Archive for the ‘predictions’ Category

Rockies Halt Streaking Nationals, 6-4

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

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The Nationals four game winning streak was stopped by the Rockies at Coors Field on Wednesday, as a 9th inning Washington rally fell short and Colorado went on to win, 6-4. The hero for Colorado was starter Jorge De La Rosa (now an impressive 11-6 on the year), who threw into the 8th inning and struck out 11.

Matt Williams had nothing but praise for the Colorado right hander, whose performance helped to end the Rockies seven game skid. “He knows how to pitch here,” Williams said. “He has a surprising fastball when he needs it, but he relies on his changeup a lot. That’s a great strategy here.”

While De La Rosa pitched one of his best games of the year, the Rockies needed help from their bullpen, and a little luck, to take the victory. The Nats rallied to score two runs in the 9th inning and had the bases loaded when Colorado veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins fanned Washington shortstop Ian Desmond to end the threat, and the game.

The 9th inning was a key for the Nationals, who looked like they might actually catch and then pass Colorado. Hawkins registered two outs before allowing RBI singles to Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon to make it a 6-4 game. But the Nationals came up just short, providing Rockies’ fans with a too rare win at home . . .

“Got scary there at the end,” Colorado third sacker Nolan Arenado admitted. “We have a lot of confidence in Hawk. He’s done a great job this year putting people away.”

Despite the loss and failed rally, Washington scrapped out twelves hits on the Rockies, who are viewed as one of the best offensive teams in the game. Denard Span had a second solid game at the plate, going 4-5, while Danny Espinosa (now, with the injury to Ryan Zimmerman, a regular fixture at second base), weighed in with a double . . .

The Colorado win not only marked an end to Washington’s four game winning streak, it gave Stephen Strasburg his eighth loss on the year, against seven wins. Strasburg had trouble out of the gate, giving up three runs in the 1st inning on doubles from Josh Rutledge and Corey Dickerson, and singles to Ben Paulsen and Michael McHenry.

Strasburg was not satisfied with his performance, but gave himself points for hanging in in the tough Colorado environment. “Giving up three runs early, I could’ve easily shut it down,” Strasburg said after the loss. “I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to keep it as close as possible. Give the guys a chance to come back — anything can happen here.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Nationals will have the day off on Thursday, before facing the Redlegs in Cincinnati on Friday. The Reds vaulted themselves into contention in the N.L, Central before the All Star break, but nothing has gone well for them since then. The six game spiral now finds the Reds just a single game over .500 . . .

The Reds were swept by the Brewers in a three game set in Milwaukee, losing the last of three on Wednesday, 5-1. Not surprisingly, the Reds have been hit hard by injuries to Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto, which provided much of the Reds punch to a now suddenly anemic line-up . . .

“Offensively, we averaged two runs a game. That’s not going to cut it,” All Star third baseman Todd Frazier said after the Milwaukee loss on Wednesday. “We depend on our pitchers, and they’re pitching great. When we depend on them, we have to also produce . . .”

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Werth Walk Off Wins It For The Nats

Monday, July 21st, 2014

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Jayson Werth’s ninth inning walk off double provided Washington with a dramatic 5-4 win over the Brewers at Nationals Park on Sunday, keeping the Nationals in first place in the National League East. The victory came after Milwaukee tied the contest in the top of the 9th on a Rickie Weeks single.

Werth’s walk-off brought the crowd of 36,000-plus to their feet in appreciation for the Washington right fielder. “That’s what it’s all about, right? It’s why we do this,” Werth said of his hit after the game. “If you find yourself in that situation and you don’t want to be there, I think you’re in the wrong line of work.”

But it wasn’t just Werth who was tough at the plate. The Nationals scalded twelve hits in the victory, including two hit days apiece from Denard Span, Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman notched his fourth home run of the season in the 4th inning against Milwaukee starter Yovani Gallardo.

The Nationals’ victory sealed a series win against the Brewers, after a back-and-forth game that saw both teams fighting for the victory. The win helped retrieve a shaky start for Washington southpaw Gio Gonzalez, who gave up three runs in just 3.1 innings. But the Nationals bullpen picked up the slack, hurling 5.2 innings of one run baseball.

The Brewers hit Gonzalez hard, with Milwaukee’s usual suspects of Jonathan Lucroy and Khris Davis notching key RBIs. “It’s one of those games where you have to brush under the rug,” Gonzalez said of his less than stellar outing. “Nine days off, it didn’t help. Obviously, my command and fastball location wasn’t where I wanted it to be.”

This was a tough loss for the Brewers, who continue to make mental mistakes in close games. In the bottom of the 9th, with Washington’s Rendon headed towards home, outfielder Khris Davis overthrew the cutoff man, Jean Segura, allowing the Nationals to walk off. The play left Brewers’ manager Ron Roenicke fuming.

