Archive for the ‘philadelphia phillies’ Category

The Nats’ Season Ends In San Francisco

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

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A strangely quiet line-up, a misplayed grounder, a well-placed bunt, a defensive gem, and a wild pitch ended Washington’s season on Tuesday night, as the San Francisco Giants defeated the Washington Nationals, 3-2. The defeat ended the Nationals season, as the Giants now go on to face the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League championship.

The difference in this series, as any Nationals fan will tell you, was Washington’s strangely quiet line-up. While Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper hit well against Giants’ pitching in the series, San Francisco was able to consistently quiet the bats of Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond — the heart of Washington’s offense.

The same was true on Tuesday, with a medley of Giants pitchers (from starter Ryan Vogelsong to closer Hunter Strickland) throwing on oh-fer to Span (0-4), Werth (0-3), LaRoche (0-4), and Desmond, who notched a single hit. Even the normally productive Anthony Rendon (0-4) proved unable to provide the Nationals with needed offense.

The misplayed grounder on Tuesday came in the 2nd inning, when a hit back to the pitcher off the bat of Juan Perez was muffed by Nationals southpaw starter Gio Gonzalez, putting two Giants runners on base with no one out. A well-placed bunt (by Ryan Vogelsong) one batter later loaded the bases, with the Giants then scoring two runs — on a walk to Gregor Blanco and a Joe Panik ground out to first, which scored Perez.

Did Gonzalez pitch well? The 2-0 score at the end of two reflected the reality of the series: the Giants were moving runners on bloops, bleeders, walks and errors — a habit of championship teams. They were finding a way to win. At no time was this more apparent than in the 6th inning, when a long drive off the bat of Jayson Werth was snagged by right fielder Hunter Pence, who made a Roberto Clemente-like back-to-the-wall catch.

But the game came down to a Nationals miscue in the 7th inning, when Nats fireballer Aaron Barrett came on in relief of Matt Thornton and walked Pence to load the bases. Barrett then threw a wild pitch to Pablo Sandoval, which scored Panik with the go-ahead and eventual winning run.

Barrett made up for the gaffe when he tagged out Buster Posey after blooping a ball to the backstop on an intentional walk, but the damage was done — and San Francisco was the 3-2 winner of the game, and the victor in the series. “I got lucky, obviously, with the wild pitch,” Barrett said after the loss. “The bottom line is I didn’t make pitches when I had to, and it ended up costing us the game.”

If there was a Washington hero for the loss, it was Bryce Harper, who showed that he can be a big-game player in a winner-take-all series. Harper ripped his third homer of the Nats-Giants toe-to-toe in the top of the 7th inning on a 97-mph Hunter Strickland fastball, a long and deep fly ball that ended up in McCovey Cove.

“This is tough,” center fielder Denard Span said after the loss. “We didn’t play well all series. That’s the bottom line. The Giants made the least amount of mistakes. We made too many mistakes. The little things added up.” Nats skipper Matt Williams called the defeat “bitter,” but praised his team for their 96 win season. “I’m proud of them,” he said.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Winners go on to play another day, while losers talk about things like “perspective” — as in, “I know we lost, but let’s put this in perspective.” Still, it’s worth standing back, particularly after a season-ending loss like the one last night, to talk about history . . .

Back in 2010 I wore my ‘Curly W’ hat to the Roy Halladay-Tim Lincecum post-season face-off in Philadelphia, calculating that no one would really look to see whether the cap bore the trademark Philadelphia “P.” I was mostly right, though one Philadelphia fan gave me a puzzled look: “Really?” he asked, eying my hat. “Why would you root for such a loser . . .”

I might have told him that if anyone should know about losing it was a fan of the Philadelphia Stinking Phillies, Established in 1883, it took the Phillies 22 years to just appear in a championship game (which they did, in 1915), and just under one hundred years to win their first one, which came in 1980 . . .

If you study the Phillies or Cubs or White Sox or Twins or Braves (or just about anyone else, perhaps, excepting the Cardinals and Yankees) you realize that it sometimes takes years to build a winner — and a little bit of luck to win it all even when you have one . . .

That’s true for the Nationals too. It’s taken ten years for the Nationals’ front office to build a winner, but it might have taken a lot longer. Back in 2008, the Nationals offered a huge contract to Mark Teixeira, and were disappointed when he decided to sign with the New York Yankees. He signed with them because they were a “winner” . . .

But here’s the thing: If Teixeira had signed with the Nationals, the team might have had a stronger 2009 and finished with, say, 63 wins instead of 59. Which means? Which means that Bryce Harper would probably be playing in Pittsburgh (or in Baltimore) instead of in Washington . . .

So what would you rather have — Mark Teixeira playing first base, or Bryce Harper in left field? Which is why we take universal take-it-to-the-bank judgments about baseball (or about anything else, for that matter) with more than a grain of salt . . .

