Archive for the ‘predictions’ Category

Baltimore Ends Its Drought, Wins A.L. East

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

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The Baltimore Orioles defied the odds-makers, pundits and baseball analysts, sweeping to their first American League East title since 1997, with an 8-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Tuesday night. The victory gave the O’s a 91-60 record on the year, second best in all of baseball.

This is not where the O’s were supposed to be. As the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays retooled in the off-season (with the Yankees spending wildly to rebuild their outfield and pitching staff), the Orioles made do with a late signing of outfielder Nelson Cruz, a decision that brought nearly unanimous hoots of derision from baseball experts.

But the Orioles, who suffered in-season injuries to catcher Matt Wieters and All-World third baseman Manny Machado (as well as the suspension of home run powerhouse Chris Davis), mixed and matched and scratched their way to victory after victory, matching the third best ERA in the American League to the best long-ball hitting team in the majors.

But Baltimore’s pitching and hitting tell only a part of the story. The unsung hero of the O’s 2014 campaign might well be G.M. Dan Duquette, whose mid-summer moves kept the O’s alive when they should have been fading. Duquette shuffled players back and forth to Triple-A Norfolk, getting key starts from journeyman infielder Jimmy Paredes, trading for Bosox reliever Andrew Miller and then swapping two minor leaguers for Alejandro De Aza and Kelly Johnson.

Nearly all of this handiwork was on display in Baltimore last night. Paredes was 2-3 with an RBI while playing third, De Aza stroked a triple and notched three RBIs, Miller provided a two-batter bridge to Tommy Hunter who pitched the 9th, Steve Pierce (released, then re-signed by Duquette back in April) hit his 18th home run of the season — and the O’s laughed their way to an 8-2 victory.

But this is hardly the trash heap O’s. Baltimore boasts perhaps the best outfield in baseball, as well as one of the American League’s favorites for MVP. Cruz, De Aza and Pierce hold down left field, steady veteran Nick Markakis is in right and potent and potential MVP Adam Jones mans center. Nelson Cruz is the DH, and he has 39 home runs on the year — best in the junior circuit.

And then there’s Buck Showalter, now the favorite to win the Manager of the Year Award, not least for shaping (with Duquette) the almost famous “Baltimore Shuffle” — the up-to-the-majors, down-to-Triple-A moves that have characterized the team’s handling of the pitching staff all year. Somehow, it’s all worked out.

And here’s how: Wai-Yin Chen (the underrated Japanese import) is 16-4, Miguel Gonzalez has won seven of his last ten outings, Chris Tillman has been brilliant (a 3.29 ERA and 1.22 WHIP), and the Baltimore bullpen has the fourth best ERA in the American League.

And last night Buck Showalter handed the ball to the up-and-down Ubaldo Jimenez, an unusual act of confidence in a starter who’s been inconsistent — at best. And how did Jimenez react? He threw an improbable five innings of two hit baseball.

“You get older, you want to get a good angle and a good seat and see good people get a return for what they put into it and what they’re trying to achieve,” Showalter told the press after last night’s clincher. “And this is a huge step, to get a chance now. We’ve got to figure out a way to win 11 games.”

Which is to say: in our opinion, the always-underrated O’s are not simply the best team in the fast eroding American League Least, they’re the class of the American League — and our pick as the team to beat in the post-season.

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It’s All Strasburg In Atlanta

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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One For The Books: Nats Blast The Giants, 14-6

Monday, August 25th, 2014

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Can the Nats hit in big games? Can they move runners over, hit behind them, launch massive home run shots that plate big runs? Can they play from behind? Are they an offensive powerhouse, or a team that sometimes (and really not that often), loses its center, allowing their opponents back into a game?

While sometimes nothing will convince a skeptic, Sunday afternoon’s Nationals 14-6 victory against the San Francisco Giants will assuredly silence all the negativity that followed the team through April and May. Yesterday, in front of 35,000-plus, the Nationals blasted the Giants with eighteen hits, six of which were doubles and three home runs. It was one of the most satisfying wins of the season.

Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Asdrubal Cabrera, Bryce Harper, Scott Hairston and Jose Loboton doubled during the game and Ian Desmond, Harper and Danny Espinosa each hit home runs. The Nationals were 10-17 with runners in scoring position. The victory marked the end of a remarkable homestand in which the Nationals were 9-1, with five walk-off wins in a six game stretch.

“This was a great homestand,” Scott Hairston, who hit a clutch pinch-hit double in the fourth inning yesterday, said of the Nationals victory. “I’ve never experienced anything like it. I think it’s safe to say nobody has. And it’s a lot of fun.”

In spite of the fireworks that Nats hitters enjoyed on Sunday, the game started ominously, with righty Stephen Strasburg being pulled by Nats skipper Matt Williams after just four innings. Strasburg gave up eight hits and five earned runs, which included home runs to Gregor Blanco and Travis Ishikawa.

