Archive for the ‘national league east’ Category

“He’s Got It. He’s Got It. It’s A No-Hitter”

Monday, September 29th, 2014

In what has to be one of the most memorable games in the history of the Washington Nationals, Jordan Zimmermann no-hit the Miami Marlins in front of 35,000-plus at Nationals Park on Sunday afternoon. Zimmermann’s no-no was a dominating 1-0 performance, as the “Ace of Auburndale” struck out ten in notching his 14th win of the year.

But, as is the case with all such games, Zimmermann’s no-hit bid was not without drama. With two outs in the ninth inning, Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich hit a screaming line drive into the gap in left-center field for what seemed a sure-thing double. But defensive replacement Steven Souza made a spectacular catch to preserve Zimmermann’s brilliant outing.

“He’s got it. He’s got it. It’s a no-hitter,” MASN play-by-play announcer Bob Carpenter screamed into his microphone in calling Souza’s heroic snag. As the 35,000-plus at Nationals Park stood for a sustained ovation, Souza and Zimmermann were mobbed on the field.

“Total domination, all day long, from Jordan Zimmermann,” color analyst F.P. Santangelo concluded, “and it ends on the most unbelievable play you can possibly imagine.”

“He probably couldn’t have been more out of position,” right fielder Jayson Werth said of Souza,  “”I was just thinking to myself, `It is not optimal to be Steven Souza right now, because as soon as you come into the game, every time, the ball’s going to find you. I had a feeling something crazy would happen. But not that crazy, that’s for sure.”

“The one thing on my mind is, no matter how I’m going to get there, I’m going to get there,” Souza said of the play. “Getting there, I kind of blacked out.”

Zimmermann, meanwhile, could hardly believe what Souza had done. When Yelich hit the ball, Zimmermann thought he’d just seen his no-hit bid end in failure. “I don’t think anyone in the stadium expected Souza to get to that,” Zimmermann said.

Given how Zimmermann pitched, all the Nationals needed was a single run, which they tallied on an Ian Desmond home run in the second inning. The Nationals notched eleven hits off of Marlins pitching, all of them against Miami starter Henderson Alvarez.

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The Wisdom Of Section 129 131: There are 162 games in a season, 81 of them at home. Of those 81, it’s possible to draw lots for perhaps 25 of them among a group of four season ticket holders. Add one or two here and there, and you have maybe 28 games that you can see. But if you’re stupid, or unlucky, you have to buy extra seats for the last game, because you drew wrong . . .

That’s the way it was for us in Game 162, but a push from CFG partisan Mike (“hey, it’s the last game, so what the hell, let’s go,” he said), and Shaaaazam, “the wisdom of Section 1-2-9″ turns into “the wisdom of Section 1-3-1.” For all of that, we might as well have been on Mars. Sitting ahead of us was a young woman nursing a baby and behind us was a family sporting Atlanta Braves jerseys . . .

“Where the hell are we, Bangladesh?” Mikey asked in the fifth inning. “Don’t be ridiculous,” I said, “we’re obviously in Atlanta.” The baby was cute, and just as he was about to wail, the young woman fed him, hiding herself modestly, and off he went to dream land. She turned and smiled, chagrined. “That special sauce,” I said, helpfully, “always does the trick . . .”

By about the 6th inning it was becoming clear that something special was happening, but no one around us was going to say anything. Two rows ahead, a young man was keeping score, and quite meticulously. I tapped him on the shoulder: “There was a walk, right?” He turned and smiled. “Yes, just one. Otherwise . . .” and thought twice about it and put his index finger to his lips . . .

In the 7th, Mikey motioned to the board. I nodded. In the 8th, which might have been the next time we talked, he added this. “People seem to be getting the idea.” The crowd was starting to stand at every strike out, line-out and ground out. And by the 9th inning at every pitch . . .

And all I could think was: “oh please, please, please . . .”

I texted my wife, who was some 75 miles away: “Oh, my God.” She told me later that she turned to a friend and showed her her telephone, with the text message. Her friend raised her eyebrows — what’s happening? “There’s a no-hitter. My husband is watching a no hitter . . .”

Mike repeated my text, unbidden, after two outs in the 9th. “Oh my God,” he said. “One more, just one more.” And when Yelich hit the ball you could hear the breath go out of the section, followed by a storm of ecstasy just a heartbeat later. The man who was keeping score, two rows away, turned around to look at me. “Cross it off your list,” he said . . .

“You ever seen one of these?” Mike asked. “Never,” I said, “and I never, ever, thought I would . . .” And one moment later, I against texted my wife, on cue: “I saw that . . .”

