and we won. That’s the type of team that we have.” Roark’s win on Tuesday night was his 14th of the season.

While skipper Matt Williams joined in the celebration, along with the team coaching staff, the manager reminded his team that winning the N.L. East crown in accomplished their goal for the season. “Tonight, we celebrate this milestone but realize that there is still work to do and goals to accomplish,” he said. “We are looking forward to the possibilities that lie ahead.”

“It’s just one step. There’s a long, hard road ahead of us,” Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth confirmed. “But we’re going to enjoy the moment for now.”

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LaRoche Blast Lifts Nats, Streak Now At Seven

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

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Adam LaRoche’s dramatic 11th inning home run lifted the Nats to their seventh straight victory (and their third walk-off win in a row), as Washington slid past the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night, 5-4. The round tripper came off of rookie reliever Will Harris and was the first walk off home run of LaRoche’s career.

The LaRoche homer hit off the facade of the upper deck in right field, as Nationals fans rose in a deafening cheer. “I got every bit of that one,” LaRoche said after the Nationals victory. “I don’t know how we got these walk-off situations the last few days, but we have. I managed to get my first one. It took me long enough. So it’s a good feeling.”

The walk off homer was the culmination of a strange night for the ball club, which found itself in a see-saw battle with a team that is nearly twenty games under .500. While Nats starter Jordan Zimmermann pitched well (seven innings, four hits and three earned runs), the D’Backs had victimized the righty on a pair of lead-off walks in the 5th and 8th innings. In both cases, Arizona was able to turn the walks into runs.

In the 5h inning, Zimmermann walked Mark Trumbo, who moved to third on a single and sacrifice bunt and then scored on a Jake Lamb sacrifice fly. In the 8th, Zimmermann walked Lamb, who then scored on a Didi Gregorius home run. The Nationals forfeited a 2-1 lead and were six outs away from a victory before the Gregorius homer.

“One pitch, and it looked a little worse than what it is. In that situation, I want to throw a strike,” Zimmermann said of his eighth inning troubles. “Everyone knows I don’t want to walk another guy. [Gregorius] was ready for it and got the bat on the ball.”

The strange night continued for the Nationals, who entered the 9th with a one run lead. But reliever Tyler Clippard, pitching in a closing role to give Rafael Soriano a rest, gave up a game-tying home run to David Peralta. It was the first home run given up by Clippard since mid-April and ended any chance the Nats had of ending the game in nine.

The Nationals kept pace with the D’Backs, but only just — waiting until the seventh inning to put their first two runs on the board (the result of an Ian Desmond walk and a Wilson Ramos home run blast to center), then following it up with two more in the eighth, when Denard Span doubled, Anthony Rendon tripled and Jayson Werth sacrificed Rendon home.

With the score knotted at four apiece and the game headed into extra innings, Nats skipper Matt Williams called on reliever Craig Stammen to keep the D’backs off the board. As usual, Stammen played Houdini for the Nationals crowd, loading the bases in the top of the 11th before striking out Lamb, Gregorius and inducing a Cliff Pennington ground out.

“It feels like every break is going our way,” Stammen said of the Nationals victory. “You don’t get out of a bases-loaded jam very often. It’s a 1-in-25 thing. Walk-off home run, two outs in the 11th inning. Coming back when we’re down and all that stuff. And giving up home runs and then coming back and scoring more runs, it’s just resiliency.”

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The Wisdom Of Section 1-2-9: There were just over 21,000 in attendance for Monday night’s theatrics, but the regulars of Section 1-2-9 didn’t seem to mind. “There’s a football game on, so there’s that,” one season ticket holder remarked. Another regular shook his head. “I’d rather be here,” he noted. “We can always see those other guys . . .”

Not surprisingly, the early innings of the game were taken up with verbal replays of the two weekend victories over the Pirates (“you shoulda been here, I’ve never seen anything like it,” one fan noted), and praise for a team that, as one regular noted, ” wasn’t nearly this good back in April or May . . .”

Soon enough, and predictably, the talk turned to the struggles of Bryce Harper, a common theme among Nationals fans who think it’s past time that he broke out. “It must bug him that he’s not the face of the franchise,” one 1-2-9 veteran commenter noted. And so who is? he was asked. There was only a moment’s hesitation: “Right now, it’s Denard Span . . .”

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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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Nationals Swap Walters For Cleveland’s Cabrera

Friday, August 1st, 2014

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The Washington Nationals traded promising second base prospect Zach Walters to the Cleveland Indians for shortstop/second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera just one hour before the trade deadline on Thursday. The addition of Cabrera gives them a solid veteran presence in the middle of the infield and keeps Danny Espinosa as a reserve and late inning defensive replacement.

