Archive for the ‘philadelphia phillies’ Category

Rethinking The Braves “Ambush”

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

natswilliams

As we said (and repeatedly) yesterday — after the Nationals were swept by the Atlanta Braves: “It’s still early.” Much has been said of the state of this I-95 rivalry. “They” have the Nats’ number. “They’re” inside the Nats’ heads. They’re Washington’s kryptonite. Maybe, but we’ll leave that particular analysis to the sports psychologists.

In looking back on the series, we here at CFG have come up with something else: in spite of having dropped five of six to the Bravos, there is no real overall difference in quality between Atlanta and the Nationals. For two of the three games in that Atlanta series, the Braves didn’t actually win — so much as the Nationals lost.

Consider: for the first two games, the Nationals outhit the Braves 25-22, while losing both contests by four fewer runs (13 to 9). The reason? Sloppy fielding and poor base running. The usually sure-handed Ian Desmond committed an unheard of three errors, exacerbated by one from Nate McLouth in a call that should have gone the other way. Bryce Harper was caught stealing, and both he and Zimmerman were picked off.

Game three of the series was a legitimate Bravos victory, to be sure, but that’s to be expected in any series against a quality team, which the Braves certainly are. The Braves outhit and outplayed the Nationals in that game, but that wasn’t true for the first game — or the second.

The Braves’ bullpen (with the possible exception of Craig Kimbrel), is not some unhittable juggernaut — as was clear last night in Philadelphia. The Nats chewed up starters Julio Teheran for 10 hits and 5 runs and Alex Wood for 6 hits and one run – and generated nine hits and three runs in the first two face-offs against relievers Kimbrel, Jordan Walden, David Carpenter, and Anthony Varvaro.

Early as the season is, there are still plenty of reasons for confidence. Harper has gotten comfortable at the plate again, banging out six hits over the course of the series. New acquisitions Kevin Frandsen and Nate McLouth and Nats veteran Danny Espinosa have shown themselves to be solid bench players.

The Nats are snake-bit against the Braves, for sure. Snake bit? That just means that, for whatever reason, they’ve played poorly against them. That won’t last. The next time the Nats face the Braves (a four game set in mid-June), Wilson Ramos, Doug Fister, and Ryan Zimmerman should be off the disabled list — and the team will be out to prove that April was a fluke. And there will have been plenty of games (both easy and tough) for the boys in the field to learn each others ticks.

Then too, Nats manager Matt Williams may have even settled on a lineup by then.

April’s Unlikely “Derby”

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Untitled

Monday was home run day in Major League Baseball. In Miami, on their way to a 9-2 crushing of the wayward Miami Marlins (the fish have now lost eight in a row), Washington’s Tyler Moore and Sandy Leon hit dingers (it was Leon’s first ever), while the Marlins got their second run on a moon shot from Garrett Jones.

In Anaheim, where the A’s played the Belinskis, John Jaso’s pinch hit home run topped the Halos, but only after Albert Pujols put his 496th career round tripper into the Anaheim stratosphere. That was the second game of ESPN’s nightly offering, which led off with a head-shaking match-up between the Braves and Phillies.

The Braves-Phillies tilt was nearly unwatchable until the 8th inning, when Dominic Brown’s three run blast sent Philadelphia to what seemed an unlikely late-inning victory. That was not the story, as it turned out: Atlanta had scored its runs on back-to-back-to-back skyballs in the previous frame, courtesy of Evan Gattis, Dan Uggla and Andrelton Simmons, then went on to beat the Ponies in the 9th, when Dan Uggla homered.

Even then (with Washington, Miami, Oakland, Anaheim, Atlanta and Philadelphia all going long), April’s most impressive home run derby took place in Cincinnati, where the stinking Reds and mighty Pirates put ten (count ‘em) ten balls over the fence. It was a sight to behold: Pittsburgh had three sets of back-to-back home runs, while Cincinnati hit four solo shots. Pittsburgh’s Gaby Sanchez hit two, as did Neil Walker.

