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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 Poised To Win The East After 3-0 New York Victory

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals continued their dominance of the New York Mets on Sunday, notching a convincing 3-0 victory that extended their lead to ten games over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. The victory brought the Nats record against the Mets to 13-3 for the year, with the team winning nine of ten games at Citi Field.

Oddly, the Mets have a winning record against the rest of baseball, and would finish the season above .500 were it not for their record against the Nationals. That is, while the Mets are 3-13 against the Nats, they are 69-65 against everyone else.

The Nationals win came against Mets starter Jonathon Niese, who stymied Washington’s offense until Wilson Ramos blasted a two run home run against the looming southpaw in the key 7th inning. The loss was Niese’s eleventh of the season, as the Mets record fell to 72-78 on the 2014 campaign.

“Towards the end of the year you want to play your best baseball,” Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann said after the victory, “and I think we’re doing that.” Zimmermann added that he thought it would be “really great” for Washington “to win this whole thing” in their upcoming away series in Atlanta. The win in New York marked Zimmermann’s sixth consecutive win.

Zimmermann threw a solid 6.2 innings, striking out five, in registering his twelth win of the season. The Ace of Auburndale was able to wriggle out of number of tough jams in his six-plus innings of work, which included a bases loaded threat in the bottom of the 4th. The Mets were 0-8 with runners in scoring position.

The Nationals banged out eight hits versus New York pitching, with Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond both continuing their hot-as-a-firecracker September. Werth and Desmond were both 2-4 on the day, with Desmond crossing the plate twice. The Saturday win followed a 10-3 butchering on the Mets on Saturday.

The Nationals bullpen once again provided a stellar outing in relief of Zimmermann. Lefty Matt Thornton and righty Tyler Clippard pitched the Nationals through the 7th and 8th innings, with Drew Storen closing the game in the 9th. Storen picked up his fifth save on the season.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Nationals, at 85-63, own the best record in the National League — by a single game over the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are 84-64. The Los Angeles Angels, with 93 wins lead all of baseball, while the Baltimore Orioles have 88 wins and are nearly shoo-ins to win the A.L. East . . .

The Nationals will now travel to Atlanta, where they will line-up against the Braves in a crucial three game series. The Nationals could seal a division championship with a sweep, while Atlanta needs to win to stay relevant in the Wild Card race in the National League. Atlanta trails the Giants and Pirates by three-and-a-half games in the Wild Card race . . .

The Braves have dropped two in a row to Texas Rangers, the worst team in baseball. Braves fans aren’t happy about it. “Braves lose to Rangers, season all but over,” Braves blog Talking Chop headlined yesterday. The “offense is completely broken” Talking Chop reported, but then focused on Atlanta’s defensive problems . . .

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Mets End Drought Vs. Nats, Win 4-3

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

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The Mets have been nearly hopeless in playing the Nationals in New York, but on Friday night they ended their drought, notching a 4-3 victory over Washington behind the pitching of starter Dillon Gee and the bat of Juan Lagares. The victory ended a twelve game winless streak for New York against the Nationals at Citi Field.

The New York victory came at the expense of Washington southpaw Gio Gonzalez, who reacted angrily to Matt Williams decision to take him out of the game in the 7th inning. Gonzalez slammed the ball into Williams’ hand when the skipper relieved him, then exchanged words with him in a heated conversation in the dugout.

Gonzalez later downplayed the mini-confrontation. “Matt did his best to defuse it as much as possible,” he said. “It’s part of the sport. It’s high intensity, trying to keep the game close. He has been part of it; it’s part of baseball. You want to keep pitching, you want to keep going out there.”

Gonzalez pitched well on Friday night, but not well enough to notch the win, or keep the Mets out of the scoring column. The Mets put three runs on the board in the bottom of the first inning on an Eric Young, Jr. single, a Juan Lagares HBP, a walk to Lucas Duda and a Travis d’Arnaud double to deep left field. The three run inning forced Gonzalez to start over in the second.

“Second inning, it was a clean start, and I just tried to pound the strike zone, keep going after them,” Gonzalez confirmed after the loss. “Throwing the changeup for strikes. I’m trying to work fast and get us back in the dugout as soon as possible to get our guys to swing the bat.”

