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Nats Take The Miami Series, Head Home

Thursday, April 17th, 2014


The hobbled Washington Nationals escaped Miami with a 6-3 win on Wednesday night, taking two games of three from their division rivals. The Nationals were powered by sloppy Marlins fielding, a three run home run off of Miami starter Jose Fernandez by Jayson Werth in the top of the 6th (which tied the game at 3) and a pinch hit home run from rookie Zach Walters.

The errors from Miami and the two Nats home runs were the difference in the game, besting Miami ace Fernandez. In the 6th, the usually sure-handed Jerrod Saltalamacchia allowed Jose Lobaton to scamper to third on a throwing error and the Miami catcher then dropped a pop foul off the bat of Anthony Rendon.

“We’re in a funk out there, for whatever reason,” Miami manager Mike Redmond said after the loss. “We just have got to keep throwing these guys out there and get them going. Another pinch-hit home run. Stuff like that just can’t happen late in the game. We’ve given up a lot of big hits late in the game. Those are crushers. We’ve got to find a way to make an adjustment.”

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The Nationals were shut down by Fernandez, who owns a snappy 2.66 ERA on the season — and who only gave up a four hits in seven innings last night. “He’s an animal,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said of Fernandez. “He’s one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.”

The Nationals’ runs in the 6th inning were all unearned, leaving Fernandez the victim of his teammates poor play. After the Fernandez departure, the Nationals put three runs on the board off of two Miami relievers: Mike Dunn and A.J. Ramos.

After being swept in Atlanta, the Nationals needed the Miami salvage operation, and they got it. The team put up nine runs on sixteen hits in the first game of the series, and last night were able to get a solid starting performance from righty Tanner Roark, who pitched into the 7th inning while notching five strikeouts.

Roark was at his best in the 5th, when he ended a Miami rally that had Marcell Ozuna on third with one out. Roark struck out Giancarlo Stanton and Garrett Jones flied out to left to end the threat. “It was a big momentum swing,” said Roark of his clutch pitching. “I felt like we had a good weight off our shoulders and my shoulders as well.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: No one likes to hear this, but it’s true. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the standard of success in the American League is the New York Yankees; it’s impossible to read anything about baseball without reading about them. But that’s also true for the St. Louis Cardinals, the N.L. version of the Bombers. For good reason . . .


Nats Swept In Atlanta

Monday, April 14th, 2014


Repeat after me: “It’s still early, it’s still early, it’s still early.” And that’s a mighty good thing, because if this was September, with the N.L. East a dogfight between its two best teams (Atlanta and Washington), the Nationals would be in deep trouble.

Just days after rolling out of Washington with a series sweep against Miami under their belts, the Nationals are now departing Atlanta feeling as the Marlins must have felt. Yesterday’s loss, a 10-2 whupping at the hands of the Braves, only emphasized the Nationals problems — in the three game series the team was outscored (23-11), outhit (33-31) and (well) outplayed.

Sunday’s matinee only highlighted Washington’s problems, which seem to be magnified against their division rival. Ace Gio Gonzalez lasted six innings, but was hit hard, giving up six runs on nine hits over six innings. The middle of the Braves line-up seemed to play with Washington: B.J. Upton was 2-5, Freddie Freeman was 2-3, Justin Upton was 2-3 and Andrelton Simmons was 2-5.

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Worse yet, Washington’s hitters couldn’t seem to touch Atlanta starter Aaron Harang, the 35-year-old well traveled righty who Atlanta fans doubted could fit into a rotation that the Braves front office vowed would get younger year-by-year. It was Harang, and not Gonzalez, who ended up on top, with Harang throwing six innings of five hit ball and taming a suddenly anemic Washington line-up.

“The Braves have the Nationals’ number,” Baseball Tonight’s Karl Ravech said during last night’s broadcast. The numbers seem to prove it. Yesterday’s 10-2 pasting was Atlanta’s 18th win in its last 25 match-up against the Nationals, and its fifth win this season in six meetings.

“It’s going to happen sometimes, but what we can’t do is get out of ourselves,” manager Matt Williams said following the loss. “We can’t allow anything to take us out of our game. It didn’t work for us this weekend. We have another one tomorrow against the Marlins. We have to concentrate on that one.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: That long deep sigh you hear comes to you all the way from the North Side of Chicago, where the Cubbies have started the season with a 4-8 record. The most recent example of North Side futility came yesterday, against the Cardinals, when Chicago pitching was victimized by 11 Cardinal hits and a snappy 6.1 innings from starter Michael Wacha . . .