Ironically, while home runs played vital roles in all of these match-ups, the Cincinnati derby (at the Great American Bandbox, so there’s that) counted for nothing, with the game suspended in the 7th inning due to rain. Don’t think it was impressive? Take a look at this:

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 2.43.57 PM

So? So what the hell is going on? Right here would be a good time for some statistical analysis, reputedly showing that April 14 was a “statistical anomaly” — an argument any old wag could make except that nearly every game in baesball (or so it seems) provides some kind of “statistical anomaly.”

Last year at about this time, baseball writers were going on about how 2013 was the “year of the pitcher” (when I was younger, the year of the pitcher was 1968). By June of last year, it was official, with analysts pointing out that over a period of five years the majors had seen 18 no hitters and six perfect games.

(more…)

Nats Swept In Atlanta

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Untitled

Repeat after me: “It’s still early, it’s still early, it’s still early.” And that’s a mighty good thing, because if this was September, with the N.L. East a dogfight between its two best teams (Atlanta and Washington), the Nationals would be in deep trouble.

Just days after rolling out of Washington with a series sweep against Miami under their belts, the Nationals are now departing Atlanta feeling as the Marlins must have felt. Yesterday’s loss, a 10-2 whupping at the hands of the Braves, only emphasized the Nationals problems — in the three game series the team was outscored (23-11), outhit (33-31) and (well) outplayed.

Sunday’s matinee only highlighted Washington’s problems, which seem to be magnified against their division rival. Ace Gio Gonzalez lasted six innings, but was hit hard, giving up six runs on nine hits over six innings. The middle of the Braves line-up seemed to play with Washington: B.J. Upton was 2-5, Freddie Freeman was 2-3, Justin Upton was 2-3 and Andrelton Simmons was 2-5.

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 8.19.50 AM

Worse yet, Washington’s hitters couldn’t seem to touch Atlanta starter Aaron Harang, the 35-year-old well traveled righty who Atlanta fans doubted could fit into a rotation that the Braves front office vowed would get younger year-by-year. It was Harang, and not Gonzalez, who ended up on top, with Harang throwing six innings of five hit ball and taming a suddenly anemic Washington line-up.

“The Braves have the Nationals’ number,” Baseball Tonight’s Karl Ravech said during last night’s broadcast. The numbers seem to prove it. Yesterday’s 10-2 pasting was Atlanta’s 18th win in its last 25 match-up against the Nationals, and its fifth win this season in six meetings.

“It’s going to happen sometimes, but what we can’t do is get out of ourselves,” manager Matt Williams said following the loss. “We can’t allow anything to take us out of our game. It didn’t work for us this weekend. We have another one tomorrow against the Marlins. We have to concentrate on that one.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: That long deep sigh you hear comes to you all the way from the North Side of Chicago, where the Cubbies have started the season with a 4-8 record. The most recent example of North Side futility came yesterday, against the Cardinals, when Chicago pitching was victimized by 11 Cardinal hits and a snappy 6.1 innings from starter Michael Wacha . . .

Baseball’s punditocracy has written off the Cubs for 2014, saying the team is headed for 90 losses — at least. But there’s light at the end of Chicago’s endless tunnel, faint though it may be. Chicago has a keeper in first sacker Anthony Rizzo (who’s hitting .319 on the young season), and has a farm system stacked with talent, including third sacker Kris Bryant, center fielder Albert Almora and shortstop uber prospect Javier Baez . . .

(more…)

Nats Notes: Takeaways From The Miami Sweep

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Untitled

Fans don’t normally expect a series sweep to be dramatic, but this past series against the Miami Marlins provided theatricality in spades. Nats fans will note: these are not the Fish of yesteryear, or even the Fish of last year. Miami has a real team, forcing the punditocracy to rethink their near-unanimous criticism of Miami’s fire sale to Toronto in 2013.