We’re going to hear a lot of such judgements in the days ahead: the Nats loss to the Giants shows “they’re not ready for prime time,” that the Nats don’t know how to don’t “step up on the big stage,” that skipper Matt Williams “needs seasoning,” that the Nationals need to show some “character . . . ”

What a bunch of baloney. This has nothing to do with character. The Giants didn’t win their series against the Nationals because they’re better citizens, they won it because they hit some timely bleeders and some down-the-third base line bunts . . .

Perspective? How this for perspective: If the “just a little outside” Zimmermann called “ball” in game two had been called a “strike,” we’d still be playing . . .

It was a great season. It was fun to watch. The Nationals are a fine baseball team. They didn’t win it all, but that’s the way it goes . . .

So here’s the argument for perspective. When you lose a series like this one, you pack up your bats, you hop on the airplane, you start planning for next year — and you live to fight another day. In almost everything else, that’s never an option . . .

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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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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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LaRoche’s Bat Salvages Phillies Series — Storen Gets The Save

Monday, September 8th, 2014

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Adam LaRoche slugged two home runs, Gio Gonzalez tossed a solid six innings and reliever Drew Storen earned his second save of the season as the Washington Nationals downed the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on Sunday, 3-2. The victory, coupled with an Atlanta loss, reduced the Nationals “magic number” to win the N.L. East to fourteen games.

LaRoche has been on fire for the Nationals over the last week. LaRoche has ten RBIs in his last four games, along with three home runs. His first home run in the second inning on Sunday tied the game at one run apiece, while his second in the fourth tied it at two.

LaRoche has had a career of success over Philadelphia starter Cole Hamels, who provided a solid performance for the Ashburns on Sunday (6.1 innings with three earned runs). “It was just one of those days where he left a couple of pitches right over the plate,” LaRoche said in explaining his success against Hamels.

After two tough losses to the Phillies, and reliance on an over-taxed bullpen, Washington needed a good outing from its starter, and Gio Gonzalez gave it to them on Sunday. The lefty picked up his eighth win on the season in throwing 105 pitches, 67 of them for strikes.

But the game also had its quota of strange, and not very good, plays — at least for the Nationals. The Phillies notched their first run of the game in the first inning on an unusual throwing error from Denard Span in center to Anthony Rendon covering third, who then retrieved the ball and threw it past Jose Lobaton at home plate. The two errors gave Philadelphia its first run of the game.

Then, in the sixth inning, after Nats shortstop Ian Desmond doubled to left field, a Cole Hamels balk moved him to third. Desmond then sprinted home on a long sacrifice fly to left field off the bat of Scott Hairston that barely stayed in the park. It was the first time in Hamels’ memory that he’d lost a game by a balk: “It’s unfortunate,” Hamels said.

The Hairston sacrifice vindicated Matt Williams’ view that Hairston would contribute against Hamels. “He has good numbers against Hamels,” Williams confirmed after the win. “He has seen him well and hit him well over time. I wanted to give him that opportunity, for sure.”

“Cole wasn’t as sharp with his command and just controlling the ball,” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said after the Hamels loss. “And then the balk kind of came into play. It was a questionable call. He does that often.”

With the Nationals up 3-2, Washington skipper Matt Williams called on Drew Storen to save the game, the first time the righty had come on in the role since Williams announced that the team would give a struggling Rafael Soriano some time off to correct the flaws in his delivery.

Storen was philosophical about his new role, which he will presumably share with others in a “closer by committee:” set up shaped by Williams. “Really, the only thing different is the run to the mound — fans are real into it,” Storen said after notching his save. “You soak that in for a second, and move on, and lock in and do what you need to do.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Count the Phillies as among those in baseball who have consistently had the Nationals’ number. The Nats had lost five straight against Philadelphia coming into Sunday’s game and finished out the season with a 9-10 record vs. their N.L. East rivals . . .

Among the elite teams in baseball, the Nationals have losing records (as Adam Kilgore points out) against five other solid squads — the Braves, Orioles, Angels, Athletics and Cardinals (of course), and a losing record against Philadelphia . . .

Here’s how Kilgore explains it: “The Nationals went 6-3 against the Phillies before the all-star break, then split a four-game series against them in early August. This month, the Phillies have turned their bullpen from disastrous to dominant . . .”

The Nationals “magic number” to clinch the National League East now stands at 14, the result of Atlanta’s 4-0 loss on Sunday to the Miami Marlins. The 4-0 shutout confirmed what has ailed the Braves in the last part of the 2014 campaign: they can’t hit worth a damn . . .

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Nats In “Epic Collapse” As Phillies Win In 11

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

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If there are “epic wins” (and there have been this season), then there are certainly “epic losses” — and, for the Washington Nationals, Friday night was one of them. Leading by three runs going into the 9th inning, Nationals closer Rafael Soriano gave up two home runs (to Carlos Ruiz and Ben Revere) and Washington went on to lose to the Philadelphia Phillies in 11 innings, 9-8.

