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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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Kershaw Too Much For The Nats

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

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Clayton Kershaw gave up just three hits and one run in eight complete innings of work on Tuesday night, leading the Los Angeles Dodgers to a ho-hum 4-1 victory over the Nats. The victory was Kershaw’s league leading 17th win on the season against just three losses.

The L.A. lefty’s only mistake came in the seventh inning, when he gave up a solo home run to Bryce Harper — a relative rarity in the Annals of Clayton Keshaw. “He just didn’t give us any opportunities,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said of the southpaw. “That’s why he’s doing so well. He’s just not making any mistakes.”

“He is the best pitcher in baseball, hands down” said Harper, who went 1-for-4 in the game and notched his 11th home run on the season “He goes out there and locates his pitches. He has his fastball, curveball, changeup and slider. He is very, very good.”

Kershaw showed why he’s in line to win the National League Cy Young Award, and why he’s also being mentioned as a front runner as league MVP. The L.A. southpaw, with the best curve that L.A. has seen since the days of Sandy Koufax, fanned eight and walked just two in throwing a three hit, eight inning victory. Kenley Jansen notched his 39th save of the season for the Trolleys.

The Nationals hoped to provide a counter to Kershaw in steady Doug Fister, but Washington’s righty gave up ten hits to the Dodgers over five innings of work (Fister couldn’t make it out of the 6th), which included an in-the-hole infield single to Adrian Gonzalez in the 5th (that scored Kershaw and Dee Gordon) and a home run to L.A. third sacker Juan Uribe in the 6th.

“The ball didn’t bounce our way tonight,” starter Fister said of his outing. “There were things that happened. I gave up a few hits. I have to be better. I have to be better picking up my teammates. It’s unacceptable for me. That’s what teams do. They pick one another up. I didn’t do that. I left the ball over the middle for Uribe. I have to be much better with him.”

Washington’s night included a muffed infield play in the two run fifth, when an in-the-hole Gonzalez grounder brought home both Kershaw and Gordon. Gordon should have been out on the plate on a throw from Desmond, but the shortstop wildly overthrew the ball, a rarity for the usually defense-oriented Nationals.

“I tried to throw it to first, I lost the grip, looked up and Dee Gordon is taking off for home. I just rushed it a little bit. I should have set my feet,” Desmond said of the play.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: MLB Tonight’s Billy Ripken reminded viewers on Tuesday night that one of the biggest stories of the season is the seemingly sudden appearance of game-changing Cuban imports, including Cubs outfield phenom Jorge Soler . . .

Soler, the most recent rookie call-up of the retooled Cubs (they’ve won two in a row against the Brew Crew — and swept the O’s in mid-August), has only 22 at bats in the majors, but 11 of them have gone for hits, which includes three home runs and eight RBIs . . .

But Soler is only the second most exciting player in Chicago, bragging rights for the first spot still held by Jose Abreu, who is hitting a staggering .320 with a .381 OBP and .602 slugging percentage for the South Siders. Abreu has been on fire: he is hitting .500 in his last 12 games and is a lock-on favorite for the A.L.’s Rookie of the Year award . . .

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Strasburg Sharp As Nats Sink Seattle

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

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When Stephen Strasburg is on there is simply no one better, and the Washington ace showed why on Saturday night, throwing 7.2 innings while striking out eight in leading the Nationals to a 3-1 victory against the Mariners in Seattle. Strasburg’s eight Ks set a franchise record for strikeouts in a year, surpassing that set by Gio Gonzalez two years ago.

The Strasburg victory was a vindication for the righty, who struggled in his last outing and has been viewed as inconsistent by many baseball analysts. He was anything but on Saturday, walking none and allowing a single earned run (on a Dustin Ackley home run), in notching his 11th victory of the season.

“Just the fact that he had two good ones and then a little bit of a clunker, and tonight to come back and answer, for him is important,” Washington skipper Matt Williams said of Strasburg. “For him, it’s just that if he throws it where he wants to, he can be dominant out there.

“I had pretty good fastball command today and kind of set up my other pitches,” Strasburg said of his outing. “I wanted to go out and give everything I had until [Williams] took the ball out of my hand. I just stuck to the game plan. I just had to execute pitches. I made them hit my best stuff.”