Baseball’s punditocracy has written off the Cubs for 2014, saying the team is headed for 90 losses — at least. But there’s light at the end of Chicago’s endless tunnel, faint though it may be. Chicago has a keeper in first sacker Anthony Rizzo (who’s hitting .319 on the young season), and has a farm system stacked with talent, including third sacker Kris Bryant, center fielder Albert Almora and shortstop uber prospect Javier Baez . . .


Ramos, Zimmermann Lead The Nats

Monday, September 16th, 2013


Washington catcher Wilson Ramos was 4-4 and drove in five runs, and righty starter Jordan Zimmermann notched his league-leading 18th win of the year, and the Nationals routed the Philadelphia Phillies 11-2 at Nationals Park on Sunday. The win, coupled with a Cincinnati loss in Milwaukee, brought the home towners within 4.5 games of the last Wild Card slot.

While the Nationals pounded out eighteen hits against a hapless Philadelphia pitching staff, Ramos was clearly the star of the show: the Nationals’ backstop singled in the bottom of the 1st (and plated Bryce Harper), singled again in the bottom of the 4th (scoring Harper again), homered to center in the 6th and singled in the 7th to score Zach Walters and Adam LaRoche.

Ramos has been a workhorse for the Nationals, appearing Sunday in his 23rd consecutive game. “He’s been hitting the heck out of the ball, catching good, throwing people out. He’s hard to take out of the lineup,” Washington skipper Davey Johnson said of his 26-year old catcher. “We’ve missed him for two years, so we’re going to ride him.”

But Ramos’ career day did little to overshadow the performance of righty Jordan Zimmermann, who’s been Washington’s staff ace for the 2013 campaign. Zimmermann turned in seven innings complete innings of seven hit baseball while striking out seven in taming the Philadelphia line-up.

“It feels good, but then again, I’ll trade all those wins in for a spot in the playoffs,” Zimmermann said after his victory. “That’s the only thing that matters right now. We’re playing good ball and scoring some runs, so it’s definitely fun.”

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It took the Nationals just over three hours to polish off Philadelphia, who sent five pitchers to the mound in an effort to short-circuit Washington’s attack. The Phillies have great hopes for starter Tyler Cloyd, a sleeper pick in the 18th round of the 2008 draft. But the Nats victimized Cloyd with ten hits and five runs in four innings.

“Any time you have a bad outing, no matter how many good ones you have, you’re always disappointed,” Cloyd said after the Phillies’ loss. “Obviously I’m more disappointed that I’m pitching bad and not giving the team a chance to win. I’ve got to figure it out somehow.

While Ramos led the Nationals attack, he had plenty of help. Denard Span, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond had two hits each (with Span extending his hitting streak to 26 straight games), while Bryce Harper was 3-5 on the day and raised his 2013 batting average to .280. Harper was 6-12 in the Philadelphia series.


Nats Can’t Survive Phillies Fifth

Sunday, September 15th, 2013


The coulda-woulda-shoulda Nationals might have won Saturday night’s contest against the Philllies at Nationals Park, if only home ump Jim Joyce had not been so liberal with the strike zone, if only a liner off the bat of Wilson Ramos had been inches further up-the-middle: if only Gio Gonzalez hadn’t lost his command in the fifth inning.

Unfortunately, however, none of that happened: Jim Joyce called strike three on a pitch clearly out of the strike zone, the Wilson Ramos liner was deftly gloved in the bottom of the 9th by slick-leather expert Jimmy Rollins, and Gio Gonzalez gave up four runs in the fifth, as the Nationals were downed by the Phillies at Nationals Park, 5-4.

The Phillies victory ended the Nationals winning streak at seven, giving Washington its 70th loss of the year, a heartbreaker that, when coupled with a Redlegs win in Milwaukee left the home towners 5.5 games back in the race for the last Wild Card slot. There are just fourteen games left to play.

The key for the Phillies was catcher Carlos Ruiz, who was 2-5 on the night with three RBIs. It was a Ruiz double to deep right in the 5th inning (Jayson Werth waved at it as it sailed past), that cleared the bases and gave Gonzalez his seventh loss of the season. A furious rally by the Nationals in the bottom of the 7th, meanwhile, fell a single run short.

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“As a pitcher, it is a tough pill to swallow when you want to go out there and do your best, especially for the guys the way they’re swinging the bat,” starter Gonzalez said of his shaky fifth inning. “To give up those runs makes a huge difference. That could have changed the whole game.”

The Washington fifth showed that Philadelphia is still a formidable team: Gonzalez began the top of the inning by striking out left fielder Freddy Galvis, but then gave up a home run to John Mayberry, a long ball specialist with not much to show for his year in terms of BA.

