Archive for the ‘national league’ Category
Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013
And so it’s official: after nearly fifty games the Nationals are playing .500 ball, have proven incapable of winning the big games, are mired in a team-wide batting slump, seem disoriented and demoralized, are losing games they should win — and are nowhere near the elite team they were projected to be at the season’s start.
Or, as Adam Kilgore put it at Nationals Journal this morning: “The Nationals 4-2, 10-inning loss included many hallmarks of their 3-6 road swing. A dearth of offense. Spotty relief pitching. Finding a way to lose.” Finding a way to lose?
The most recent example came on Tuesday night in San Francisco, when the Nationals dropped a 4-2 decision on a walk-off two run Pablo Sandoval blast on a pitch by Triple-A call-up Yunesky Maya. The loss dropped the Nationals to 3-6 on their ten game West Coast road trip and squandered a near-brilliant outing from righty workhorse Stephen Strasburg.
In Davey Johnson and Mike Rizzo we trust (and absolutely), but this time there’s blame enough to go around. With the Nationals leading 2-1 with two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning, and closer Rafael Soriano on the mound, Gregor Blanco hit a liner to right field that should have been caught by Bryce Harper for the final out. It wasn’t — and Andres Torres scored the tying run.
But Harper was playing in and towards the line, when he should have been playing back and in the gap, to guard against precisely the kind of over-the-head liner that Blanco smacked. That’s the way the Giants play it. That Harper shied away from the ball (the result of hitting the wall in Los Angeles, it was suggested) is nonsense: he was out of position.
This is hardly a radical point-of-view: it was hinted at by F.P. Santangelo — MASN’s color commenter who was covering the game — both at the time of the hit, and in his post-game comments. Harper, meanwhile, reacted like any good team player, even if he’s wrong. “I put that whole loss on me,” he said. “Really sucks.”
Then there’s Yunesky Maya. “Wise old” Davey Johnson is rightly praised for managing his bullpen just so (and, it is said, even brilliantly), and determining the exact pitcher-to-hitter match-ups. Maya is a righty and would be facing righties, so perhaps that is why Johnson decided to bring him in to pitch to the Giants in the 10th. But . . . Yunesky Maya?
Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013
Cardinals lefty Shelby Miller held the Nationals to four hits and two runs in 6.2 innings of work on Monday night, and the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Washington Nationals 3-2. The Nationals are now officially in a hitting slump, averaging just five hits in each of the last four games.
“We’re just in a rut,” Washington first baseman Adam LaRoche said after the loss. “Lot of quick innings. Not a ton of baserunners. And five, six guys that aren’t swinging the bat real good.”
Washington starter Dan Haren continued to struggle, leaving the bases loaded in the top of the 6th inning with nobody out. Reliever Craig Stammen saved the day — pitching out of the jam with the help of a nifty 3-2-3 double play.
Haren gave up six hits and walked three, and struggled with his command in the middle innings, but Nats’ manager Davey Johnson considered Haren’s outing an improvement for the veteran righty. “I thought he threw the ball a lot better,” Johnson said. “I thought he had good location and mixed his pitches up. I thought he pitched a good ballgame. That’s a very positive outing for me.”
St. Louis tallied its runs on an Allen Craig double in the top of the 3rd that scored Peter Kozma and Matt Carpenter. The ball appeared to be just out of the reach of Denard Span. The game was so close and tightly fought that another inch or two might have made the difference, and given Washington the win. The Cardinals scored their third, and go-ahead run, in the top of the 6th on a single from Yadier Molina.
There were some positives from the loss, including Anthony Rendon’s double in the bottom of the 4th that scored Ian Desmond. It was Rendon’s first major league hit and came during a tenacious at bat against fireballer Miller. “It’s the one thing you’re going to treasure the rest of your life,” Rendon said of that first hit. “You don’t get another one.”
The Wisdom of Section 1-2-9: The more things change the more they stay the same. Silence gripped the section every time Danny Espinosa came to the plate, just like last year — when the Nats’ regular second sacker struggled for most of the season and led the league with 189 strikeouts . . .
There were nods of approval and a number of “attaboys” when Espinosa slapped a single into left field in the bottom of the 7th (“he went the other way, that’s the way he did it in Spring Training,” a regular said) and grumbling when he ground out softly in the bottom of the 9th: “If he continues to slump, we’re going to see Lombardozzi,” a regular noted. “There’s only so much patience you can have” . . .
Tuesday, April 9th, 2013
These are the “sinking like a stone” Phillies: aging, slow, confused and hobbled — Philadelphia may be headed to last place in the N.L. East, behind even the Miami Pathetics. Okay, okay, it’s too soon to tell, but if last night’s effort against the Mets is any indication, the Ponies are in trouble. And Roy Halladay is exhibit number one.
Last night in Philly (with some 35,000 looking on), Halladay struggled against a line-up that, just two years ago, he would have easily tamed. He allowed seven runs and six hits in four-plus innings on the way to a 7-2 Philadelphia loss. Halladay’s earned run average after two starts is 14.73 and while he says his problems are mental, his fastball velocity is off — from 94 mph two seasons ago to 90 mph last night. He didn’t scare anybody.