As MASN commenter F.P Santangelo pointed out yesterday, the Marlins have some good young players (like the surprising Christian Yelich, who’s hitting a torrid .438 over the last week) and preseason predictions about this being just another “rebuilding year in Miami” already look like they’re way off. The Marlins were swept, but they look more dangerous than either New York or Philly.

Nats starter Gio Gonzalez opened the series with a shutout performance, looking as if he’s reached mid-season form, and Stephen Strasburg shook off whatever baggage there might have been from his two earlier and shakier starts to keep his game on lock down. The two aces are exactly where Nats Nation expects them to be on any given day — which will send shivers to the rest of the division.

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 6.42.52 PM

But Jordan Zimmermann? Oh my. No one, least of all him, had any explanation for what happened to him on Wednesday, when he gave up five runs in less than three innings and left the game shaking his head. We’ve never seen him have a meltdown like that. That said, Wednesday’s game demonstrated one thing we haven’t always associated with the Nationals: resilience –  the capacity to recover quickly from adversity.

(more…)

Nats Late Rally Downs New Yorkers In Flushing

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Untitled1

Mets fans met all of our expectations on Opening Day, oohing and aahing on every Madoff pitch, but then booing their home town boys in the 10th inning, as the Nationals rallied to win their first game of the season, and their first under new Nationals’ manager Matt Williams, 9-7.

“You just can’t underestimate the fight in this ball club,” MASN’s color man F.P. Santangelo said just before the bottom of the final frame. “The team reflects the attitude of their manager.” That may be, but a lot of what the Nationals’ did on Monday looked a lot like what they did last year. The team struggled against Dillon Gee (New York’s resident Nats’ killer), but then made the New York bullpen look exactly like what it’s been in the last few seasons: Lousy.

The Nationals also got a solid, if sometimes uneven, start from Stephen Strasburg, who gave up four runs in six innings, including a first inning three run home run to Mets left fielder Andrew Brown (who?). But Washington’s power righty settled down for the rest of the game, striking out ten while giving up just five hits. “He settled down in the third,” manager Williams said after the game, before he shrugged: “He threw a fastball and Brown got it. That happens.”

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 6.02.04 PM

This might be standard operating procedure for the Nationals (Strasburg needs to settle down, Bryce Harper slid into the knee of a Mets’ infielder and early reports indicate that Wilson Ramos likely bruised a bone in his hand), but the team is as solid this year as it was last — when it finished as also-rans to the Bravos.

Yeah, well, here’s the deal (even if a single game doesn’t really show it): The Nationals are better this year than last, and not by a little bit.

Which is why the Nationals fans have a season to look forward to: Danny Haren in now in Los Angeles (and, phew, Edwin Jackson is still in Chicago), Doug Fister is the team’s new back-of-the-rotation ace (when he comes off the disabled list), and Jeremy Blevins (who gave up a tenth inning home run to David What’s-His-Name) solidifies the bullpen. And there’s this: Adam LaRoche hit an April home run, Anthony Rendon parked a fast ball in left field in the 10th and Danny Espinosa looked relaxed at the plate.

Then there’s rookie Aaron Barrett, who notched his first win as a National, and his first win as a major leaguer. The fastball-slider specialist (he spent last year at Harrisburg Double A), struck out two in a single inning of work, which ought to give Nationals fans hope that this year’s bullpen is a lot better than the one they saw in 2013. That alone would be a major improvement, and could make the biggest difference in the race for the N.L. East pennant.

And We’re Back: It’s been 183 days and at least eighteen major snowfalls (well . . .) since the Nationals last appeared on the field, and it’s about damned time. As we predicted before the end of last season (we can’t help praising ourselves, for who else will do it), Matt Williams has taken over the helm of the team, which ought to provide some fireworks as we go along . . .

Williams gained a reputation as a nose-in-the-dirt player, a legacy he carried into Arizona, which is perhaps the N.L.’s premier scrapping team. We don’t expect Williams to tell his players to pick fights, but gone are the days when Davey would shake his head at bean ball artists and odor-inducing umpire calls . . .