The Nationals struck back by plating two runs in the top of the third and a single run in the fifth, but New York answered with another Lagares double in the bottom half of that frame. Anthony Rendon provided most of Washington’s offense, including a home run in the top of the 5th (his twentieth of the season) to tie the score at three.

“He has been unbelievable,” teammate Denard Span said of the Nats third sacker. “He has been our most valuable player from start to finish. He has been in the lineup pretty much every day, giving us everything we need. He is scoring runs. We need him to steal a bag, he steals a bag, driving in runs. He is doing it all.”

Mets manager Terry Collins was visibly relieved by his team’s win, particularly after a winless lull against Washington at Citi Field that goes back 14 months. “There’s been a lot of nights where we’ve had them late in the game and they’ve come back and done some big damage against us, but it was a good win for us tonight for sure, ” Collins said.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The nation turns its lonely eyes to the West Coast, where the most interesting baseball is being played. The Giants opened what could be a winner-take-all series against the Dodgers in San Francisco last night, derailing the N.L. West leading Trolleys 9-0 in the first of a three game set . . .

This is a damned near ancient rivalry in the Great Game, made all the more important by the fact that prior to last night’s contest the Giants trailed the Kershaws by just two games. Madison Bumgarner stepped up in his start last night, throwing seven innings of three hit baseball . . .

Dodger fans need to take a quick gulp: southpaw starter Hyun-Jin Ryu was removed after the first inning with left shoulder irritation — he’d just given up four runs. Bumgarner, meanwhile, notched his 18th win and struck out eight . . .

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LaRoche, Rendon Power Nats Past Mets

Friday, September 12th, 2014

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On a night when beanballs and inside pitches seemed to dominate the game (and which saw Miami Marlins superstar Giancarlo Stanton go down in Milwaukee), home runs from Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rendon sparked a 6-2 Nationals win against the Mets at New York’s Citi Field.

LaRoche continued his hot hitting in September and has turned into a Mets killer. He is hitting .361 against the Mets this year and is hitting .393 with five home runs and 15 RBIs since September 5. LaRoche has turned into the Nats dominant bat in the final run to October.

The Nationals victory came at the expense of New York starter Bartolo Colon, who had his own problems with inside pitches. After LaRoche homered in the first to score two runs, Colon hit the next batter, shortstop Ian Desmond. When Anthony Rendon homered in the fourth, Colon then hit Jayson Werth — and Colon was tossed from the game.

While it was obvious that Colon had hit Werth on purpose, the Nationals right fielder later said he wouldn’t speculate on whether that was the case: “I don’t know. It doesn’t matter what I think,” Werth told reporters. “The umpire thought so. He hit Desi earlier in the game after a homer. He hit me right after. The home-plate umpire thought that was enough.”

While the Nationals ended up putting six runs on the board, the two home runs (and the four runs they plated) would be all that Washington needed. The Nationals were rewarded with a solid performance from starter Tanner Roark, who threw 6.1 innings, giving up seven hits and just two earned runs.

“I was commanding both sides of the plate. I’m not trying to nibble. I’m trying to make pitches, but trying to go right after them,” Roark said of his performance.

The Colon HPB’s earned retaliation from the Nationals, as reliever Matt Thornton hit Daniel Murphy in the bottom of the 8th. Murphy left the game with a contusion on his wrist and is reportedly day-to-day.

The Nationals also got solid pitching from the Washington bullpen, which worked out of two potential Mets rallies. The Mets loaded the bases in bottom of the seventh and the bottom of the eighth innings, but Craig Stammen dampened the Mets in the 7th while Tyler Clippard tamed the Mets in the 8th.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Okay. Okay. Okay. We were wrong. Back before the All Star break would took issue with the decision to put Pirates outfielder and sometime third sacker Josh Harrison on the All Star team, pointing out that his numbers didn’t reflect the honor, and plumping for our own nominee, Adam LaRoche . . .

We’ll stick by the spirit of our claim, particularly given LaRoche’s amazing September, while acknowledging that Harrison has become Pittsburgh’s MVP — and that in spite of (and while acknowledging) yet another solid season from last year’s MVP, Andrew McCutchen. Harrison led the N.L. in total bases in August with 71, extra base hits with 19 and a slugging percentage of .602 . . .

