Archive for the ‘St. Louis Cardinals’ Category
Thursday, April 25th, 2013
The St. Louis Cardinals got to Stephen Strasburg early, scoring three runs in the first inning against the righty, and the Nationals went on to lose to the Redbirds, 4-2. The loss was the fourth in a row for the Nationals, who were swept at home by their Central Division rivals.
What ails the Nats? Well, nearly everything: their defense has been erratic since the end of Spring Training, exacerbated now by a monumental hitting drought. The Nationals have committed 19 errors in 21 games (a National League worst), and the team is hitting a combined .235 — which is just three from the bottom in the N.L.
The team’s loss on Wednesday afternoon gave a clear snapshot of both problems. Anthony Rendon threw wildly to second in the first inning (when there was a play at home), allowing Carlos Beltran to score; the Nationals seemed to have a hard time recovering: the team squandered an important scoring opportunity in the 6th, but Ian Desmond struck out swinging.
The Nationals haven’t scored in 34 of their last 37 innings and, on Wednesday, went 0-7 with runners in scoring position. “We’re just not doing the things we’re capable of doing right now,” Nats’ manager Davey Johnson said following the loss. “It’ll change, but I’m going to have to jumble things up a little bit. Try to light a fire.”
The good news of the day is that, after a shaky first, Washington starter Stephen Strasburg settled down, throwing seven complete innings and retiring 15 of the last 16 batters he faced. “I was trying to throw the perfect pitch. I tell myself, ‘Don’t do that.’ Then I go out there and do it,” Strasburg said of his rocky first inning.
Despite the mounting problems, the Nationals seem quietly confident — even certain that they will live up to their pre-season expectations. Jayson Werth, who homered in the 8th inning (his fourth of the year), remains positive.
“This is definitely not the end of the world,” Werth said when faced by reporters at the end of the game. “We’re just going through it. Hopefully we’ll get over this soon and start playing good baseball and things will start going our way. At some point, I really do believe the ball will start bouncing our way.”
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Nationals aren’t the only N.L. East team that are having problems at the plate. After sweeping the Nationals at home in mid-April, the Atlanta Braves have been slumping: they split a two game series with the Kansas City Royals and then lost three of four against the underrated Pirates . . .
Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013
Cardinals lefty Shelby Miller held the Nationals to four hits and two runs in 6.2 innings of work on Monday night, and the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Washington Nationals 3-2. The Nationals are now officially in a hitting slump, averaging just five hits in each of the last four games.
“We’re just in a rut,” Washington first baseman Adam LaRoche said after the loss. “Lot of quick innings. Not a ton of baserunners. And five, six guys that aren’t swinging the bat real good.”
Washington starter Dan Haren continued to struggle, leaving the bases loaded in the top of the 6th inning with nobody out. Reliever Craig Stammen saved the day — pitching out of the jam with the help of a nifty 3-2-3 double play.
Haren gave up six hits and walked three, and struggled with his command in the middle innings, but Nats’ manager Davey Johnson considered Haren’s outing an improvement for the veteran righty. “I thought he threw the ball a lot better,” Johnson said. “I thought he had good location and mixed his pitches up. I thought he pitched a good ballgame. That’s a very positive outing for me.”
St. Louis tallied its runs on an Allen Craig double in the top of the 3rd that scored Peter Kozma and Matt Carpenter. The ball appeared to be just out of the reach of Denard Span. The game was so close and tightly fought that another inch or two might have made the difference, and given Washington the win. The Cardinals scored their third, and go-ahead run, in the top of the 6th on a single from Yadier Molina.
There were some positives from the loss, including Anthony Rendon’s double in the bottom of the 4th that scored Ian Desmond. It was Rendon’s first major league hit and came during a tenacious at bat against fireballer Miller. “It’s the one thing you’re going to treasure the rest of your life,” Rendon said of that first hit. “You don’t get another one.”
The Wisdom of Section 1-2-9: The more things change the more they stay the same. Silence gripped the section every time Danny Espinosa came to the plate, just like last year — when the Nats’ regular second sacker struggled for most of the season and led the league with 189 strikeouts . . .
There were nods of approval and a number of “attaboys” when Espinosa slapped a single into left field in the bottom of the 7th (“he went the other way, that’s the way he did it in Spring Training,” a regular said) and grumbling when he ground out softly in the bottom of the 9th: “If he continues to slump, we’re going to see Lombardozzi,” a regular noted. “There’s only so much patience you can have” . . .
Monday, April 22nd, 2013
The Nationals fell to Dillon Gee and the New York Mets, 2-0 in New York — dropping two of three games in their series against their division rivals. The Nationals, a strong defensive team in 2012, committed three errors.
But the loss is most likely to be remembered for a Jayson Werth at bat in the 8th inning. Werth came to the plate with two on and nobody out, and the Mets pressing for the win. But Werth squandered the scoring opportunity, hitting into a double play on a 3-0 count.
