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Nats Poised To Win The East After 3-0 New York Victory

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals continued their dominance of the New York Mets on Sunday, notching a convincing 3-0 victory that extended their lead to ten games over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. The victory brought the Nats record against the Mets to 13-3 for the year, with the team winning nine of ten games at Citi Field.

Oddly, the Mets have a winning record against the rest of baseball, and would finish the season above .500 were it not for their record against the Nationals. That is, while the Mets are 3-13 against the Nats, they are 69-65 against everyone else.

The Nationals win came against Mets starter Jonathon Niese, who stymied Washington’s offense until Wilson Ramos blasted a two run home run against the looming southpaw in the key 7th inning. The loss was Niese’s eleventh of the season, as the Mets record fell to 72-78 on the 2014 campaign.

“Towards the end of the year you want to play your best baseball,” Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann said after the victory, “and I think we’re doing that.” Zimmermann added that he thought it would be “really great” for Washington “to win this whole thing” in their upcoming away series in Atlanta. The win in New York marked Zimmermann’s sixth consecutive win.

Zimmermann threw a solid 6.2 innings, striking out five, in registering his twelth win of the season. The Ace of Auburndale was able to wriggle out of number of tough jams in his six-plus innings of work, which included a bases loaded threat in the bottom of the 4th. The Mets were 0-8 with runners in scoring position.

The Nationals banged out eight hits versus New York pitching, with Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond both continuing their hot-as-a-firecracker September. Werth and Desmond were both 2-4 on the day, with Desmond crossing the plate twice. The Saturday win followed a 10-3 butchering on the Mets on Saturday.

The Nationals bullpen once again provided a stellar outing in relief of Zimmermann. Lefty Matt Thornton and righty Tyler Clippard pitched the Nationals through the 7th and 8th innings, with Drew Storen closing the game in the 9th. Storen picked up his fifth save on the season.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Nationals, at 85-63, own the best record in the National League — by a single game over the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are 84-64. The Los Angeles Angels, with 93 wins lead all of baseball, while the Baltimore Orioles have 88 wins and are nearly shoo-ins to win the A.L. East . . .

The Nationals will now travel to Atlanta, where they will line-up against the Braves in a crucial three game series. The Nationals could seal a division championship with a sweep, while Atlanta needs to win to stay relevant in the Wild Card race in the National League. Atlanta trails the Giants and Pirates by three-and-a-half games in the Wild Card race . . .

The Braves have dropped two in a row to Texas Rangers, the worst team in baseball. Braves fans aren’t happy about it. “Braves lose to Rangers, season all but over,” Braves blog Talking Chop headlined yesterday. The “offense is completely broken” Talking Chop reported, but then focused on Atlanta’s defensive problems . . .

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Will Mike Rizzo “Pull The Trigger” At The Deadline?

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

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Yesterday Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson wrote that Washington had inquired about the availability of Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, but were “rebuffed.” The report sent tremors through Nats-Land, as it seemed to confirm that Mike Rizzo & Co. were interested in an upgrade at the hot corner, and searching for more power for the Nats line-up.

There are any number of reasons for the Nats search, all of them obvious. Regular third sacker Ryan Zimmerman is on the disabled list, and the Nationals are apparently uncomfortable with shifting their regular second baseman, Anthony Rendon to third to take his place. Then there’s Danny Espinosa.

Espinosa has often been a punching bag for Nats fans, who are skeptical of his abilities at the plate. This didn’t seem to matter to the Nats front office, who always had faith in Espinosa. But now, with the Ladson report, it seems the Nationals have finally conceded that an infield of Rendon-Desmond-Espinosa and LaRoche just isn’t enough to carry them into the post-season.

Then too, the Nationals need power — and a player like Beltre, with 14 home runs this year (and four Gold Gloves) would mark a significant upgrade for the Nationals line-up. And the Nationals have a lot to give — including some young arms that would fit in well with the eviscerated Rangers rotation.

The Nationals are backed up on the mound and could deal some of their young pitchers, including Blake Treinen, a ready-for-the-show righty currently at Syracuse, as well as Taylor Jordan, who has appeared as a sometimes starter for the Nationals in the past. Nationals G.M. Mike Rizzo would be loathe to part with any pitching prospects, of course, but to get someone like Beltre he’d almost have to.

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Desmond Is 5-5 In Nats 7-2 Win

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

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Ian Desmond was 5-5 with two RBIs, Doug Fister threw 5.2 innings of solid baseball and reliever Aaron Barrett snuffed out a dangerous Rockies’ rally, as Washington went on to beat Colorado at Coors Field, 7-2. The victory, coupled with a Braves’ loss, put the Nationals in first place in the N.L. East.