Harrison could also win the N.L. batting title. Harrison is hitting .314, while N.L. leader Justin Morneau is hitting .317. And Harrison has been tearing up opposing pitching in September: he’s 11-32 since September 1 with four doubles. And at third base, Harrison has been a whiz . . .

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Nats Notes: And Down The Stretch They Come . . .

Friday, September 5th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals have entered the home stretch: there are only some 20-plus games remaining in the regular season, all of which the Nats are playing against their N.L. East rivals. The bookmakers currently have the odds the Nationals make it to October at 99.8 percent.

Don’t let that number fool you – there’s no guarantee here, and there’ll be meaningful and exciting baseball through the end of the month. But no matter what happens down the stretch, Nats fans will remember the past month as confirmation that the Washington Nine are genuine contenders in the top tier of Major League teams.

The Nats put together a hardscrabble 10-game streak and a 9-for-10 homestand in August, sweeping one NL wildcard contender (the Pittsburgh Pirates) and winning a series against another (the San Francisco Giants). They then took two series on the West Coast, one from an AL wildcard contender (the Seattle Mariners) and one from the NL West leaders (the Los Angeles Dodgers). The Nationals were 4-2 on the recent West Coast swing, and let’s not kid ourselves: that’s no mean feat.

That month-long series of victories wasn’t ho-hum, by-the-numbers videogame baseball. Multiple walk-offs and come-backers were a part of the streak, with Nats’ hitters feasting on some of the best pitching in the Majors (e.g., the Sailors’ “King” Felix Hernandez: 10 hits, 4 homers, 5 ERs; the Trolley’s Kenley Jansen, third in saves in the NL: 4 hits, 1 homer, 3 ERs).

Of course, like all quests, there were setbacks and insurmountable obstacles along the way. A sweep at the hands of the Ashburns, bottomfeeders in the NL East (and longtime Washington irritants), stung without mercy. And the Nats have yet to discover the key that unlocks Trolleys’ ace Clayton Kershaw: he pitched a three-hitter, giving up one run in 8 innings.

The fact that the remaining games are all against the N.L East is worrisome. While it’s possible (though unlikely) that the wheels will come off and the Nats will be consigned to playing golf in October (they wouldn’t be the first team that’s happened to), the more realistic concern is that Washington forsakes home field advantage in the NLCS – which is granted to the team with the best regular season record.

But if you eye the schedule logically, you wouldn’t think that was really a serious risk. The Atlanta Braves are fighting gamely to stay in the Wild Card race, while the Marlins, Mets and Phillies are all sub-.500 teams. But the fact of the matter is that (with the exception of the Madoffs), the Nats just don’t play their fellow Easterners all that well. Their season records are (an embarrassing) 4-9 against the Barves, 6-5 against the Fish, 10-2 against the Mets, and only 8-8 against the Phils.

Right now, the magic number for the Nationals is 17. Which means the Strasburgs are at the point in the season when what their opponents do against anyone else is mostly irrelevant. But to put it away, to seal it all, the make themselves the one, the true cham-peens on the right coast, the Nats will have to figure out a way to feast on the East.

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Nats HR Derby Downs King Felix In Seattle

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

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Six Washington home runs, and six steady innings from righty Jordan Zimmermann, pushed the Nationals past Felix Hernandez (perhaps the best right-handed pitcher in the American League), as the Nats went on to down the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Park on Friday night, 8-3.

With “the King’s Court” along the left field line looking on in stunned silence, Hernandez gave up home runs to Anthony Rendon (in the first inning), Jayson Werth (in the third inning), and Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos — both in the fourth inning. It was the third poor outing in a row for Hernandez.

“It was a tough day,” Hernandez admitted to the press in talking about Seattle’s loss. “I couldn’t get out of the middle of the plate the first four innings. I was up and I got crushed. Everything was off.”

The victory snapped a three game losing streak for the Nationals, who were swept in Philadelphia earlier in the week. “They were aggressive with Felix,” Nats skipper Matt Williams noted in speaking of his hitters. “They got some balls up in the zone to hit. It’s a big ballpark. You don’t expect that in a park like this. But then, we put some good swings on it.”

Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann, meanwhile, righted himself after a after a shaky first inning (Dustin Ackley tripled, Robinson Cano walked and Kendrys Morales and Kyle Seager singled to score two), to throw six complete innings in striking out eight Mariners. This was Zimmermann’s tenth win of the season.