But Halladay isn’t the only problem. A passel of aging veterans (Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco, Juan Pierre) and developing or back-of-the-rotation arms (Vance Worley, Joe Blanton) are gone, but the team hasn’t gotten any younger. Philadelphia G.M. Ruben Amaro replaced the aging Polanco with the aging Michael Young and failed to cut any overhead (Halladay will cost $20 million this year, Cliff Lee will cost $25 million) — with the payroll at $159 million plus.
If there’s a bright spot here it’s that Amaro has shorn up the outfield with the addition of Ben Revere, a defensive speedster that is the first piece in where the Phillies need to go. The problem is that Amaro gave up fan favorite Worley (who was 11-3 just two years ago) and a young prospect, Trevor May, to get him. That’s not good: the farm system is embarrassingly light on talent: their top prospect, pitcher Jesse Biddle, is no closer than AA Reading.
What the Phillies are banking on (so to speak) is that Halladay, Lee and Cole Hamels (signed to a long term contract last year) will return to their 2011 form and that the geriatric infield quartet of Young, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard will hit well enough to carry Philly into the post-season.
It could happen, we suppose, but the possibility is slowly closing. Just take a look at last night. While Halladay labored, Mets’ newbie Matt Harvey hardly broke a sweat. Harvey struck out nine hitters in just seven innings (Ryan Howard, twice), leaving the fleet footed Revere stranded three times.
After the game, “Baseball Tonight” analyst Curt Shilling said that Halladay needs to re-learn how to pitch now that his fastball is no longer what it was. That seems right: everyone on the Madoffs (hardly a ball crushing team) was catching up to Halladay last night, including nine hole hitter Harvey. The big blast came in the second, with journeyman catcher John Buck homering on a Halladay “fastball” that was up, out — and slow.
Philly commenter Joe Santoliquito has this right — comparing Halladay to an aging fighter. “He’s groping,” Santoliquito wrote this morning. “Like an aged world champion fighter who can’t accept reality. They can’t get out of the way of a punch anymore. Their feet don’t move when their mind wants it.” So Halladay is reeling — but then, so is the entire Philly line-up.
From "My Mets Journal"
Wednesday, March 27th, 2013
There are people who throw salt over their shoulder, who won’t walk under a ladder, who dodge sidewalk cracks as they head to their office — and then there are the rest of us: who audibly groan when we see own hometown boys featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. It’s the kiss of death.
Honest To God: the S.I. “Kiss Of Death” syndrome is not just some kind of black cat superstition. Just ask Cubs’ fans. Back in 2004, S.I. featured fireballer Kerry Wood on its cover under the headline “Do You Believe?” In fact, the answer to that question for “long suffering Cubs fans” (note: the words “Cubs fans” must always be preceded by the words — “long suffering”) was an emphatic “no.” They knew better, especially with Dusty “arm killer” Baker in charge. The 2004 Champs were the Boston Red Sox, who swept the series from the stinking Cardinals. The Cubs finished sixteen back.
Which is not to say that this year’s S.I prediction, authored by Tom Verducci (who says our guys look a lot like Davey Johnson’s ’86 Mets), is wrong. The CFG crew (and, as a reminder, here we are), thinks this is the best team the Nationals have ever fielded (well, that was easy) and arguably the best in baseball. But predicting a World Series match-up against the Rays (S.I.’s pick in the well-named Junior Circuit) is a bit of a stretch. The playoffs are now a second season, in which anything can happen — as any old Nationals’ fan can now tell you.
Is the Sports Illustrated jinx real? The first baseball player to appear on an S.I. cover — this was back in 1954 — was Eddie Matthews who, after his appearance, broke his hand. Pete Rose appeared on the cover in the same week, in 1978, that his 44 game hitting streak ended. “Indian Uprising,” back in 1987 featured the powerhouse Cleveland Indians: who finished in last place, with the worst record in baseball. And in May of last year, the Los Angeles Dodgers (then in first place) appeared on the cover with the headline “Fun and Games In L.A.” — and promptly tanked.
So, while the S.I. jinx is simply a superstition, it’s hard to argue with history. Then too, the reason there’s a 162 game season is not simply to test of team’s excellence, but it’s luck. It’s ability to overcome fate, and injuries and those odd little bounces that rob a sure winner of a Series championship. And there’s that other thing: the Nationals might well be “the best team in baseball,” at least on paper, but the coming season won’t be played on paper. It’ll be played against the likes of the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants. Among others.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Ah, we’re back — and this time for good. The snow has melted, we can feel Spring in the air, and the Nationals are just days from their opener. It’s the season of predictions: with everyone assessing starting rotations and winter trades.
So too, usually, we make our predictions at this time of the off-season. But this year, we’re going to do something different — we’re going to pick the counterfactuals: those teams expected to do well who, in our estimation, are overrated. Here we go:
Saturday, October 13th, 2012
The Nationals couldn’t hold a six run lead, then couldn’t hold a three run lead, then couldn’t hold a two run lead, and then usually steady closer Drew Storen gave up four runs in the 9th inning, and the Washington Nationals lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, 9-7 to close out their 2012 campaign. This was the toughest of tough losses. “Devastating,” is how reliever Tyler Clippard described it. And it was.