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Let’s Play The . . . Giants

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

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Somewhere here soon, and actually any minute now, Nats skipper Matt Williams will tell the Washington sports press that he doesn’t care whether the Nationals face the Pirates (and, well, perhaps the Cardinals) or the Giants in the playoffs — “they’re both good teams.” That’s fine for Matt, but the rest of us should have a decided preference: Let’s play the Giants.

It’s not that we don’t like the Pirates (we love them, and if the Nats weren’t in the playoffs . . .), it’s that of the two teams that the Nats are likely to face in the playoffs first round, the Giants are (arguably) the easier opponent. They’ve had an inconsistent September (swept by the Padres and dumped by the Dodgers) and, with the exception of Madison Bumgarner (and Jake Peavy) their pitching is a mess.

The Giants know it. Having backed into the playoffs, Giants skipper Bruce Bochy is now juggling his starting staff to make certain San Francisco puts Bumgarner on the mound on Wild Card Wednesday, no matter who the Giants face. Which means that, if the Giants were to win, the Nationals would face either Ryan Vogelsong, Jake Peavy or Tim Hudson in the first game of the N.L. Division series — while Bumgarner sits.

San Francisco will enter the playoffs with the worst pitching stats of any of the five N.L finishers, with a so-so team ERA (at 3.52), a habit of giving up big runs to small teams and a back of the rotation that has been absolutely shelled.

The Giants lost to the Padres 4-1 last night at home, but gave up eight runs to them on Thursday, in a game the franchise said it had to win. Earlier in the month, the McCoveys were outscored by the Friars in a three game set, 16-2.

But our argument doesn’t have as much to do with the Giants as it does with the Pirates. Pittsburgh is red hot (they’ve won nine of their last eleven), their line-up is that much more formidable and their starting rotation is tougher than San Francisco’s. Pittsburgh is the N.L.’s big secret: they can hit, they can pitch, they’re patient at the plate and they’re fast.

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Nats Sweep In Miami, Return For Final Homestand

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

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The Nationals completed an impressive four game sweep of the Marlins on Sunday afternoon in Miami 2-1, behind a strong seven inning outing from righty Stephen Strasburg. The Nats righty struck out five while giving up three hits and no runs, keeping Washington ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the race for the best record in the National League.

“Really important, a good road trip for us against some teams that has been playing well especially here in a place where they play very good at home,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said, following the victory. “We won some close ones and pitching was good, that certainly will keep you in any ballgame.

This was Strasburg’s 13th win of the year and, with just seven games left in the season (three against the Mets, four against Miami), the Washington ace seems to be peaking at just the right time. Strasburg threw 84 pitches, 55 of them for strikes. “Just have to keep the train rolling,” Strasburg said following his strong outing.

With Strasburg on his game, the Nats needed just two runs to subdue the Marlins, and got both of them in the top of the 5th inning on a lead-off double from Jose Lobaton, an RBI triple from Nate Schierholtz and an Anthony Rendon double to left. Washington victimized Miami starter Nathan Eovaldi, who gave up seven hits in six innings.

Washington’s bullpen once against provided a solid performance. Craig Stammen provided a no hit, no run 8th inning, while Rafael Soriano (making a rare appearance in a save situation), gave up a single run in preserving the Nationals victory.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: With less than a week to go in the regular season, now might be a good time to check this year’s attendance figures — which are down from last year. Baseball has drawn 155,000 fewer fans to this point this year than to a similar point in 2013, a relatively insignificant per game decline. Still . . .

Washington has contributed to this, with a fall-off of 1,065 fans per game. That’s a marginal difference and well in line with the standard in baseball, where attendance figures lag performance by a year. Given the Nationals run to the playoffs in the 2014 campaign, we can expect the team’s attendance to go back up in 2015 . . .

Not to worry. It was going to be difficult for the franchise to outdraw last year’s totals, which were the best since 2005, the Nationals first year in D.C. Then too, the franchise’s attendance figures continue to be solid, putting them just ahead of the middle of the pack in the MLB. They currently rank 12th in attendance per game . . .

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Nats Keep Rolling, Edge Miami 3-2

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

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Sloppy play and a slow start weren’t enough to deny the Nationals their 90th win of the season, or starter Jordan Zimmermann his 13th, as Washington rallied to edge the Marlins in Miami on Saturday night, 3-2. The win, coupled with a Dodgers loss against the Cubs, lifted the Nats 2.5 games ahead of Los Angeles for the best record in the National League.

