Archive for the ‘national league’ Category

Nats Fall Again To Braves; Zimmerman Out 4-6 Weeks

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

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What a difference 48 hours can make. Just two days ago, the Nationals had just swept the Marlins, were sitting atop the National League East and seemed to be clicking on all cylinders. Now, just two days later, the team is struggling against the division rival Atlanta Braves and — in response to mounting injuries — new skipper Matt Williams is shifting his players from position to position.

Those troubles seemed particularly in evidence on Saturday night, as the Nationals dropped yet another game to the Atlanta Braves, 6-3 and Ryan Zimmerman, the team’s third base stalwart, team leader and big middle-of-the-order bat fractured his right thumb during a pick-off play in the fifth inning. Zimmerman will be lost from four to six weeks.

The Zimmerman injury eclipsed Washington’s loss, which was fueled by starter Taylor Jordan’s inability to subdue a powerful Braves’ line-up. Atlanta put four runs on the board in the first inning on a B.J Upton homer, a Justin Upton double and timely hitting from Dan Uggla and Evan Gattis.

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“I wasn’t hitting my spots, and they capitalized on that. It was a very tough first inning,” Jordan said following the loss. “By the third inning, I started to get my slider back, and it was working for me a little bit,” he then added.

The Nationals gamely fought back, but squandered numerous scoring opportunities, leaving 11 on base for the game. The Nationals, who dominated division rivals New York and Miami, couldn’t capitalize against the Braves and were a pathetic 1-16 with runners in scoring position.

Already hit by injuries to Denard Span and Jayson Werth (Span was placed on the 7-day disabled list with “concussion like” symptoms, Werth is day-to-day with a nagging groin), the team will now feature an infield with Anthony Rendon at third and Danny Espinosa at second.

“It is what it is. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us,” manager Matt Williams said following the announcement that the team had lost Zimmerman. “You’ve got to play.” The Nationals have recalled infielder Zach Walters from Triple-A Syracuse for added bench depth and to (presumably) spell Espinosa at second.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The early take on the new MLB rules on umpire reviews has been mostly positive, until recently. Matt Williams was frustrated by an interminable review of a bang-bang play at first base involving Nate McLouth during the second inning on Saturday, which went against the Nationals . . .

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Nats-Braves Claw Their Way Through 10

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves scratched and clawed their way through another bitterly fought contest, with the Bravos eventually coming away with a 7-6 10th inning win on a Justin Upton single. The game was another one run contest, which is becoming the new standard in the growing Nats-Braves rivalry.

Atlanta was first on the board, plating four runs in the bottom of the 2nd inning against Washington starter Tanner Roark. Despite the early score, Roark settled into the game, pitching into the fifth inning and allowing his teammates to fight their way back into the game — scoring one run in the 4th inning and three in the 5th, courtesy of a Ryan Zimmerman home run.

“I felt great out there,” Roark said following the tough loss. “I just didn’t really have the command of my pitches that I wanted.” Indeed, Roark had trouble finding the strike zone, plunking Justin Upton, Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman with pitches.

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The teams traded runs after the 4-4 tie, with Atlanta scoring one in the bottom of the 5th and the Nationals responding in the top of the next frame. “The guys continued to fight back. It’s a really good sign,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said following the loss. “It didn’t come out our way tonight, but they got back in it with the lead. We’ll take our chances with that every day.”

The Nationals, who are becoming known for their ability to launch late inning comebacks, were helped by solid performances from the middle of their order. Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper were a combined 7-13, with Zimmerman accounting for half of the Nationals runs.

The Nationals led 6-5 going into the bottom of the 8th inning, but reliever Tyler Clippard gave up a home run to Justin Upton, the Nationals new nemesis. The Braves then brought on closer Craig Kimbrel — perhaps the best closer in the majors. Kimbrel set down the Nats in the top of the 9th, striking out Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman.

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Werth’s Slam Downs The Marlins

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

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Jayson Werth’s grand slam in the 8th inning proved the difference against the Miami Marlins, as the Nationals beat their division rival, 10-7. “Crazy game. Back and forth,” Werth said following the hard fought victory. “One of those games where you play that long, you want to win.”

Werth’s line drive howitzer was the coda in a game that saw starter Jordan Zimmermann give up seven hits and five runs in just 1.2 innings, one of the worst outings (and the shortest start) for the righty in his career. Washington relievers were also victimized in the 7th and 8th innings, with Drew Storen giving up a home run to Jerrod Saltalamacchia and Tyler Clippard giving up a run in the 8th.

‘I was terrible out there,” Zimmermann said of his performance. “The fastball was all over the place. That’s not like me. I just couldn’t get a very good feel. I fell behind guys and when you fall behind you’ve got to come in with a fastball — and they’re a good fastball hitting team.”

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Despite Zimmermann’s early struggles (which left the team down 5-0 going into the bottom of the 4th) Washington refused to give in. While Werth’s slam gave Washington the victory, the game might well have turned on Bryce Harper’s brilliant ten pitch at bat in the bottom of that frame.

The struggling youngster (who came into the game batting just a hair about .160), fouled off numerous offerings from Miami starter Brad Hand in a ten pitch at bat before depositing a 95 mph fastball in the third deck of Nats Park. Harper’s home run brought the crowd of 21,000-plus to their feet, scored Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman — and put Washington back into the game.

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“I never felt out of this game, that’s for sure. We battled. We’ve just got to keep pressing,” Werth told reporters after the comeback win. It was the Nationals fifth comeback win this season in only eight games and kept Washington atop the N.L. East standings at 6-2.