“If he hits the cutoff man, he’s out,” Roenicke said of the play. “And there should be somebody behind ‘Seggy,’ too, so if you overthrow him, there’s a second guy there.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The pressure seems to be getting to Milwaukee, who once upon a time seemed to be running away with the National League Central. But no more: Prior to the All Star break the Crew lost a crucial series in Cincinnati, dropped four in a row to the Phillies and lost a series against the Cardinals . . .

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke is ripped. “You know, I don’t care about ‘the stretch’ and what happened before,” Roenicke angrily told the press after yesterday’s loss. “We’re playing a game now. I don’t care what happened in the past. We know where we are. We’re here to win games today. That’s all we’re worried about . . .”

The Cardinals, meanwhile, have been winning (despite their loss to the Dodgers last night) and are a workmanlike 9-6 in July. And the Reds are back from the dead, even though they were swept most recently by the Yankees. Then too, playing .500 ball might just be enough to win the suddenly weak National League Central . . .

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Nats Crush The Crew, 8-3

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

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The Nationals came ready to play against Matt Garza and the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday night, scoring five runs in the bottom of the 1st inning and then going on to crush the crew, 8-3. The Nationals victory gave Washington starter Tanner Roark his team leading ninth win on the season.

The five run first inning was the difference in the game, as the Nationals batted around. Denard Span started the Nats assault with a single. Then, after Garza struck out Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth doubled, Adam LaRoche walked and Ryan Zimmerman singled to bring in the first two Nationals’ runs.

But the Nats weren’t done: Garza walked left fielder Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond reached first on a muffed infield single that scored LaRoche. Desmond’s single was mishandled by Milwaukee shortstop Jean Segura, but scored a single as Desmond couldn’t be caught in his sprint to first. A Wilson Ramos single to center then scored two more runs.

“You want to be aggressive,” manager Matt Williams said of his team’s five run first. “We have an opportunity for a crooked number there. I think the big at-bat was Wilson Ramos. He got behind [in the count], got to two strikes. He hit a slider. That’s a big cushion and it extended the inning.”

The five runs were all that Tanner Roark would need in shutting down the potent Milwaukee offense. The Nats young righty threw seven innings of six hit baseball in holding the Crew to just one run. “The biggest thing for me is that we are playing good team ball and scoring runs early. It helps a lot,” Roark said of his victory. “It gives me confidence and I pitch with no fear.”

The Brewers view of their loss was that the Nationals were lucky: “The Nationals blooped, bounced, dribbled and flicked Garza from the game after 42 pitches, five runs and five well-placed hits,” Milwaukee’s website related. The Nationals didn’t disagree, while noting they were due for some luck.

“We need some luck every now and then, too,” Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “We just kind of hit the ball where they weren’t. We got some timely hits like we didn’t yesterday. We got a good lead to start the game.”

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The Wisdom Of Section 1-2-9: There might have been three dozen or so Brewers fans in attendance at Saturday night’s game, but that’s about all. 1-2-9, a standard home for some out-of-towners (particularly when the Cubs are visiting) was denuded of all Brewers jerseys, with boos greeting the plate appearance of Ryan Braun . . .

“I don’t normally like booing anything having to do with baseball, even when I hate the other team,” a regular said, “and I don’t mind giving credit when it’s due. That’s just being a good sport. But I can’t stand Braun.” Many others agreed, and joined in the chorus. “He should have just taken his medicine and told the truth. It was the lie that turned fans against him,” another Nats fan noted . . .

There was only one voice of dissent, given by a fan in a nearby row who greeted the anti-Braun sentiment with a shrug. “The guy knows how to hit,” he said, “which makes you wonder why he thought he needed to juice in the first place.” That sentiment was unscored when Braun put a 91-mph Jerry Blevins fastball into the left field seats in the 8th . . .

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Nats End Philadelphia’s Streak, Win In 10

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

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Ryan Zimmerman’s 10th inning single lifted the Washington Nationals past the Phillies 5-3 at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday. The win kept the Nationals in a virtual tie for first place in the N.L. East with the Atlanta Braves and ended Philadelphia’s five game winning streak.

Zimmerman’s clutch single came against Phillies’ southpaw reliever Jake Diekman with Denard Span and Jayson Werth on base. The Zimmerman single scored Span, while a wild pitch from Diekman scored Werth. The Washington win was preserved when closer Rafael Soriano struck out the side in the bottom of the frame. Soriano’s save was his 22nd on the season.

“He’s been phenomenal,” Washington skipper Matt Williams said of Soriano. “He has taken the ball whenever we’ve asked him to — not only in save situations, but in tie games as well to get us an extra inning or an extra at-bat. He’s been great.”