Desmond’s night was the talk of the Nationals clubhouse following the victory. While the Washington shortstop has hit for power all season, he’s struggled to raise his batting average. But his 5-5 night against the Rockies raised his 2014 batting average to .253, a distinct improvement from his anemic April and May.

“I just thought he stayed middle of the diamond and didn’t overswing,” Nats manager Matt Williams concluded. “He hit a couple of balls back through the middle, one the other way. When he’s swinging it and going good, that’s what you’ll see.”

“I just look for the ball and swing as hard as I can,” Desmond said after the Washington victory. That may be, but whatever the shortstop is doing, it seems to be working. Desmond hit his 17th home run of the season in the top of the 4th inning to spark Washington’s offense.

The Washington win gave starter Doug Fister is 9th victory of the year, as the right hander suffocated Colorado’s bat-heavy line-up into the sixth inning. But the turning point in the game came when reliever Aaron Barrett was called on to douse a Colorado rally with two outs in the 6th. Barrett struck out Brandon Barnes with the bases loaded to end the threat.

The Washington win was also spurred by Colorado’s sloppy play. Two throwing errors by Colorado starter Franklin Morales in the 4th inning sparked a big inning for the Nationals. Morales threw wide to first on a Doug Fister sacrifice bunt, then overthrew first on a pickoff attempt. The second error cost Colorado a run, as it scored Danny Espinosa from third.

For the second night in a row the Nationals broke out their bats. In addition to Desmond’s impressive five hit performance, Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa (who started at second base) were 2-4. Espinosa was particularly impressive, with a triple and a long fourth inning double that scored Wilson Ramos.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: This is turning into an ugly, ugly year for the Colorado Rockies. Their loss to the Nationals on Monday night was their sixth in a row and the team now finds itself mired in last place in the National League West . . .

It’s easy to identify the Rockies’ failings — lots of injuries and lack of pitching. But that’s only a part of the story. The front office is in chaos, the owner seems to mistrust the team’s head of baseball operations and it’s not clear what the General Manager is doing . . .

Fox Sports reports that team owner Dick Monfort said in a recent radio interview that he blames Bill Geivett, who is the senior vice president of major-league operations, for the Rockies rough year. Geivett has put his office in the clubhouse, putting pressure on manager Walt Weiss — and making Geivett a kind of deputy manager, or perhaps advisor-in-chief . . .

The Geivett move has touched off a kind of civil war inside the Rockies organization, with players befuddled by the teams plans — and wondering if there are any . . .

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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 Outhit The Crew, But Fall 4-2

Saturday, July 19th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals proved that Milwaukee Brewers righty Kyle Lohse is very hittable, spraying ten hits in seven innings against him at Nationals Park on Friday night. But it was Lohse who had the last word, working out of threat after threat in delivering the Brewers a surprising 4-2 victory.

All of Lohse’s acrobatics came with two outs, as Washington failed to move runners off the bases — a habit that has victimized the D.C. Nine all season.

In all, Lohse pitched out of jams in the second, third and fifth innings. Of course, the Nationals could rightly claim that it was their lack of hitting with runners on base (and not Lohse’s pitching) that was the problem: The Nats were 1-10 with runners in scoring position.

Lohse was able to joke about his on-base troubles, and his win, after the victory. “I think it was five out of seven innings that got led off with a hit,” he told reporters in the Brewers’ clubhouse. “I was thinking about starting off innings out of the stretch, but I didn’t want to let everybody know I was aware of it.”

The Nationals were hardly anemic at the plate. Denard Span was 3-4 on the night, Ryan Zimmerman was 2-4 (and stroked his 19th double) and Ian Desmond added an RBI double in the bottom of the fourth.

Lohse faced off against Washington ace Stephen Strasburg, who gave up seven hits in seven innings while striking out nine. But unlike Lohse, Strasburg was victimized by two round trippers (off the bats of second sacker Scooter Gennett and outfielder Khris Davis) and a Brewers’ offense that capitalized on their scoring opportunities.

“With Stras as a fastball pitcher, they are a home run-hitting club. That’s going to happen sometimes,” Nats’ skipper Matt Williams noted following the loss. “If you are going to hit a home run, you want it to be a solo home run.”

But the difference in the game was not the long ball, but a bloop single off the bat of Milwaukee third baseman Aramis Ramirez in the third inning. With Gennett and Ryan Braun on base, Ramirez hit a blooper just inside the right field line that scored both runners. The hit was the difference in the game.