The loss featured nearly every up (and down) that Nationals fans have seen this year: a solid outing from starter Stephen Strasbug (who threw six solid innings of four hit baseball), a hot hand from a heroic Adam LaRoche (who hit yet another home run and notched three RBIs), and a wobbly 9th from an embattled closer whose job is now in jeopardy.

And there was also the unusual, and surprising — including a muffed fly ball off the bat of Dominic Brown in the 11th inning that featured a keystone cops-like outfield collision between Bryce Harper and Denard Span. Two batters later, a throwing error from Tyler Moore allowed Brown to score. Philadelphia’s two runs in the 11th held up to give the Ashburns the win.

After the loss, left fielder Harper confirmed that he was at fault in the rare outfield play, which gave the Nationals three errors on the night. “It got to the point where I thought I could get it, he called it and we bump into each other,” Harper said. “Center field priority, of course. I got to get out of there.”

So what now? As the boos rained down on Soriano when he walked from the mound to the dugout in the 9th, it was clear that skipper Matt Williams would have to rethink who will close games for the home towners, a viewpoint that a testy Williams confirmed during his tense post-game press conference.

“We’re certainly going to have to take a hard look at it,” Williams told the press after the game. “It’s not an easy decision. None of them are. But we want to be able to close those games out. Sori understands that, he’s been around the block.”

The Soriano decision, and the two home runs he gave up in the 9th, overawed what had been a solid outing for the ballclub, and one in which one of the toughest line-ups in the game had put seven runs on the board in nine innings.

The Nationals seven runs had come courtesy of a cascade of hits from Adam LaRoche (who’s first inning home run scored Anthony Rendon), Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper (whose fourth inning singles yield a third run), a Rendon double that scored Denard Span (in the 5th) and a Jayson Werth ground rule double and Adam LaRoche sacrifice fly in the 7th.

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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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Span And Gio Lead The Nats In L.A.

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

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Two home runs off the bat of Denard Span, plus a solid six inning outing from lefty Gio Gonzalez, led the Nationals to a 6-4 victory over the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Combined with a 7-0 shutout of the Braves at the hands of the Phillies, the Nationals now lead the N.L. East by seven games.

Never known as a long ball hitter (the center fielder has 31 in his seven years in the majors), Span’s round trippers in the third and fifth innings provided Washington with two of its four home runs in the game. Span was 2-5 in the game with three RBIs. Jayson Werth and Asdrubal Cabrera also homered for Washington.

“I really can’t explain it other than the home runs come in bulk,” Span said of his two home run game. “I’m just hitting the ball pretty good. I’m going out there and not trying to hit home runs. I hit the ball hard somewhere, and that’s really it.” The Nationals have hit fourteen home runs in the last four games.

“It’s not something that we live by. We manufacture better than we hit homers, but we’ll take them. You can’t give them back. We’ll try to win games however we can,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said of his team’s home run outburst.

The Nationals homer fest in L.A. came at the expense of Dodgers’ starter Roberto Hernandez, who was pulled by manager Don Mattingly after giving up five hits and five earned runs in 4.1 innings of work. Hernandez (now 2-2 on the season), attributed his poor outing to lack of command — leaving his fastball up in the strike zone to Nats hitters.

“I didn’t have command of my pitches from the first inning,” Hernandez said of his performance. “It was just a matter of things not working for me. It wasn’t that I had lost confidence.”

A frustrated Mattingly agreed that lack of command provided Washington with its early scoring opportunities:  “You get behind in too many counts and you’ve got to pay,” he said. “You help them a lot by continuing to get behind in the count.”

But while Hernandez might have lost his command, it was clear that southpaw Gio Gonzalez found his. Gonzalez, who has struggled in 2014, won his first game since his victory against the Cubs on July 5. Gonzalez picked up the victory by pitching six solid innings while striking out four.

A bevy of Washington relievers kept the Nationals in front, with Drew Storen, Matt Thornton and Tyler Clippard giving up a single hit in two innings of work. As usual, closer Rafael Soriano provided a nail biting ending, giving up a run and two hits in the ninth inning before sealing his 31st save.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Four Philadelphia pitchers combined to no-hit the Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta on Sunday, providing the Phillies with a 7-0 blanking of their division rivals. While combined no hitters are unusual, they’re not a rarity. There have been eleven combined no-no’s in MLB history . . .

The combined no hitter came when Phillies skipper Ryne Sandberg decided to pinch hit for starter Cole Hamels when the lefty’s pitch count reached 108 after six complete innings. With a runner on second in the 6th and the temperature in hot and muggy Atlanta soaring, Sandberg thought he had little choice. “He was pretty well spent there,” Sandberg said . . .

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