Archive for the ‘St. Louis Cardinals’ Category

Nats Live On: Fister Fells The Giants

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

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Facing elimination in San Francisco, the Washington Nationals lived on to play another day, as starting righty Doug Fister combined with timely hitting, and an error on pitcher Madison Bumgarner, to down the Giants at AT&T Park, 4-1. Fister threw seven innings of four hit baseball in a brilliant outing that left the Nats trailing the NLDS by two games to one.

After a frustrating series that saw the Nationals score just three runs in 33 innings, the Washington line-up put three runs on the board against Bumgarner and the Giants in the 7th inning of game four on an Ian Desmond single, a walk to Bryce Harper and a rare sacrifice bunt from catcher Wilson Ramos on a two strike count.

While the Ramos sacrifice was fielded cleanly in front of the mound by Bumgarner, the Giants ace whirled and threw wide of third base, sending the ball down the left field line and into the Giants bullpen. Desmond and Harper scampered home for two runs. The next hitter, Asdrubal Cabrera then singled home Ramos, who slid past Buster Posey for the Nats third run.

“You can’t throw the ball away,” Bumgarner said of his key throwing error. “I screwed it up for us. I thought I had a shot right there. Whether we had a shot or not, I think we still had a shot to get Ramos at first base.” The other Washington run came on Bryce Harper’s second home run of the series (a massive 421 foot shot) over the right field wall.

The game also saw Harper notch two clutch defensive gems, snagging Brandon Crawford’s drive to the left field wall in the second inning and grabbing a dead duck single off the bat of Travis Ishikawa.

“Going out there and being able to deal with that sun a little bit, it’s very tough,” Harper said of his dramatic outfield plays. “We have that a little bit in D.C. in center, so really had it all year long. It’s definitely tough, trying to battle out there.”

The 4-1 victory was a shot in the arm for Washington, which had struggled at the plate against Jake Peavy in game one of the series, and Tim Hudson in game two of the series. While the Nats were still only 1-7 with runners in scoring position, they took advantage of San Francisco’s miscues, while making none of their own.

The victory forces game four of the series, which will be played today in San Francisco. The Nationals will send lefty Gio Gonzalez to the mound to face off against the Giants Ryan Vogelsong.

“His numbers the last month were fantastic,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said in explaining why he will go with Gonzalez on the mound. “He’s been going deep into games and using all his pitches for strikes when he wants to.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Here’s what you do if you’re Los Angeles Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly: you run Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke out to the bump, take a snooze on the pines, and when you wake up — “presto,” you’ve taken a 2-zip lead on the what-are-we-doing-here St. Louis Cardinals . . .

Or, at least, that’s what fans of the Trolleys would have you think. In fact, it hasn’t turned out that way. Last Friday, in as close to a sure win as you can have, the Redbirds touched the All World Kershaw for eight runs in six innings and squeezed out a jaw-clenching 10-9 win . . .

The Dodgers bounced back from that first game loss with a ho-hum two hit seven inning stint from Greinke on Saturday (notching a 3-2 victory in Game 2 of the Dodgers-Cardinals best-of-five), but baseball analysts were still wondering why Donny Baseball hadn’t given Kershaw the hook when he started to unravel the day before . . .

Last night we were all given an insight into Mattingly’s thinking, which goes something like this: why in the world would you rely on a sometimes shaky bullpen when you’ve got the game’s best starter on the mound. Sure nuf, last night in St. Louis, the Dodgers bullpen waltzed their way into a 3-1 loss when lefty reliever Scott Elbert gave up a two run homer in the 7th to Kolten Wong . . .

Scott Elbert? One L.A. wag described Mattingly’s decision as “one for the birds . . .”

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Let’s Play The . . . Giants

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

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Somewhere here soon, and actually any minute now, Nats skipper Matt Williams will tell the Washington sports press that he doesn’t care whether the Nationals face the Pirates (and, well, perhaps the Cardinals) or the Giants in the playoffs — “they’re both good teams.” That’s fine for Matt, but the rest of us should have a decided preference: Let’s play the Giants.