Cabrera is a two-time All Star and an eight year MLB veteran. His best year was in 2011, when he hit .273 with 25 home runs. It’s no secret that the Nationals needed to add a bigger bat to their line-up, particularly given Ryan Zimmerman’s injury problems. Cabrera is hitting .246 with nine home runs for the Indians this year.

“I like that he is battle tested,” Washington G.M. Mike Rizzo said of the thinking behind the trade. “He has been in the playoffs before. He has been through pennant races. He is a terrific two-way player. He is a great defensive middle infielder. He has been a terrific shortstop defensively. He played second base earlier in his career and played that outstanding. He is very balanced from both sides of the plate. He is a big league hitter. We did a lot of work on his makeup and character. He fits in our clubhouse.”

Cabrera was surprised by the trade and obviously upset at the prospect of leaving Cleveland. His voice trembled as he talked to reporters. “That’s the business,” Cabrera told reporters. “It surprised me a little bit, but there is nothing I could do. I knew this was going to be possible. Today when I got here, I didn’t even know it was happening.”

The attraction for Nationals Manager Matt Williams is that he can bat Cabrera in the second slot behind Denard Span, while moving Anthony Rendon down in the order. Like Espinosa, Cabrera is a switch hitter, an added attraction to the Nationals on-field brain trust. And while Cabrera has been Cleveland’s regular shortstop, he actually has better defensive numbers at second base.

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Will Mike Rizzo “Pull The Trigger” At The Deadline?

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

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Yesterday Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson wrote that Washington had inquired about the availability of Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, but were “rebuffed.” The report sent tremors through Nats-Land, as it seemed to confirm that Mike Rizzo & Co. were interested in an upgrade at the hot corner, and searching for more power for the Nats line-up.

There are any number of reasons for the Nats search, all of them obvious. Regular third sacker Ryan Zimmerman is on the disabled list, and the Nationals are apparently uncomfortable with shifting their regular second baseman, Anthony Rendon to third to take his place. Then there’s Danny Espinosa.

Espinosa has often been a punching bag for Nats fans, who are skeptical of his abilities at the plate. This didn’t seem to matter to the Nats front office, who always had faith in Espinosa. But now, with the Ladson report, it seems the Nationals have finally conceded that an infield of Rendon-Desmond-Espinosa and LaRoche just isn’t enough to carry them into the post-season.

Then too, the Nationals need power — and a player like Beltre, with 14 home runs this year (and four Gold Gloves) would mark a significant upgrade for the Nationals line-up. And the Nationals have a lot to give — including some young arms that would fit in well with the eviscerated Rangers rotation.

The Nationals are backed up on the mound and could deal some of their young pitchers, including Blake Treinen, a ready-for-the-show righty currently at Syracuse, as well as Taylor Jordan, who has appeared as a sometimes starter for the Nationals in the past. Nationals G.M. Mike Rizzo would be loathe to part with any pitching prospects, of course, but to get someone like Beltre he’d almost have to.

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13 Runs, 19 Hits — Plus Gio

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

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Saturday’s whipping of Chicago was an offensive outburst like no other, as the Washington Nationals sprayed 19 hits (including eight doubles) and scored six times in the 3rd and four times in the 7th, victimizing the suddenly pitching poor Cubbies, 13-0.

The offensive onslaught was supported by an outstanding outing from lefty starter Gio Gonzalez, who held the Cubs scoreless in eight complete innings. Gonzalez allowed just four hits in his outing, while striking out seven, notching his sixth win on the 2014 campaign.

“He stifled our offense,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of the trouble his line-up had against Gonzalez. “He locates his fastball, works it to both sides of the plate. And his breaking ball is really good. … It’s got sharp, late break, good tilt. He can use it effectively against both lefties and righties.”

Every Nationals in Saturday’s line-up had a hit, including Gonzalez. Anthony Rendon was 3-4 (with three doubles), Jayson Werth was 3-4 (with two doubles), Ryan Zimmerman was 4-5 with three RBIs and Gonzalez stroked a 7th inning single that advance Wilson Ramos (who’d led off the inning — with a double).

“Obviously, this isn’t going to happen every day, but with the type of at-bats we put together today, even when the game is out of hand, it’s good to see every one grinding it out, even when it doesn’t matter,” third sacker Ryan Zimmerman, who is now hitting.272, said of the Nationals’ offensive outburst. “Everyone finished the game strong.”