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Strasburg, who had pitched well in his previous two outings, with decisive performances against Arizona and the Mets, “didn’t have his A-game,” as reliever Craig Stammen noted, and had to be bailed out by the Nationals bullpen. Strasburg agreed with the assessment.

“I was making dumb pitches,” Strasburg said after the win. “On a 3-2 pitch, I have to execute a better pitch there to Blanco. The same with Ishikawa on the 1-2 pitch. You want to challenge them, but at the same time you have to focus on hitting your spots. I really wasn’t doing that today.”

With Strasburg on the bench, the Nationals mounted their comeback, taking advantage of Bruce Bochy’s decision to bring in Jeremy Affeldt in relief of Giants’ starter Ryan Vogelsong in the sixth inning. Affeldt faced five Washington hitters without getting an out — giving up a Bryce Harper double, singles to Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Loboton, a Scott Hairston double and a Denard Span infield hit.

The Nationals bullpen also came through (as they almost always do) in a big way. Craig Stammen, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano gave up a single earned run in five innings of work, with Soriano closing out the game on a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

“Son of a gun, you just wanted an out anywhere and we couldn’t get it,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of the Nationals sixth inning offensive. The usually reliable Affeldt agreed, shaking his head in frustration at his own outing. “I take full responsibility for that game,” he said.

The Nationals also piled on five more runs in the 8th, though by then the Giants were well out of the game. Juan Gutierrez (“the human rain delay“) threw just 1.1 innings while giving up five earned runs, including home runs to Bryce Harper (his seventh) and Danny Espinosa (2-2 on the day) — his eighth.

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The Wisdom Of Section 1-2-9: Worries among 1-2-9 regulars over Bryce Harper’s ability to get on track after being on the disabled list have now been replaced by worries over the inconsistent pitching of Stephen Strasburg.  The section was moodily silent after Blanco and Ishikawi authored moon shots against the Washington “ace” . . .

“Look, it’s Gregor DiMaggio,” one regular noted when Gregor Blanco went deep. “Stras just looks terrible.” Another section season ticket holder shook his head. “You know, it could be that they’re just not letting him loose,” he argued. “This guy can throw 98 and once upon a time he did that regularly. They’re easing him back, when they should just let him throw what he wants . . . ”

“So what do we do with Strasburg?” a 1-2-9 regular asked as Craig Stammen emerged from the bullpen in relief of the big righty in the top of the 5th inning. “If this game is an indication, he’s no longer number one in the rotation. You can’t put him up front in the post-season, he’s just too inconsistent . . .”

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. . . And Here Come The Giants

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

MLB: San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres

The San Francisco Giants were our pick to win the National League West, and we had good reason to suppose so. The Giants had a snappy starting rotation, we thought that Tim Lincecum would recover some of the velocity on his fastball, and the team could hit — not least because they added Michael Morse to their mix.

For much of the season our prediction looked solid. The Giants appeared to be running away with the West, the Dodgers were struggling (and Clayton Kershaw was on the disabled list for a short time), and Morse was hitting the snot out of the ball, and still is.

But starting in late June and extending well into mid-August, the Giants were hit by a series of devastating injuries: Matt Cain went down for the season, Brandon Belt and Hector Sanchez were hit with concussions, Marco Scutaro went down with a bad back and a stiff neck and the McCoverys spiraled out of first place.

But the real loss for the Giants came in late June when center fielder Angel Pagan was hit with a back injury that refused to heal. Pagan is San Francisco’s spark and had led the Giants in BA and OBP prior to sitting out an eight game streak in late June. Finally, realizing that he just wasn’t healing, the Giants took Pagan off the bench and put him on the disabled list.

The Giants went 19-26 without Pagan, though G.M. Brian Sabean did his best to back-and-fill off the Pagan injury. Sabean signed struggling second sacker Dan Uggla to a contract on July 25, then swapped two minor leaguers for Red Sox starter and veteran tosser Jake Peavy the next day.

Sabean’s moves haven’t worked out. Uggla went 0-11 with six strikeouts in two weeks of work for the Giants (who then outrighted him, putting him back on the street) and Peavy has been just so-so. The former San Diego righty began his time in San Francisco by going 0-3, though he’s recovered lately, authoring two key wins in his last two outings.

It hasn’t been enough. While the Giants have been able to patch together a workable starting rotation and supplemented it with a solid, very solid, bullpen, the Giants are just middling run scorers. The McCoveys offense is not only not as good as L.A.’s, it’s probably worse than Arizona’s, with a sorry .305 team OBP.

Yes, we know: the Giants have heavyweights Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Morse in their line-up. But the guy the Giants really have to have (they’re 21st in runs and 21st in BA) is Angel Pagan — who needs to get healthy and stay healthy. Pagan is the key, the one guy that makes it all work. Without him, they’re just not the same team.