It’s not that we don’t like the Pirates (we love them, and if the Nats weren’t in the playoffs . . .), it’s that of the two teams that the Nats are likely to face in the playoffs first round, the Giants are (arguably) the easier opponent. They’ve had an inconsistent September (swept by the Padres and dumped by the Dodgers) and, with the exception of Madison Bumgarner (and Jake Peavy) their pitching is a mess.

The Giants know it. Having backed into the playoffs, Giants skipper Bruce Bochy is now juggling his starting staff to make certain San Francisco puts Bumgarner on the mound on Wild Card Wednesday, no matter who the Giants face. Which means that, if the Giants were to win, the Nationals would face either Ryan Vogelsong, Jake Peavy or Tim Hudson in the first game of the N.L. Division series — while Bumgarner sits.

San Francisco will enter the playoffs with the worst pitching stats of any of the five N.L finishers, with a so-so team ERA (at 3.52), a habit of giving up big runs to small teams and a back of the rotation that has been absolutely shelled.

The Giants lost to the Padres 4-1 last night at home, but gave up eight runs to them on Thursday, in a game the franchise said it had to win. Earlier in the month, the McCoveys were outscored by the Friars in a three game set, 16-2.

But our argument doesn’t have as much to do with the Giants as it does with the Pirates. Pittsburgh is red hot (they’ve won nine of their last eleven), their line-up is that much more formidable and their starting rotation is tougher than San Francisco’s. Pittsburgh is the N.L.’s big secret: they can hit, they can pitch, they’re patient at the plate and they’re fast.

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Nats Sweep In Miami, Return For Final Homestand

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

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The Nationals completed an impressive four game sweep of the Marlins on Sunday afternoon in Miami 2-1, behind a strong seven inning outing from righty Stephen Strasburg. The Nats righty struck out five while giving up three hits and no runs, keeping Washington ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the race for the best record in the National League.

“Really important, a good road trip for us against some teams that has been playing well especially here in a place where they play very good at home,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said, following the victory. “We won some close ones and pitching was good, that certainly will keep you in any ballgame.

This was Strasburg’s 13th win of the year and, with just seven games left in the season (three against the Mets, four against Miami), the Washington ace seems to be peaking at just the right time. Strasburg threw 84 pitches, 55 of them for strikes. “Just have to keep the train rolling,” Strasburg said following his strong outing.

With Strasburg on his game, the Nats needed just two runs to subdue the Marlins, and got both of them in the top of the 5th inning on a lead-off double from Jose Lobaton, an RBI triple from Nate Schierholtz and an Anthony Rendon double to left. Washington victimized Miami starter Nathan Eovaldi, who gave up seven hits in six innings.

Washington’s bullpen once against provided a solid performance. Craig Stammen provided a no hit, no run 8th inning, while Rafael Soriano (making a rare appearance in a save situation), gave up a single run in preserving the Nationals victory.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: With less than a week to go in the regular season, now might be a good time to check this year’s attendance figures — which are down from last year. Baseball has drawn 155,000 fewer fans to this point this year than to a similar point in 2013, a relatively insignificant per game decline. Still . . .

Washington has contributed to this, with a fall-off of 1,065 fans per game. That’s a marginal difference and well in line with the standard in baseball, where attendance figures lag performance by a year. Given the Nationals run to the playoffs in the 2014 campaign, we can expect the team’s attendance to go back up in 2015 . . .

Not to worry. It was going to be difficult for the franchise to outdraw last year’s totals, which were the best since 2005, the Nationals first year in D.C. Then too, the franchise’s attendance figures continue to be solid, putting them just ahead of the middle of the pack in the MLB. They currently rank 12th in attendance per game . . .

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Nats Outlast The Rain, And The Braves, 4-1

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

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After a nearly four hour rain delay that pushed Washington’s game against Atlanta into the early morning hours, the Nationals overcame the Braves in an 11 inning marathon, 4-1. The Washington win marked Atlanta’s ninth loss in ten games and pushed the Nationals 4.5 games ahead of the Braves in the National League East.

A bases loaded single off the bat of Wilson Ramos in the 11th inning was the difference in the game, as the Washington catcher plated Anthony Rendon for the go-ahead run. Kevin Frandsen followed Ramos with a double over the head of Jason Heyward, scoring Adam LaRoche (who had singled) and Bryce Harper (who had walked).