The Nationals batted around in the third inning and scored six runs, eight Nationals batted in the 6th inning (while scoring “only” two runs) and nine Washington hitters came to the plate in the 7th inning, scoring four runs. The game marked the highest run and hit total for the home towners this season.

While Washington chased Cubs starter Carlos Villanueva after two innings, it was reliever Chris Rusin who was the designated goat for the North Siders. Rusin gave up nine hits and five runs in just 3.2 innings of work. Rusin’s shaky work raised his ERA from 1.80 to 6.23 on the season.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It’s all about tunnels in Chicago. Both major dailies, the staid and standard Chicago Tribune and the tabloid Chicago Sun-Times, headlined Theo Epstein’s comment that yesterday’s swap of 40 percent of the Cubs rotation to Oakland now allows the North Siders to see “light at the end of the tunnel . . .”

We might expect Cubs fans to be skeptical, particularly after yesterday’s 13-0 drubbing of their beloveds at the hands of the Washington Nationals, but Epstein was all smiles during a press conference in which he announced the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. “We certainly hope we’ve improved our future,” Epstein said . . .

Epstein also said that the trade had nothing to do with Starlin Castro, who must be wondering what the Cubs are going to do with the (at least two) premium minor league shortstops (Javier Baez and Addison Russell — winging his way east to Chicago from the A’s), who are poised to challenge for his slot . . .

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Strasburg, Werth Crush The Rox

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

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Nats ace Stephen Strasburg recouped from his last outing, when he gave up seven earned runs against the Brewers, by thrashing the Colorado Rockies in 7.2 dominant innings. Coupled with Jayson Werth’s stellar 2-3, three RBI night at the plate, the Nats forged a 7-1 laugher at Nationals Park.

Strasburg’s outing was among his best of the year. The righty threw into the eighth inning, giving up five hits while striking out eight and was only relieved after giving up a home run (to D.J. LeMahieu) and a walk (to Cory Dickerson) in the 8th inning. Long reliever Craig Stammen finished the game on the mound for the Nationals.

“I was able to command the fastball a little bit better,” Strasburg said after his strong performance. “They were fouling them off. I wouldn’t say they were great pitches. I was able to execute the pitch a little bit better. I had them put it in play and make weak contact.”

Rockies’ starter Christian Friedrich, meanwhile, was victimized by a line-up that hit him hard. But Colorado pitching, suspect all season, gave seven free passes on the night, which included Friedrich’s two walks to start the game. Washington scored three runs in the 1st and four runs in the fourth.

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Friedrich’s first two walks came back to haunt him. The Colorado youngster walked Denard Span and Anthony Rendon to start the game and they were driven home by a Jayson Werth double down the left field line that followed an Adam LaRoche single. A sacrifice fly off the bat of Ryan Zimmerman accounted for the first inning’s third run.

The Nationals continued the onslaught in the fourth inning, starting with a Stephen Strasburg double after Wilson Ramos struck out. Chad Bettis came on in relief of Friedrich, after the embattled starter walked Denard Span. But Bettis couldn’t close the door: An Anthony Rendon double scored Strasburg and Span, while another Jayson Werth double scored Rendon.

The Nationals have now won four in a row and are seven games over .500, their best mark of the year. “For the better part of the last few weeks, just the way we are going about it, the pitching has been great, the defense has been good,” Jayson Werth acknowledged after the team win. “The offense is coming around. I like the way we are setting up here going into July.”

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The Wisdom of Section 1-2-9: There were complaints about the game from season ticket holders on Tuesday night, but they had nothing to do with the Nationals. “The only reason I got Rockies tickets was to see Troy Tulowitzki play,” one of the section’s regular complained, “and wouldn’t you know it — they decided to rest him . . .”

The comment sparked a lively argument on Tulowitzki’s career, which has been marred by injuries. “He’s the best hitter in the National League,” one fan claimed, a statement that garnered broad agreement, along with one dissent. “[Giancarlo] Stanton is better, more power,” this fan said . . .

This year’s statistics show the two in a dead heat: Tulowitzki leads the league in batting average, but Stanton has three more home runs (21 for Stanton, 18 for Tulowitzki). But Tulowitzki leads everyone in OBP, Slugging and OPS. The numbers show that Tulo is having a monster year . . .

Nor surprisingly, the other main topic of discussion focused on remarks made by Bryce Harper about who should be starting for the Nationals — and where. The comments generated a lot of criticism from baseball analysts, who reflected that Harper would be better off playing the game, while leaving the job of filling out the line-up card to Matt Williams . . .

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