The good news for the Nationals was that Bryce Harper seems to be on track after being sidelined for a good portion of the season, and struggling at the plate since his return. Armed with a new and more upright batting stance, the Nationals young left fielder was 3-4 with a home run, his third of the season.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: While the Nationals were losing at home against Milwaukee, Atlanta was winning at home against Philadelphia. The Braves 6-4 victory was their third in a row and put them a single game ahead of Washington in the National League East . . .

The Bravos celebrated the All Star break by making an uncomfortable roster move, releasing second sacker Dan Uggla who had struggled at the plate during the 2013 campaign, then repeated that performance again this year. Uggla has hit just .175 since the beginning of last season and without the power that greeted his arrival in Atlanta in the 2010 off season . . .

You really have to wonder what happened to Uggla’s power stroke. While the former Marlin could never hit for average, his penchant for hitting high and long drives into the upper deck made him a nemesis in the N.L. East. Uggla hit thirty or more home runs five seasons in a row, including 36 in 2011 . . .

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Werth, Nats Trounce The Phils — Head To The Break

Monday, July 14th, 2014

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Jayson Werth is the Nationals hottest hitter in July and he only got hotter on Sunday. Facing off against his old team, the Nationals right fielder showed why he’s “worth” every cent of the contract Washington gave him several years ago, going 2-3 and driving in four runs in the Nationals rout of the Phillies, 10-3.

In a season of injuries to its Opening Day line-up, Werth has been the team’s steadiest and most productive player. And he’s been particularly hot in July, just as the fight for the N.L. East crown has also started to heat up. Werth is 15-40 (.375) with six homers and 19 RBIs since the beginning of the month. Werth’s power and value were on full display in Philadelphia.

Washington’s offensive outburst on Sunday (ten runs, two doubles and two home runs), supported a strong outing from Nats starter Tanner Roark, who rebounded from his last two uneven starts. Roark held the Phillies to just four hits in seven complete innings of work.

“I’m pitching with confidence, and I really didn’t try to nibble,” Roark said of his performance on Sunday. “The changeup was working today. That helped me get out of a jam a couple of times. The changeup was the biggest thing as far as getting ahead.”

The victory kept the Nationals in first place in the N.L. East, with a 51-42 record. The Braves are at 52-43, while the Mets, Marlins and Phillies are at least seven games back. Struggling Philadelphia is in last place, a full ten games off the pace.

“Considering everything that is going on, we are OK,” Nats manager Matt Williams said following his team’s victory. “We are right in the thick of our division. We have a chance. That’s all we could ask for, considering what’s going on. I’m happy about it.”

The Nationals run scoring barrage on Sunday (Denard Span was 2-5, Anthony Rendon 3-5 and Ryan Zimmerman and Werth each hit home runs), put three runs on the board in the first frame, then followed it up with a 4-spot in the 6th. The team added a single run in the 8th and two more in the 9th.

Washington’s hitters took advantage of Philadelphia starter Kyle Kendrick, with the veteran throwing into the 6th inning, but giving up five runs on five hits. This was the second poor outing in a row against the Nationals for Kendrick, who lost to the Nats back on June 5. The struggling Kendrick took the loss and is now 4-9 on the year.

Phillies hitters were particularly ineffective against Roark, scoring a single run against him in the 6th. The Phillies put two runs on the board in the 9th inning against Washington reliever Aaron Barrett. Ross Detwiler put in another inning of stellar work, shutting the Phillies down in the 8th.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: A much deserving Tyler Clippard was named to the National League All Star team which will played in Minneapolis on Tuesday. This will be Clippard’s second appearance as an All Star. He was on the All Star game in 2011, and picked up the win for the National League . . .

“I’m honored to do it. I feel like the Nationals need some representation,” Clippard said. “Jordan wasn’t able to be there. I was afraid we might not have anybody in uniform, so I’m just happy to go out there and just represent our team and maybe get into a game and see what happens . . . ”

Our opinion is that the National League has the edge in the Home Run Derby competition. The A.L.’s Jose Bautista is a feared participant in these kinds of things, but Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton is our odds-on favorite to win it all. But we’ll watch the Twins Brian Dozier with particular interest, as he’s a relative unknown for both Nats and National League fans . . .

Yesterday, in Colorado, Dozier sent two blasts into the seats at Coors Field, as the Twins knocked down the Rockies, 13-5. Dozier had what has to be pretty close to a career day. He was 3-6 with four RBIs and two home runs, his 17th and 18th on the year . . .

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