“I was a little strong the first, second inning. Fastball was up and I couldn’t get it down,” Zimmermann said after his team’s victory. “Throwing that many pitches helped me a little bit.”

The Nationals tacked on three runs in the 8th and 9th innings, once again as a result of the long ball. Bryce Harper hit the 50th home run of his career in the 8th, followed by a 409 foot shot by Wilson Ramos — his second home run of the game. Adam LaRoche put the game away in the 9th with a sacrifice fly that scored Denard Span.

Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano pitched well in relief of Zimmermann. The trio gave up three hits and one run (all of them while Soriano was on the mound) in three innings of relief.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Atlanta Braves are gamely attempting to stay in the N.L. East race, downing the Marlins last night in Atlanta, 5-2. As usual, the Braves relied on the long ball to secure the victory, with Justin Upton and Jordany Valdespin each hitting home runs . . .

It’s interesting to track the fate of both the Nationals and Braves through a comparison of their schedules. Earlier in August, Atlanta made nearly the same road trip to the Left Coast that the Nationals are making now. The Braves dropped a three game set to the Padres, lost both of their games versus the Mariners and then (after facing the Nats), dropped three of four to the Dodgers at home . . .

Last night’s win in Atlanta kept the Braves just six back of the Nationals, as teams enter the final month of the season. An N.L. East pennant isn’t necessarily out of reach for Atlanta, but there’s only 29 games left to play and Atlanta would have to come close to sweeping Washington in the six games they have yet to play against them to have a shot at the flag . . .

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Strasburg, Cabrera Spark Eighth Straight Win

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

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Stephen Strasburg threw eight complete innings of three hit baseball and newbie Nat Asdrubal Cabrera’s line drive double capped a six run third inning and the Washington Nine notched their eighth win in a row, in a convincing 8-1 rout of the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday night at Nationals Park.

This was a dominant outing for Strasburg who notched his tenth win on the year. “I guess it’s what the doctor ordered,” Strasburg said after his win. “I just wanted to go out there and build off the last start and keep doing the things that I’ve been trying to work on. [Catcher Jose Lobaton] called a great game, we played great defense.”

Washington’s onslaught victimized Arizona starter Chase Anderson, who was pulled in the third inning after pitching to six batters, but without getting an out. The frame featured a single (and stolen base) from Denard Span, singles from Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, and Bryce Harper, a walk to Adam LaRoche and Cabrera’s gap double that cleared the bases.

Cabrera has had key hits in each of the last four games, but notched three RBIs on Tuesday. “He’s a pro,” Manager Matt Williams said of his new second sacker. “His time at shortstop I think helps everything. Coming in, he hadn’t played second base in a while, but switch-hitting capabilities, been in situations like this, hitting in the middle of the order of a team, and a contending team, helps everything.”

Ian Desmond wielded the other big bat for the Nationals, going 3-4 on the night while accumulating four RBIs. “It’s one of those nights where I didn’t hit it super well, but I got some hits,” Desmond said. “Fortunately for me, guys were on base in front of me. They have been doing that all year long. I’ve been trying to do a better job getting on for Bryce [Harper].

The punchless D-Backs were powerless against Strasburg, but even less so against close-out lefty Jerry Blevins, who fanned two in a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth. But the night was Strasburg’s.

“He had his fastball working, he was locating,” D-backs second baseman Aaron Hill said. “He’s one of the better fastball pitchers in the game, and we were hoping to maybe get his pitch count up a little bit and get into the bullpen, and it just didn’t happen.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We’re not inclined to give Baseball Tonight commenter and former major league righty Rick Sutcliffe any kind of love at all — his BT monologues are off-putting, long-winded and sometime incoherent. We loved him as a player, honestly, but . . .

But just this once we’ll give him credit. Back on August 8, Sutcliffe told Baseball Tonight aficionados that the reason Strasburg had authored such a lousy outing that day against the Braves was that he “wasn’t throwing the ball inside.” Strasburg’s inability to “control the inside part of the plate,” Sutcliffe said, was allowing hitters to lean into his outside pitches . . .

We’ve learned since then that Sutcliffe’s views reflected what the Nationals themselves were thinking. In the wake of the righty’s poor outing against the Braves, pitching guru Steve McCatty had an intense side session with Stras to polish his inside pitching. The results have been impressive . . .

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