The Nationals scored early off of Seattle starter Roenis Elias. The Nationals plated two runs in the first inning when Jayson Werth hit his fifteenth home run of the season, scoring Denard Span who had reached on an error. Washington added a third run on an Anthony Rendon double in the fifth, which scored Jose Loboton.

The 3-1 victory put the Nationals up by seven games in the National League East, as the Braves lost to the Marlins 4-0 in Atlanta. The Nationals have a shot at sweeping Seattle today, with Tanner Roark facing off against the Mariners Hisashi Iwakuma.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: MASN on-field analyst Dan Kolko engaged in an interesting bit of speculation on Saturday, pointing out that if the Nationals had finished just a bit better back in 2008, Seattle would have drafted Stephen Strasburg first overall in 2009, with Dustin Ackley falling to the Nationals with the second overall pick . . .

Seattle thought that the North Carolina hitter was bound for stardom and he might well be, but it’s taken him some time to develop — so long, in fact, that many Mariners fans were will to label him as a “bust” at any point over the intervening years. But Ackley, after hitting just .215 up to July 1, has found his swing and is hitting .313 since . . .

Seattle partisans point to the addition of Robinson Cano as the reason for Seattle’s revival, but the club was 16-8 in August, when Ackley drove in 19 of his 55 RBIs. Ackley credits his turnaround to fixing a glitch in his swing . . .

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Nats Walk Off (Again), This Time In Extras — And In “A Classic”

Monday, August 18th, 2014

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Think of all the baseball cliches, and you will almost certainly touch on one that describes Washington’s 6-5 eleven inning walk-off triumph over the Pittsburgh Pirates: If you didn’t see it, you should have — if you weren’t there you should have been. Indeed, the Bucs-Nats tilt of August 17 will go down in D.C. baseball history as “a classic,” the kind of win remembered for a long time.

The game began modestly enough, with Washington’s Doug Fister facing off against Pirate ace Edinson Volquez. Fister had his usual ace stuff, allowing just five hits and no earned runs (the Pirates scored two in the 6th on two D.C. errors), while striking out five before being lifted after seven complete for 8th inning relief whiz Tyler Clippard.

Volquez was nearly as good (he’s 10-7 on the season, and is a workhorse), though he gave up a single earned run through 6.1 innings, while notching five strikeouts. But in the bottom of the 7th frame, the Nationals put three runs on the board, when Michael Taylor was hit by a pitch, Kevin Frandsen and Denard Span singled — and the Nationals plated three runs on fielders choice singles off the bats of Asdrubal Cabrera and Anthony Rendon.

Then, with the Nationals leading 4-2 in the 9th inning (and coasting to a seemingly assured victory), it all fell apart for the home towners. With Rafael Soriano on the mound to close the game (and searching for his 30th save), the Pirates struck for three runs.

Soriano’s troubled 9th began when the big righty hit Pirates outfielder Starling Marte. Soriano then gave up a single to Travis Snider, then allowed Marte to score and pinch runner Michael Martinez to advance to second on a wild pitch. Ike Davis was then walked. And although the Nats picked up an out on a Gaby Sanchez fielders’ choice, rookie sensation Gregory Polanco doubled to center to score sprinting pinch runner Jordy Mercer and Sanchez.

With Soriano slumping on the bench, reliever Matt Thornton got the Nationals out of the 9th, but the Nationals seemed deflated by the blown save — and headed for defeat. It was then that the fireworks began, courtesy of Jayson Werth, who’d been sidelined for the last week with a tweeky shoulder.

With one out in the 9th, Werth (who was hitting for Thornton) drew a walk from Pirates reliever Mark Melancon. Werth’s reappearance in the Nationals line-up reenergized the Nationals, with the right fielder advancing to third on a Denard Span single and scoring on a clutch fielders choice off the bat of Asdrubal Cabrera. Unaccountably, but dramatically, the Nationals had knotted the game at 5.

The dramatic Nationals fall, and rise, lasted through the scoreless 10th, with lefty reliever Ross Detwiler holding the Pirates scoreless. Then, in the bottom of the 11th, the Nationals walked off in dramatic fashion: on a Werth double, a move-em-over grounder to the right side from Denard Span and a game-winning sacrifice fly off the bat of uber-sub Scott Hairston.