The Nationals might have looked forward to facing Gee in their final New York weekend contest, particularly since the New York righty had been ineffective in the early going. But Gee pitched his best game of the year, giving up just three hits while striking out six in 5.2 innings of work.
“I’m just happy to finally contribute to a win,” a clearly happy Gee said following the game. “That’s the truth — we needed to step it up. It’s been really eating away at me the past few weeks, not going out there and doing my job.”
Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann was not as effective as he was during his prior outing, when he pitched a complete game, but he gave his team a chance to win. Zimmermann pitched five complete, giving up just two hits and two runs. The big blow for New York came off the bat of John Buck, who stroked his 7th home run of the year in the second inning.
Nats’ skipper Davey Johnson was clearly irritated by the loss, and particularly by Jayson Werth’s swing on the 3-0 count in the 8th. It was the best chance the Nationals had of putting runs on the board. Johnson refused to comment on Werth’s at bat.
But while Johnson remained silent on the incident, Jayson Werth did not: “Looking back, I was trying to do too much, I was trying to win the game right there,” he said following the loss. “The situation got the best of me. It was probably one of the dumber things I’ve done on the field in a while.”
The Nationals return home today to begin a three game series with the St. Louis Cardinals, and hope to gain retribution for last year’s playoff loss. The Nationals will then face the Cincinnati Reds in a four game contest — a stretch of seven tough games against some of their strongest N.L. competition.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Nationals and Cardinals are evenly matched. Both teams are 10-8 and both teams are having problems with their bullpen. Last night in Philadelphia, St. Louis got six-plus strong innings from starter Jake Westbrook before reliever Mitchell Boggs gave up four runs in the eighth . . .
The Cardinals don’t have the pitching the Nationals do (at least not on paper) but while their starting five is older it is also savvy. The likely end of Chris Carpenter’s career has vaulted Adam Wainwright into the first slot in the St. Louis rotation and he’s a gamer. Just two weeks ago he threw a complete game four hitter in Milwaukee . . .
Friday, April 12th, 2013
Here’s the message from last night’s game: don’t piss off Ryan Zimmerman. After White Sox pitcher Dylan Axelrod intentionally walked Bryce Harper in the 4th inning (preferring to pitch to Zimmerman), the clearly irritated Washington third sacker stroked a line drive down the right field line, scoring two and putting Washington in the lead.
The Nats went on to win the third game of their three game set against the Comiskeys, 7-4. The victory marked a sweep of their interleague series with the South Siders and was the first sweep notched by the Nationals this year.
Zimmerman went 2-3 on the night, accounting for two RBIs. “Well, I think Harper is hot. You are just rolling the dice either way. You just take your chance and he got him,” Chicago manager Robin Ventura said of the move.
Washington righty Dan Haren started the game and didn’t pitch well, but he pitched well enough to win. Haren gave up ten hits and three runs to the Chicagoans, but he came up with his first win in pitching five innings. It was a step forward for Washington’s new fifth starter, who had been hit hard in his first outing.
“I took a few steps forward,” Haren said of his performance after Washington’s victory. “I think I threw the ball better than the line score would dictate. The conditions weren’t great out there. The most important thing is we won the game. Obviously, I was a little better than last time.”
In addition to Zimmerman, Washington’s attack was led by Denard Span, Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper, who each had two hits. Zimmerman and Harper accounted for four of Washington’s seven runs. While Haren was struggling through his five innings, the Nats were teeing off on Axelrod, who was knocked out in the fourth after giving up seven hits and six runs.
In addition to victimizing White Sox pitchers for ten hits, the Nationals turned in their best bullpen performance of the year. Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano held Chicago hitters to a single run and three hits in four innings of work. Soriano notched his fifth save.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines:
If you attend a Nationals game, drive home and then just noodle around doing nothing — well, you never know what you’re going to miss. Last night, at about 12:10 am Washington time, MLB network tuned into the Los Angeles-San Diego tilt at Petco, and what a scene it was . . .
In the bottom of the 6th inning, Carlos Quentin came to the plate for the Friars and, on a 3-2 count, was hit in the left arm by a Zack Greinke fastball. Quentin dropped his bat, then hesitated — but it appeared that Greinke said something to him (“take it,” is how we read it) and Quentin charged the mound. It’s really worth watching, and here’s the video . . .
Wednesday, March 27th, 2013
There are people who throw salt over their shoulder, who won’t walk under a ladder, who dodge sidewalk cracks as they head to their office — and then there are the rest of us: who audibly groan when we see own hometown boys featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. It’s the kiss of death.
Honest To God: the S.I. “Kiss Of Death” syndrome is not just some kind of black cat superstition. Just ask Cubs’ fans. Back in 2004, S.I. featured fireballer Kerry Wood on its cover under the headline “Do You Believe?” In fact, the answer to that question for “long suffering Cubs fans” (note: the words “Cubs fans” must always be preceded by the words — “long suffering”) was an emphatic “no.” They knew better, especially with Dusty “arm killer” Baker in charge. The 2004 Champs were the Boston Red Sox, who swept the series from the stinking Cardinals. The Cubs finished sixteen back.