And the inning was downhill from there. Cole Hamels and Cesar Hernandez followed Galvis with successive singles. While Gonzalez responded by inducing a fly out from Jimmy Rollins, Gonzalez loaded the bases by walking Chase Utley. Carlos Ruiz then authored the inning’s coup, hitting a bases clearing double into right field.


Strasburg Shuts Down The Phillies, Nats Sweep

Monday, August 12th, 2013


Sunday’s game at Nationals Park provided a model of how to win in the major leagues: superb pitching, timely hitting and seamless defense provided Washington with a 6-0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies and a rare Nationals’ sweep of their three game series.

The game’s hero was the all-but-unhittable Stephen Strasburg, who threw the best game of his career. The imposing 6-4 righty spun a nine inning complete game shutout, striking out ten Phillies and holding the Philadelphia line-up to just four hits.

“Stephen obviously threw a great game,” third sacker Ryan Zimmerman said of Strasburg’s afternoon. “It has been fun to watch him learn, progress as a pitcher. I think he is starting to do some things that he has been proud of. It’s going to be fun to continue to watch him develop.”

Strasburg’s gem was also economical: he threw 99 pitches, 66 of them for strikes and entered the ninth inning to chants from the fans of “let’s go Strasburg.” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel praised the Washington righty, saying that Strasburg’s “breaking ball really set up his fastball in the middle innings until the end of the game. He was good.”

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Washington’s bats came alive in the series. The Nationals outscored the Phillies 25-7 over the three game stretch and on Sunday sprayed thirteen hits. Jayson Werth and Steve Lombardozzi were 3-4 on the day, with clutch hits coming in the first inning from Werth and in the fourth inning from Denard Span and Wilson Ramos.

Philadelphia helped the Washington cause in the fifth inning, when Philadelphia catcher Erik Kratz mishandled an infield hit off the bat of Denard Span, allowing Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond to score in a close play at the plate. Washington’s defense, on the other hand, was seamless — with the game ending on a Ryan Zimmerman lunging catch of a hot liner off the bat Kevin Frandsen.


Robin Yount’s Legacy

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013


The Milwaukee Brewers took time out from their otherwise forgettable season on Friday night to pay homage to Robin Yount, one of two of their inductees into the baseball Hall of Fame. It was the 20th anniversary of Yount’s retirement, and he was joined on the field by Milwaukee favorite Henry Aaron and reliever Rollie Fingers.

It was a good interlude, a chance for Brewers’ fans to forget about Ryan Braun, the slugger Milwaukee partisans believed would one day join Yount in Cooperstown: an event that seems unlikely now. Friday, then, was a confirmation of sorts. It is Yount’s legacy that matters in Milwaukee, not Braun’s.

But then, the numbers alone should be proof that it’s Yount that counts, regardless of Braun. For twenty years, the Hall of Fame shortstop (and sometime center fielder), defined baseball for Milwaukee. A lifetime .285 hitter, Yount won two Most Valuable Player awards, accumulated 3142 hits, was a doubles machine and stole 271 bases.

Even more important, particularly if you’re a Brewers’ fan, Yount rooted the game in Milwaukee — a city that had seen the Braves head to Atlanta and only belatedly inherited the crippled Seattle Pilots. The move of the Pilots to Milwaukee was so sudden that the Brewers’ original uniforms were Seattle retreads, with a new Brewers’ logo sewn on.

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Zimmermann, Harper Down The Crew

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013


Jordan Zimmermann pitched six solid innings allowing just four hits without giving up a run, and Bryce Harper hit his sixteenth round tripper of the year as the Nationals downed the Brewers in Milwaukee, 4-1 on Friday night. The badly needed victory revived hopes that the Nationals could still make a run at the Braves in the N.L. East.

Zimmermann had been searching for his thirteenth win (after five so-so outings) and finally got it on Friday: he threw 100 pitches, 65 of them for strikes, and struck out five Brewers. The Nationals notched twelves hits against Milwaukee pitchers, including solid nights from Harper (2-5), Jayson Werth (who upped his BA to .309), Denard Span (2-4) and Wilson Ramos (also 2-4).

“You always want to do well in your home state in front of all your family and friends,” Zimmermann said following the victory. “I was happy to put up some zeros and get the month of July over with and get a new month.”

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Bryce Harper’s outspoken comments on the Nationals after the disastrous Detroit series continued to reverberate in the team’s clubhouse. Harper said that the Nationals needed to play more like a family, as they did in 2012. It seems as if most Nationals’ players agree with him, but it helped that he stepped up himself in the victory at Miller Park.