“Today was a tribute to just the team mentality in general,” starter Doug Fister said of his team’s victory. “That’s a lesson learned for us, knowing that [if] something goes wrong, there’s 24 guys right behind you that pick you up. Whether it’s offense, whether it’s defense, guys are playing well together.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Pirates came into Washington with high hopes, but have now dropped five games in a row. “We get to play in front of 120,000 people over the weekend, playing a good team,” Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle said of his team’s effort. “Got to keep battling, score one more run than they — that didn’t happen for us this weekend . . .”

The three game Washington-Pirates set was worthy of October, with two walk-off Nationals wins and each game decided by a single run. The Nationals were saved from their sloppy play (two errors on Sunday that allowed two Pittsburgh runs, both in the 6th inning), by clutch at bats from Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos, Denard Span and Scott Hairston . . .

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Nats Outlast The Rain, And The Braves, 4-1

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

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After a nearly four hour rain delay that pushed Washington’s game against Atlanta into the early morning hours, the Nationals overcame the Braves in an 11 inning marathon, 4-1. The Washington win marked Atlanta’s ninth loss in ten games and pushed the Nationals 4.5 games ahead of the Braves in the National League East.

A bases loaded single off the bat of Wilson Ramos in the 11th inning was the difference in the game, as the Washington catcher plated Anthony Rendon for the go-ahead run. Kevin Frandsen followed Ramos with a double over the head of Jason Heyward, scoring Adam LaRoche (who had singled) and Bryce Harper (who had walked).

Skipper Matt Williams was pleased with his team’s effort. “Considering all that happened today, and the way we had to fight through the last couple of days, it was pretty good for us,” Williams said after the hard-fought victory. “We fought all the way.”

The game featured a solid pitchers’ duel, with Washington’s Tanner Roark matched up against Atlanta’s Aaron Harang. The two hurlers numbers were similar, with the Nats and Braves trading singles and runs through ten straight innings. Roark’s and Harang’s final lines (each threw seven complete and gave up a single earned run) reflected just how tightly the two teams play.

Washington scored first, in the sixth inning, on Adam LaRoche’s 16th home run of the season. Atlanta responded in the bottom of that frame, when Jason Heyward’s sacrifice fly scored Tommy La Stella. Washington’s bullpen was, once again, outstanding: Matt Thornton, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano held the Braves scoreless through four complete, with Soriano picking up his 26th save.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It’s mid-August (the dog days, when the season seems to go on forever), so analysts, pundits and columnists are searching for things to write and talk about. On Friday, MLB Network listed nominees for the A.L.’s MVP award, apparently because it’s never too soon to speculate . . .

Among those listed were Baltimore’s Adam Jones, L.A.’s Mike Trout, Detroit’s Victor Martinez, Seattle’s Robinson Cano and Oakland’s Josh Donaldson. The surprise in the list (at least for us), is Victor Martinez, who is worthy but often overshadowed by Detroit superstar Miguel Cabrera, who’s having an off year — at least for him . . .

Our pick is Adam Jones, who’s the heartbeat of the first place Orioles. You won’t find Jones at the top of the league in batting average (he’s hitting a respectable .285 on the year), but he’s plated 22 round trippers, which puts him in the company of Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols and he’s knocked in 70, which puts him 11th in the A.L . . .

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Lester Heads To Oakland In Deadline Blockbuster

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

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The Oakland Athletics improved their rotation this morning, sending Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox for lefty pitcher Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes in a blockbuster deal just hours before the MLB trading deadline. The deal for Lester includes a “competitive balance draft pick” headed to Boston and just under $1 million back to the A’s.

Cespedes is a big bat and an exciting player. He has 17 home runs on the season and provides power in the middle of the Boston line-up. Cespedes also provides a solid outfield glove for the Sox, who are in the midst of retooling a team that won the World Series in 2013, but are mired in last place in the American League East this year.

This was a trade no one saw coming. Cespedes was a regular feature in the Oakland line-up and an icon among A’s fans, but Boston’s faithful are upset about the team’s decision to part ways with the popular Lester. During yesterday’s game, Boston fans were chanting “We want Lester, We want Lester” in anticipation that the lefty would be shipped out.