Starter Zimmermann was once again the ace of the game, throwing six innings of five hit baseball while striking out four. The victory for Zimmermann marked the Nationals tenth consecutive win with “the Ace of Auburndale” on the mound. Zimmermann soldiered on after taking a pitch off his shoulder in the sixth inning — a dangerous line drive that threw ripples of fear through the Nats dugout.

“It happened so fast,” Zimmermann said, after the Nationals victory. “I saw the ball coming and thought that it was stopped. I just tried turning and lift my shoulder. I was lucky enough that it hit my shoulder and not my face. It’s a little sore, pretty tight right now but it will be fine. It’s not going to affect me.”

The victory also marked the return of third sacker (and, now, left fielder) Ryan Zimmerman, who had missed 55 games, to the line-up. Zimmerman’s contribution was immediate. The “face of the franchise” was 2-3 on the night, with a single (in his first at bat in the second inning), and a triple in the 7th that scored Ian Desmond. “It was fun to be out there and be part of the team and be out with the guys in a really good win,” Zimmerman said.

Miami scored a single run in the first inning on four hits, including an RBI single from rookie Justin Bour. The Marlins scored their second run in the fourth, after Reed Johnson led off with a double to center field. Denard Span retrieved the ball off the wall, but overthrew cutoff man Asdrubal Cabrera. Backing up the play, Jordan Zimmermann overthrew Anthony Rendon at third, which allowed Johnson to score.

“I knew I overthrew the first cutoff guy, but I thought the ball was gonna get caught,” Denard Span said of the unusual two error play. “I turned my head and all of a sudden I heard the crowd roaring. I was like, ‘What the heck is going on?’ Next thing you know, he was rounding third.”

All of Washington’s runs were scored during a 7th inning rally that began with an Ian Desmond single. Desmond then scored on a Ryan Zimmerman triple, with Zimmerman then ruled out at home on a Wilson Ramos fielder’s choice. But second sacker Asdrubal Cabrera kept the inning going with a triple that scored Ramos. Cabrera, in turn, scored on a Denard Span single.

The three run 7th inning held up, with the Nationals bullpen closing out the game. Aaron Barrett and Tyler Clippard closed down Miami in the 7th and 8th innings, with Drew Storen keeping the Marlins off the board in the 9th (with the help of a game ending double play), notching his ninth save.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Braves season was still alive last week, but their skid just goes on and on. Last night the Braves were upended in Atlanta by the suddenly dangerous Metropolitans, who shut out the Tomahawks, 2-0. Atlanta is 4-13 in the month of September. Which means that the Braves “tragic number” is two: if they lose today, and the Pirates win, the Braves will be out of the post-season . . .

“I thought we had good at-bats up and down the lineup,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said, after last night’s loss. Really? The Braves were 2-10 with runners in scoring position. And. And don’t look now, but the Mets and Marlins have an outside chance of catching the Braves for second place in the National League East, which would just about do-in the Cobb County faithful . . .

And, ah, wouldn’t that be a shame . . .

Meanwhile, the Braves of the West (otherwise known as the Oakland Athletics) continue their imitation of a demolition derby. It’s getting really ugly, which means that it’s nearly impossible to avert your eyes. We tune in every night to watch the A’s, just so we can see how they’ll screw up this time. The A’s are 6-12 in September, and continue to find new ways to lose . . .

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Nats Hook The Fish Behind Gio, Harper

Friday, September 19th, 2014

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The pitching of southpaw Gio Gonzalez, timely hitting from left fielder Bryce Harper, shortstop Ian Desmond and second sacker Asdrubal Cabrera and a five run fourth inning propelled the Nationals past the Miami Marlins on Thursday night, 6-2 — as Washington continued their late-in-the-season dominance of the N.L. East.

Gonzalez notched his ninth win of the season, providing his sixth successive quality start in a row. The Washington southpaw dominated Miami hitting with a snappy fastball, while allowing six hits over seven innings  and striking out five. This was the lefty’s third win in his last four starts.

“I just think he’s got a better feel,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said of Gonzalez’s recent success. “You look back to not too long ago, where his slot was a little bit off and he was losing control of the fastball up and away to righties. He didn’t have a feel for his curveball. But he’s got that back, which is important for him. If he can do that, he can roll through the lineup.”

The Nationals scored five of their six runs in the fourth inning off of Miami starter Brad Hand. The D.C. rally began with a Anthony Rendon single, who then stole second. With two outs, Wilson Ramos doubled, and Washington stroked four successive singles: from Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, Asdrubal Cabrera and Kevin Frandsen.

“That’s the way we play the game,” Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond noted after the victory. “Why change now? I think it’s kind of ingrained in our minds now the way that we’re supposed to go out there and go about our business.” Rendon and Harper were the sparks for the Nats offense, with Rendon notching a two hit night, while Harper was 3-4.