Washington skipper Matt Williams noted that the Washington victory would not have been possible without the solid pitching of Craig Stammen, who shut down Miami in the middle innings — giving his team just over three innings of stellar relief while striking out four.

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Nats Notes For Game #7: Nats Arms Leave Fish Gasping

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

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The big takeaway from last night’s shutout of the Miami Fish is that Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rendon are the team’s early season on-base machines. LaRoche went 3 for 3 with a a walk, Rendon went 2 for 4 with 3 RBIs. It’s a good start for LaRoche, who’s noted for swinging a weak bat in temperatures under 90 . . .

LaRoche even took two extra bases on an error and a wild pitch and got thrown out trying to steal! And all in a a single game! When Matt Williams said he wanted the Nats to be aggressive, we doubt that he intended sending the normally speed-challenged good-glove first sacker regularly motoring to second. Denard Span and Danny Espinosa, yes. Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth, sure. But LaRoche? But it’s hard to argue with success; after all, it seems to be working out more often than not — so far . . .

The scouting report on Fish starter Henderson Alvarez was that he’s a good fastball-changeup guy who’s tough to hit when he’s on target, but that he tends to lose his command. That was the case last night. After Alvarez gave up a run in the 1st, the Marlins’ starter kept it close, until the 6th. By then, every other pitch was in the dirt, behind the catcher — or both. So the Nats pounced in the 6th and then pounced again in the 8th, when Marlins reliever Mike Dunn (high and fast) arrived to try to stem the bleeding . . .

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The Nats pitchers, sensing a kill of a team they have dominated, were no slouches. Starter Gio Gonzalez pitched six solid innings. Gio’s pitch count was worrisome after the first two innings, but beginning in the 3rd inning he locked in the strike zone and (as Matt Williams noted in his post game comments), probably could have gone longer had the Nats not scored behind him . . .

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Nats Notes For Game #4: Braves 2 Nationals 1

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

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It’s possible to spend hours discussing what happened on Opening Day, but it might be more useful to summarize it as follows: Ian Desmond’s 5th inning infield homer-not-a-homer Charlie Foxtrot, Bryce Harper’s timing issues at the plate (“he’s off a tick,” Matt Williams said following the loss), and “overaggressive” base running from Desmond, Adam LaRoche, and Harper. All this brought groans from Nats’ watchers, especially those who were privileged to see it from the stands . . .

Notwithstanding, while the regulars at the ballpark-on-the-Anacostia on Friday left disappointed by the loss, they left the game happy with the not-so-new-look Nationals — and the fact that winter, at long last, seemed to be over. And there probably won’t be much disagreement with our own take:

Jordan Zimmermann, on an off day recovering from the flu, is as good a starting pitcher as any team could hope for. He gave up one run, just like every other Nats starter so far this season, but he made it through the first two innings on 22 pitches. That’s an economy of effort that Steve McCatty would look for, though the long ball that “the Ace of Auburndale” gave up was prodigious . . .

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It sounded like a howitzer. “Holy shit,” the fan next to me said when the Gattis shot was three-quarters of the way to the left field bleachers  . . .

When healthy, Zimm typically goes seven innings, and the fact that he was able to go five and let Matt Williams avoid having the game pitched by a bullpen committee is a major advantage against a team like the Braves. Craig Stammen delivered two solid innings (the slider is his out pitch, and it’s working real well), Aaron Barrett was better than good, and then too Tyler Clippard — well, we’re still only at 98.7, which isn’t much of a fever . . .

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The Nats Head Home After An 86-76 Season

Monday, September 30th, 2013

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The Washington Nationals finished their season in Arizona with a loss to the Diamondbacks, 3-2. In many ways the loss was representative of what the team had done all season: entering the eighth inning with a one run lead, the Nationals’ bullpen gave up two runs to an Arizona team they’d beaten handily in the previous two outings.

While the game was the last in a season that saw the Nats drop out of contention for the N.L. East title back in June and July, the team came back in September with a run at the Wild Card. The key to the Nationals resurgence was a revived offense and pitching contributions from unlikely rookies, including Tanner Roark, who held the D-Backs to just three hits in seven innings on Sunday.

“I feel I can play up here for sure. But you never know what’s going to happen,” Roark said after his performance on Sunday. “Just workout in the offseason, do my best and come back ready to go in spring training.” Roark has been outstanding since arriving in the majors in early August: he finished at 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA over 53 2/3 innings, striking out 40 and walking 11.

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The final game of the season also marked Davey Johnson’s last game as the Nats’ manager. “Time to go home,” Johnson said after the game. “Put me out to pasture.” The Nationals praised their 70-year-old skipper, with Tyler Clippard noting that a good manager “builds confidence in his players and we benefited from that because he never wavered, no matter how good or bad you were doing.”

Johnson was philosophical about what is apparently the end of his career, choosing to bypass comments on the Nationals’ season. “I felt really lucky to have had the big league experiences I’ve had as a player and as a manager,” he told the press after the Arizona loss. “When you love a game as much as I love this game and like the competition, you just enjoy it.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: An 86-76 record would have sparked celebrations in Washington just a few years ago, but the Nationals (picked by many as the premier team in the National League) must be disappointed. Even so, there is good reason for celebrating a season that saw the Nationals finish ten games out of the hunt in the N.L. East . . .

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Cardinals Sweep The Nats, 4-1

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

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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 . . .

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