The trade for Lester was an “all in” for Oakland, which has been regularly eliminated in post-season play because of their traditional inability to pitch well against the A.L.’s elite line-ups. But with the addition of Lester, the A’s now have one of the best starting staffs in the game — Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir.

Gomes is hardly a throw-in. Oakland compensated for the loss of Cespedes by acquiring a good outfield arm and a dangerous clutch hitter at the plate. Gomes was a member of the A’s back in 2011, when he hit 18 dingers for the White Elephants.

The swap answers one of the remaining questions of the 2014 campaign: whether Boston will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. Not surprisingly, the Red Sox are retooling for next year. They needed an outfield bat and Cespedes provides that, and they didn’t want to pay the freight for resigning Lester, who is a free agent after this season.

In the wake of the trade for Lester, the A’s traded lefty Tommy Milone to the Minnesota Twins for defensive outfield whiz Sam Fuld. Milone, a former Nat, became expendable when Oakland G.M. Billy Beane engineered a trade for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel earlier this month. Milone had demanded a trade after being assigned to Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate.

So far, at least, the Washington Nationals haven’t made a move, though they’re rumored to be interested in adding a player in their infield (and perhaps one with power) and another left hander out of their bullpen.

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Nats Collapse In The 9th, Lose In Miami

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

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In what had to be considered the most important game of the year for the Marlins, the Miami Nine scored four runs in the 9th inning on Monday night, and walked off with a stunning 7-6 win against the Nationals. The Nationals entered the 9th with what seemed a sure-thing victory, but Miami capitalized on a poor outing from Nats closer Rafael Soriano to win the game.

Soriano began the catastrophic 9th by walking Casey McGehee, the Marlins’ lead-off hitter, then gave up a double to Garrett Jones. A Marcell Ozuna single then scored McGehee and Miami was suddenly in the game with no one out. Jones then scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Adeiny Hechavarria then laced a triple, after Soriano gave up a wild pitch.

Even then, the Nats were still in the game, though Miami had tied it at six. But after closer Soriano hit Donovan Solano with a pitch, Nats manager Matt Williams pulled Soriano in favor of lefty Jerry Blevins. Blevins struck out Christian Yelich before giving up the game winning single to Jeff Baker.

The game was an absolute heart breaker for Nationals fans, who’d seen their team take two of three from Cincinnati and play well on the road. Before Monday night, it even looked as if the Nationals might put some distance between themselves and the second place Atlanta Braves, who scraped by the Padres, 2-0.

The loss came at the expense of Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann, who’d pitched one of his best games of the year. Zimmermann threw seven complete innings while giving up just four hits and striking out six. The young righty ace of the Nationals staff had a fastball that Miami’s hitters couldn’t seem to touch.

“He was really good tonight. He was down in the zone, he had a great slider,” Nats’ skipper Matt Williams said of Zimmermann’s outing. “Much better than his last one. The last one was just rust. Tonight, he proved that he is back on it.”

Ross Detwiler and Drew Storen came in in relief of Zimmermann, and while lefty Detwiler gave up a single run on two hits, the Nationals were still in line for the victory — with their top closer (“the best closer in the game,” as the Washington Post described him today) coming into the game.

“Bad day for me,” Soriano said of his performance in the ninth inning. “Every pitch that I threw, I had no command. Everything that I tried to throw didn’t work.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Marlins are trying to decide whether to be buyers or sellers, with the decision hinging on how they would do against the Nationals. Their stunning win tonight will undoubtedly help them to make the decision, though they remain under .500 by a single game and six games back in the standings . . .

It’s easy to see what the Marlins need: all you need do is take a look at their line-up. The Marlins can hit; they are an on-base team that registers just a tick above the Nationals in runs scored. That’s not true for their pitching staff, which ranks 11th in the National League with a 3.92 ERA . . .

The problem is that pitching isn’t that easy to find and Miami would probably hesitate to give up a top prospect for either a rental or a high-priced starter. Nor are the Marlins willing to part with any of their bullpen pieces, though they’ve reportedly received calls on fireballer Steve Cishek, who wracked up five saves in Miami’s just-completed 6-1 road trip . . .

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