“We had a big inning and Gio pitched well, kept them at bay, bullpen came in and shut it down, and it was an all-around team effort,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said. “A good win for us.” Craig Stammen and Rafael Soriano came on in relief of Gonzalez and shut down the Miami offense in the eighth and ninth innings.

“With this team that we’re playing, these guys are going to the playoffs, we’ve got to play perfect baseball,” Miami manager Mike Redmond said after his team’s defeat. “We can’t give extra outs. We’ve got to take advantage and we’ve got to score runs when we can, and we weren’t able to do that.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We yak and yak about how great the Pittsburgh outfield is (with Marte, McCutchen and Polanco), but it might be that Miami’s is every bit as good — so long as Giancarlo Stanton is healthy and not recovering from an HBP in some Miami hospital . . .

Stanton is good enough to overawe everyone else in the game, not simply because he can hit (his final numbers on the season will be .288 with 37 home runs to go along with a .950 OPS, which leads all of baseball), but because he has a howitzer for an arm . . .

Because baseball is Stanton obsessed (prior to his injury, the hottest debate was whether he should be the MVP), we tend to overlook left fielder Christian Yelich and center fielder Marcell Ozuna. Yelich has been on fire since the All Star break, with a .316/.398/.394 slash line over 231 second-half at-bats. Yelich has had a solid year, with nine home runs, 54 RBIs and 89 runs . . .

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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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It’s All Strasburg In Atlanta

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

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The Nationals edged closer to playing in October Monday night, downing the Braves at Atlanta’s Turner Field behind the shut-down seven inning pitching of righty ace Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg stymied the Braves, 4-2, leaving the Nationals on the verge of their second National League East championship in three years.

Strasburg has always had difficulty pitching against the Braves at Turner Field and entered the game with a stiff neck, but none of these problems were much in evidence on Monday. The righty gave up five hits while striking out seven and walking none in a 90 pitch outing. The win gave the Nats their league leading 86th win on the season.

“I’ve never seen him pitch bad against us,” Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez said after the Nats win. “You see the numbers, the seven-plus ERA his last four starts here. He’s a pretty darn good pitcher every time we face him. I know those numbers don’t bare that. But he’s a guy that we respect. He’s a guy who has been a big pitcher for them.”

Strasburg’s win was also the result of timely Nationals hitting, which began with a Denard Span double off of Atlanta starter Ervin Santana in the third inning. Span’s double plated Wilson Ramos for Washington’s first score. Ramos then homered in the top of the 5th inning for the Nats second score. The Nats added their third run on a Strasburg single in the 7th and a Nate Schierholtz RBI in the 8th.

The Braves mounted a comeback in the 9th inning, with Rafael Soriano taking the mound to protect a 4-0 lead. Andrelton Simmons greeted Soriano with a double and then scored on a Justin Upton double to left. When Soriano walked Chris Johnson with two outs, Nats manager Matt Williams brought in Drew Storen to get the third out — a B.J. Upton grounder that ended the game.

The Braves frustration at falling out of both the race for the N.L. East crown and a spot as a Wild Card team was evidenced in the 6th inning when first sacker Freddie Freeman was called out on strikes by home plate umpire Tim Timmons. Freeman slammed his bat in disgust and was ejected from the game; when Gonzalez defended his player, he was also tossed.

We all collectively, from the front office to our coaches to our fans, we want to win,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez. “Anything short of us getting into some playoff game or play-in game is not acceptable. You see guys fighting.”

The loss symbolized the demise of the Braves who, despite their early season woes with a rash of pitching injuries, were supposed to contend with the Nationals for the N.L East title. That’s not what happened: Atlanta played well against the Nats, but poorly against the rest of the league. Last night’s loss put them at a so-so 75-75 for the year. A disappointment . . .

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Baltimore’s Orioles are a single win away from clinching their first American League East title since 1997. Last night, against the Toronto Blue Jays, they continued their dominance of their division, finishing off the struggling Jays, 5-2. If they win again tonight, they’ll win the A.L. East crown . . .

It seemed only right that Wei-Yin Chen would be the pitcher to lead the O’s in Toronto. After last night’s performance (the underrated southpaw scattered nine hits in 5.2 innings of work), Chen is 16-4 on the season, the first time a Baltimore lefty had 16 or more wins in a season since Jimmy Key did it way back when . . .

“I allowed quite a few hits out there, but I was trying to battle,” Chen said of his performance after his team’s victory. “I was trying to keep the ball down without allowing too many runs. Fortunately I can do that with the help of my teammates . . .”

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