In fact, this is one that the Nationals will long remember as a game that they could have and should have won: they were one strike away from going to the National League Championship Series, twice. But they couldn’t put away the St. Louis Cardinals, who will now go on to face the San Francisco Giants in a seven game playoff for the right to play in the World Series.
The 9th inning of Friday night’s game is likely to be remembered for a long time: for its agony. Storen entered the game with a 7-5 lead, but immediately gave up a double to Redbird slugger Carlos Beltran. Still, Storen seemed on his game. Matt Holliday grounded out and Allen Craig struck out swinging. There were two outs in the inning.
But then things fell apart. Storen walked Yadier Molina and David Freese. For Nationals fans, those 45,000-plus who packed Nationals Park, it looked suspiciously like the strike zone had suddenly shrunk. But Storen’s pitches, while close, were just nipping the corners and could have been called either way. They were called balls.
With the bases loaded, Daniel Descalso singled, bringing Beltran and pinch runner Adron Chambers home. The score was locked at seven. Davey Johnson then decided that Storen should pitch to Peter Kozma, who laced a single into right field, scoring another two runs. And that was the game.
Friday, October 12th, 2012
Jayson Werth capped a 13-pitch 9th inning at bat by putting a 3-2 Lance Lynn offering into the left field bullpen, sending the Nationals to a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park on Thursday night. “Three-two heater. He beat me,” Lynn said of the Werth at bat.
Werth’s crowd roaring blast ensured that the Nationals will play a final elimination game against the Redbirds on Friday to decide who will meet the San Francisco Giants for the National League Pennant. The Giants eliminated the Cincinnati Reds earlier on Thursday in a stunning 6-4 victory, after being down two games to none in that series.
In a season of exciting games, this was by far the most exciting, with the sold out crowd standing for every pitch from the 7th inning on. “That’s the way that game should have ended — Jayson Werth hitting a home run,” Nats’ manager Davey Johnson said of the epic walk off home run. “He has not hit that many this year. What was it, a 13-pitch at-bat, something like that? It was unbelievable.”
Werth’s ninth inning home run was set up by Washington’s outstanding pitching: six innings of three hit baseball from starter Ross Detwiler, followed by a superb relief effort from a trio of Nats’ relievers. Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen combined to strike out eight Redbirds in a row, holding St. Louis hitless in three complete innnings.
Following the game, closer Drew Storen paid tribute to the contribution that Werth has made to the club. “Last year didn’t go as well as he wanted, but what I think he did in the clubhouse from Day 1, he changed the culture,” he said. “He has been a huge part of the team’s success . . . I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s a great teammate and a great leader.”
Credit the Cardinals for crediting Werth. Ninth inning reliever Lance Lynn battled the savvy veteran through 12 pitches, strike after strike, but then laid the thirteenth in over the plate. “He battled that whole at-bat, and I was making good pitches, making my pitches, and you know, he won,” Lynn said. “It was just a matter of time. I was challenging him, and he was up for it.”
Werth understood the importance of the moment, both for him and for the franchise. “You know when I came here last year this place was empty,” he told reporter Tim Kurkjian after the win, “and now one year later this place is packed and it’s awesome. We have great fans, and it’s a great place to play ball.”
The Nationals will face off against the Cardinals on Friday night at Nationals Park in the deciding Game 5 of the NLDS. Lefty ace Gio Gonzalez will start for the Nationals, with Adam Wainwright taking the mound for the Cardinals.
Photo Credits: AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Tuesday, October 9th, 2012
During the regular season, this would have been one of those forgettable games — with a young pitcher having an off day, and the Nationals hoping to bounce back from a poor performance. But in the playoffs, a 12-4 loss at the hands of a rejuvenated line-up is a sign of a knock-down series where both teams will fight to the very last. And the loser will go home.
The Cardinals, the best hitting team in the N.L., banged out thirteen hits, including homes runs from Allen Craig, Daniel Descalso and Carlos Beltran, and notched a must-win victory at Busch Stadium in St. Louis to knot their five game series against the Nationals in the N.L.D.S. at one game each.
The Cardinals victimized seven Nationals pitchers while rolling to victory, including young starter Jordan Zimmermann, who lasted only three innings while giving up seven hits and five earned runs — one of his worst outings of the year. “It’s definitely tough. I wanted to go out there and go deep into the game and try to get out of here with two wins. I didn’t do my part,” Zimmermann said of the loss.
This was, by all measures, a debacle: Zimmermann’s breakdown is unusual for him, except when he pitches against the Cardinals. The young Auburndale ace has a snappy ERA against the rest of the National League, but when it comes to St. Louis, he seems to freeze up. The Post’s Tom Boswell points to his his 9.76 ERA against the Redbirds in his six career starts against them.
Washington’s relievers, a normally steady presence during the regular season, were also ineffective on Monday. Craig Stammen, Christian Garcia, Michael Gonzalez, Ryan Mattheus, Sean Burnett and Tom Gorzelanny combined to give up six hits and six earned runs in just five innings of work.