Washington starter Stephen Strasburg was inconsistent in his outing against the Phillies, striking out the side in one inning (in the bottom of the 4th), while running into trouble in others (particularly in the 6th, where he gave up three singles and a walk). Strasburg ended up surrendering seven hits in 5.2 innings of work while striking out nine.

Despite Strasburg’s inconsistency (“he was a little off tonight,” Williams confirmed), his face off with Philadelphia starter Cole Hamels provided plenty of drama for the 32,000-plus Phillies fans in attendance. The two engaged in a head-to-head duel through six innings, with Hamels being lifted after seven complete. Hamels gave up four hits and struck out five.

The Philadelphia loss highlighted the problems faced by a veteran, but aging line-up. The Ashburns were 2-14 with runners in scoring position. “Strasburg had something to do with that,” Philadelphia manager Ryne Sandberg noted. “He had an outstanding power changeup, which was 89-90 mph. That’s what he went to with the men on base. But we scrapped hits and had hits in opportunities, and he pitched out of them.”

This series has marked yet another return to Citizens Bank of Jayson Werth, who is still greeted with a smattering of boos from Phillies fans. Before Zimmerman’s single, Werth was the big producer in the Nationals line-up. The Nationals right fielder accounted for three of Washington’s five runs, hitting his 11th home run into the seats in right center in the 6th.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Werth was nearly wistful in remembering his time in Philadelphia after Saturday’s game, saying that he enjoyed matching up against his old teammates and particularly Philadelphia lefty starter Cole Hamels . . .

“You play with somebody as long as I did and you play the type of games, meaningful games in October, win a World Series,” Werth said. “We’ll have a common bond our whole life. But it’s fun to compete against those guys. It’s like I know them inside and out, and they probably feel the same way. It’s challenging . . . ”

There have been two great eras in Phillies baseball. Back in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, the Phillies were among the class of the National League, finishing first in their division five times in eight years and winning the World Series in 1980 before losing it in 1983. 1980 marked their first World Series victory ever . . .

The second great era was inaugurated in 2007, when they began a run of five straight years as division champs. They won the series in 2008, but lost it the next year. That second era of greatness is now over, with the Phillies in last place in the N.L. East, two games behind the Mets . . .

It’s been hard for the Phillies to let go. They’ve retained their core up-the-middle combination of Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley and signed Cole Hamels to a long-term contract, but now it appears that G.M. Ruben Amaro will begin the long awaited turnover of the team that (if truth be told) should have been taken apart two years ago . . .

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Cubs 7th Inning Rally Downs The Nats

Friday, June 27th, 2014

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These are the last place Cubs, the Chicago Doormats who can’t pitch, can’t hit and can’t run. But you’d never know it from the way they played on Thursday night on the North Side of Chicago, where they rallied for two runs in the 7th inning to down the Washington Nationals, 5-3.

The Chicago 7th came after the Nationals fought back on a 3-0 deficit to tie the game — punching a single run across the plate in the 6th, then putting two more on the scoreboard in the 7th. Chicago’s runs came off of Washington long reliever Craig Stammen, who gave up a double to light hitting Darwin Barney, a Chris Coghlan walk and a two RBI double to Justin Ruggiano. The Ruggiano double was just inside the third base line and past Anthony Rendon.

“Stammen’s been really good for us, and it started with Barney and him trying to go down and away with a slider and hung it over the middle of the plate,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said following the loss. “He was one pitch from getting out of it. It’s tough to see from the dugout, but I don’t how that ball [the Ruggiano double] was fair, but not by a lot.”

Nats starter Doug Fister, who’d had multiple quality starts over the last month, struggled to keep the Cubs off the board. But a three run fourth inning gave the Cubs the early lead, with the middle of the Cubs line-up of first sacker Anthony Rizzo, shortstop Starlin Castro and catcher Welington Castillo providing Chicago’s firepower.

“Felt like I was executing, but at the same time, the pitches need to be a little bit better,” Washington righty and starter Fister said. “I need to make sure they’re in or out a little bit more, down more. If I get it in a little bit further on that jam shot over the infield, then who knows. A lot of ‘shoulda-woulda-couldas,’ it’s just a matter of going out there and getting it done.”

The game was played under less than ideal conditions. A fog rolled in off of Lake Michigan in the afternoon and caused havoc among outfielders, including Nats centerfield Denard Span, who lost a fly ball in the gray soup. “Just rough conditions,” Span said after the loss. “Nothing you can do to prepare for that. I don’t think I’ve ever played in a game with that much fog.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Cubbies may be a last place team, but they’ve been a tough team over the last forty games. They are 20-17 in that period (and 13-11 in June) as their younger players have begun to hit, and their bullpen is ranked seventh in the majors and fourth in the National League . . .