(more…)

The Nats Head Home After An 86-76 Season

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Untitled

The Washington Nationals finished their season in Arizona with a loss to the Diamondbacks, 3-2. In many ways the loss was representative of what the team had done all season: entering the eighth inning with a one run lead, the Nationals’ bullpen gave up two runs to an Arizona team they’d beaten handily in the previous two outings.

While the game was the last in a season that saw the Nats drop out of contention for the N.L. East title back in June and July, the team came back in September with a run at the Wild Card. The key to the Nationals resurgence was a revived offense and pitching contributions from unlikely rookies, including Tanner Roark, who held the D-Backs to just three hits in seven innings on Sunday.

“I feel I can play up here for sure. But you never know what’s going to happen,” Roark said after his performance on Sunday. “Just workout in the offseason, do my best and come back ready to go in spring training.” Roark has been outstanding since arriving in the majors in early August: he finished at 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA over 53 2/3 innings, striking out 40 and walking 11.

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 10.03.45 AM

The final game of the season also marked Davey Johnson’s last game as the Nats’ manager. “Time to go home,” Johnson said after the game. “Put me out to pasture.” The Nationals praised their 70-year-old skipper, with Tyler Clippard noting that a good manager “builds confidence in his players and we benefited from that because he never wavered, no matter how good or bad you were doing.”

Johnson was philosophical about what is apparently the end of his career, choosing to bypass comments on the Nationals’ season. “I felt really lucky to have had the big league experiences I’ve had as a player and as a manager,” he told the press after the Arizona loss. “When you love a game as much as I love this game and like the competition, you just enjoy it.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: An 86-76 record would have sparked celebrations in Washington just a few years ago, but the Nationals (picked by many as the premier team in the National League) must be disappointed. Even so, there is good reason for celebrating a season that saw the Nationals finish ten games out of the hunt in the N.L. East . . .

(more…)

Harper’s Blast Leads The Nats

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Untitled

Bryce Harper’s first inning three run home run was enough to push the Nationals past the Marlins, as Washington downed Miami 3-2 on Thursday night at Nationals’ Park. Harper’s blast with Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth on base kept the Nats slim hopes of a playoff spot alive, with the home towners five games behind Cincinnati in the Wild Card hunt.

Harper’s home run provided the only scoring for Washington, leaving the game in the hands of southpaw starter Gio Gonzalez and three relievers. Harper was all smiles in the dugout after his dinger as he joined four other Nationals (Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche) in hitting twenty home runs on the year.

“He’s only going to get better,” Nats manager Davey Johnson said of his young slugger. “I think when you go through a period where you have all this attention and you try to live up to hype you try to do too much. I think he’s getting over that. I think he’s back to enjoying the game, and that’s great to see.”

Harper’s three RBIs might not have been enough against the Marlins line-up, but Gio Gonzalez provided a steady outing (two earned runs in six complete innings, while scattering seven hits) in notching his 11th win on the season. A trio of Nationals’ relievers (Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano) then shut down Miami in the last three frames.

The two Marlins’ runs came off an Ed Lucas single that scored Donovan Solano in the first and a Justin Ruggiano double that scored Giancarlo Stanton in the 6th. The Washington win slapped righty Henderson Alvarez with the loss, his fifth on the season.

The Washington victory came at a small personal price for Denard Span, who went 0-4, thus ending his 29 game hitting streak, the longest in the major leagues this year. The crowd of nearly 26,000 fans, realizing the Nationals center fielder would not extend his streak, gave Span a standing ovation after his fourth at bat. He was greeted by his teammates in the dugout with high-fives.

“You gotta tip your cap to Joe DiMaggio because that’s a record that I don’t think will ever be broke,” left fielder Bryce Harper said of Span’s streak after the game. “Denard made a good run at it. I tip my cap to him and I think everyone in baseball did.”

Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 7.49.12 AM

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Back in March, new ESPN analyst Alex Cora questioned whether the Red Sox had made the right decision in signing former Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino, saying that Boston should have gone after someone younger and more athletic . . .

(more…)