Which is not to say that this year’s S.I prediction, authored by Tom Verducci (who says our guys look a lot like Davey Johnson’s ’86 Mets), is wrong. The CFG crew (and, as a reminder, here we are), thinks this is the best team the Nationals have ever fielded (well, that was easy) and arguably the best in baseball. But predicting a World Series match-up against the Rays (S.I.’s pick in the well-named Junior Circuit) is a bit of a stretch. The playoffs are now a second season, in which anything can happen — as any old Nationals’ fan can now tell you.
Is the Sports Illustrated jinx real? The first baseball player to appear on an S.I. cover — this was back in 1954 — was Eddie Matthews who, after his appearance, broke his hand. Pete Rose appeared on the cover in the same week, in 1978, that his 44 game hitting streak ended. “Indian Uprising,” back in 1987 featured the powerhouse Cleveland Indians: who finished in last place, with the worst record in baseball. And in May of last year, the Los Angeles Dodgers (then in first place) appeared on the cover with the headline “Fun and Games In L.A.” — and promptly tanked.
So, while the S.I. jinx is simply a superstition, it’s hard to argue with history. Then too, the reason there’s a 162 game season is not simply to test of team’s excellence, but it’s luck. It’s ability to overcome fate, and injuries and those odd little bounces that rob a sure winner of a Series championship. And there’s that other thing: the Nationals might well be “the best team in baseball,” at least on paper, but the coming season won’t be played on paper. It’ll be played against the likes of the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants. Among others.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Ah, we’re back — and this time for good. The snow has melted, we can feel Spring in the air, and the Nationals are just days from their opener. It’s the season of predictions: with everyone assessing starting rotations and winter trades.
So too, usually, we make our predictions at this time of the off-season. But this year, we’re going to do something different — we’re going to pick the counterfactuals: those teams expected to do well who, in our estimation, are overrated. Here we go:
Sunday, January 20th, 2013
Affixing Stan Musial’s place in baseball history is one of the game’s great pastimes. Is he better than Aaron or Williams? How does he compare to Wagner, Bonds or Speaker? Is he better than Gehrig? The debate will certainly be revived now that Musial has passed on at the age of 92.
Musial’s numbers are stunning: he had a career BA of .331, hit better than .300 seventeen times, is third in the N.L. in RBIs, ranks fourth in history in total hits (3630), won three N.L. MVP awards and three World Series.
His best year, arguably, was 1948. He led the National League in average (.376). hits (230), runs (135), doubles (46), triples (18), RBIs (131), OBP (.450), slugging (.702) OPS (1.152) and total bases (429). He was voted the National League’s MVP and appeared in his 10th All Star Game — in a row.
Where does that put him in baseball history? It depends on who you ask. The Baseball Almanac puts Musial at 10th all-time (behind Hornsby and Gehrig, surprisingly), the Baseball Guru (based on Win Shares) puts him at seventh (behind Wagner, but ahead of Bonds, Speaker and Mantle), ESPN puts him at eighth (pitchers are included — and Clemens is 7th!), and Bleacher Report ranks him 6th.
Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
When baseball commentator Ken Rosenthal heard that the Nationals had signed righty Dan Haren to a one year $13 million contract, he shook his head in admiration: “This is a team building for the World Series,” he said on MLB Network, “and the signing of Haren shows that.”
Indeed. And Washington fans have every right to celebrate Haren’s arrival. After all, what’s not to like? The 32-year-old veteran has a track record of success (119-97 in ten years in the majors), racks up innings (238.1 in 2011), is a “gamer” — having thrown for both winners (Anaheim’s Belinskys) and losers (the up-and-down Snakes) and has shown remarkable consistency: never dipping below a .500 win/loss record in each of the last eight seasons.
But then there’s this: at the same moment that Danny and the Halos were tanking in the A.L West back in September, Haren was struggling through the worst season of his career, posting careers worsts in WHIP, H/9, HR/9, tying his second worst K/9 and throwing “only” 176 innings, his worst mark since becoming a starter in 2005.
What’s not to like? Well, plenty as it turns out. For while Haren was once among baseball’s elite fireballers, his fastball hasn’t topped out at an unspectacular 92-93 mph for the last two years and his back and hip problems were so bad that the mighty Cubs called off a proposed swap back in November that would have brought him to Chicago in exchange for Carlos Marmol.
Of course — and perhaps in spite of all of it — the signing of Haren brings a definite upside for the Nats, despite his poor year. The righty rebounded after the All Star break (a 3.58 ERA in thirteen starts), and pitched better even with his injury than Washington’s fourth starter, Edwin Jackson.