Baseball analysts will tell you that the Cubs rebuilding process is taking a little longer than either President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and G.M. Jed Hoyer thought it would take, but there’s no doubt the Cubs farm system is packed. It’s only a matter of time before Cubs fans see the results with the Big Club . . .

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Roark (And The Nats Bullpen) Stump The Braves

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

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Nationals skipper Matt Williams remained his usual unsmiling self after the Nationals bested the Braves on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park, but allowed himself a fleeting moment of semi-humor. “I am going to respectfully not answer that question, if that’s okay,” he said when asked if the Nationals now had momentum in the N.L. East. “I know how this works.”

It’s not superstition exactly, but it’s pretty close: As Williams himself noted, “there’s a long way to go” and “we need to take one game at a time.” But Washington’s 4-1 win and a split in the Atlanta series in front of 39,000-plus Nats fans must have come as a relief to Williams, as it did to the Nationals players.

“Oh yeah, they’ve had our number,” Nats center fielder Denard Span, who got a key hit in the win, said after the victory. “So it’s good to come away with a win today.” The Nationals Sunday win came on yet another strong pitching performance from starter Tanner Roark — and a shutdown bullpen that yielded nadda, zippo, zero (3.2 innings, no hits and three strikeouts) to a tough hitting Braves line-up.

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Roark, who lasted 5.1 innings, did not have his best stuff, but set the tone by holding the Braves to four hits. Roark was frustrating for Braves hitters, who argued several high strike zone calls from home plate umpire Mark Carlson. The Braves Chris Johnson was ejected in the top of the 6th (here’s the video, and we trust you can read lips) and Justin Upton was tossed just prior to the end of the game.

The Nationals put two runs on the board in the bottom of the 1st (on an Adam LaRoche single and a Ryan Zimmerman sacrifice fly), added single runs in the 5th (on a clutch Denard Span double that scored Sandy Leon), and added an insurance run in the 8th when Anthony Rendon scored on a wild pitch.

The Nationals broke out for nine hits in their win on Sunday, but the key to the series split was the team’s pitching — and particularly their relief corps. Storen, Clippard and Soriano all pitched well in the series, but Craig Stammen was the standout, throwing 4.2 innings in relief while giving up a single hit. If we had to pick a hurler to go to Minneapolis for the All Star game, it would be Stammen.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Speaking of superstition — as soon as we wrote that Cincinnati should shovel their bats into a wood chipper they scored eleven runs on Saturday and another four today. This followed the 14-8 stunner on Friday night, in which they led Toronto 8-0 after two, but ended up losing the game . . .

We know how it looks, but we’re going to stick with what we said. Of all the teams in the National League, the Cincinnati Bridesmaids are the most disappointing. They hit more home runs than the Nationals (not a surprise, come to think of it), but can’t seem to put runs on the board when they need to, and seem to fall asleep in big games. It’s a puzzle . . .

The only reason we mention this is that our cheeky coverage of the Redlegs sparked an avalanche of reader emails (well, an avalanche for us), decrying our anti-Cincinnati bias and our “premature prediction” (all predictions are, by nature, premature — but nevermind) in counting them out of the running in the N.L. Central . . .

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The Nationals “RISP Problem”

Monday, June 16th, 2014

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It wasn’t that long ago that we were pondering the hitless-homerless St. Louis Cardinals, a team that (we said) was struggling at the plate and headed for a mediocre season. Wouldn’t you know: The punchless Cardinals had plenty of punch against the Nationals, sweeping their three game set in St. Louis and sending Washington home at just two games above .500.

Sunday’s 5-2 loss at Busch Stadium was a depressing coda for the road trip, which started with a series win in San Diego and a celebrated series win in San Francisco. But the 5-2 loss on Sunday saw the Nationals slip back into their old ways, consistently challenged to drive in runners and stymied at the plate by a very good pitching staff. The Nationals left 15 runners on base yesterday and 14 on Saturday.

So, what does the St. Louis sweep mean? The Nationals, our friends at Nationals Journal say, “need to find more consistency” — and point out that Washington is lucky to be where it is: the Braves have also been sluggish, going 5-5 over the last ten games. That’s the same record as the Nationals.

By more consistency, the people at Nationals Journal mean that Washington needs to put together longer strings of wins of the kind that saw the team put up ten wins in a thirteen game run. Which begs the question: Just how precisely can the Nationals repeat that?

Our answer now has been the same as it was in April, or May. The Nationals offense just isn’t that good: The team is eighth in the National League in runs scored, ninth in hits, tenth in home runs, eighth in OPS and sixth in on base percentage. So, this much is clear: While the Nationals hitters get on base, they usually stay there.

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