Skipper Matt Williams was pleased with his team’s effort. “Considering all that happened today, and the way we had to fight through the last couple of days, it was pretty good for us,” Williams said after the hard-fought victory. “We fought all the way.”

The game featured a solid pitchers’ duel, with Washington’s Tanner Roark matched up against Atlanta’s Aaron Harang. The two hurlers numbers were similar, with the Nats and Braves trading singles and runs through ten straight innings. Roark’s and Harang’s final lines (each threw seven complete and gave up a single earned run) reflected just how tightly the two teams play.

Washington scored first, in the sixth inning, on Adam LaRoche’s 16th home run of the season. Atlanta responded in the bottom of that frame, when Jason Heyward’s sacrifice fly scored Tommy La Stella. Washington’s bullpen was, once again, outstanding: Matt Thornton, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano held the Braves scoreless through four complete, with Soriano picking up his 26th save.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It’s mid-August (the dog days, when the season seems to go on forever), so analysts, pundits and columnists are searching for things to write and talk about. On Friday, MLB Network listed nominees for the A.L.’s MVP award, apparently because it’s never too soon to speculate . . .

Among those listed were Baltimore’s Adam Jones, L.A.’s Mike Trout, Detroit’s Victor Martinez, Seattle’s Robinson Cano and Oakland’s Josh Donaldson. The surprise in the list (at least for us), is Victor Martinez, who is worthy but often overshadowed by Detroit superstar Miguel Cabrera, who’s having an off year — at least for him . . .

Our pick is Adam Jones, who’s the heartbeat of the first place Orioles. You won’t find Jones at the top of the league in batting average (he’s hitting a respectable .285 on the year), but he’s plated 22 round trippers, which puts him in the company of Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols and he’s knocked in 70, which puts him 11th in the A.L . . .

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Marlins Hook The Nats, 3-0

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

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Henderson Alvarez pitched seven complete innings and Giancarlo Stanton had two hits and drove in two runs as the Miami Marlins shut out the Washington Nationals at Marlins Park on Tuesday night, 3-0. The victory was Miami’s sixth in a row and narrowed the gap separating them from first place in the National League East.

Alvarez showed why he’s one of Miami’s premier starters, particularly at home. Alvarez allowed just three hits while striking out four, outdueling Washington’s Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg matched Alvarez’s numbers, also allowing just four hits. The Washington righty also struck out four Marlins.

The Nationals had plenty of scoring opportunities against Alvarez, but couldn’t find a way to get their runners across the plate. The Nats had the bases loaded in the second inning with no outs, but failed to score, and then had Anthony Rendon on third and Bryce Harper on first in the fifth but couldn’t push a run across.

Alvarez admitted that he struggled in the early going, before finding his command. “I was in the bullpen and I didn’t feel like I always feel before I hit the field. I wasn’t into it. For several innings I had to fight through it,” Alvarez said of his performance. “When the bases loaded with nobody out, I started to find my control of my pitches and of the game.”

After showing a solid ability to push runners across the plate earlier in the current road trip, the Nationals reclaimed their inability to score with runners on base. Washington left 26 on base last night, threatening Miami’s lead in the last of the 9th, when they again failed to score with the bases loaded.

The game also marked a revival for the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton, who entered the game at zero for his last nine at bats. But Stanton certainly looked good against the Nationals, lacing a double to left against Strasburg in the bottom of the 6th, scoring Jordany Valdespin.

“I haven’t felt good for a while now,” Stanton said after last night’s victory. “I did a little setup pregame. Hopefully I’m feeling better and more comfortable at the plate. Today was a good plus to that.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers are in the hunt for starting pitchers, with both teams inquiring about Boston’s Jon Lester, who’s a free agent after the season. The Redbirds have kicked the tires on nearly everyone who’s even remotely available, according to baseball analysts . . .

The once-upon-a-time pitching rich Cardinals are mired right in the middle of the pack with their staff, at least statistically, with both Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia sidelined with arm issues. Wacha has a tweaky shoulder while Garcia is out for the duration with nerve problems in his pitching arm . . .

The loss of Wacha and Garcia have not sent the Cardinals into a tailspin, but St. Louis will need to bolster its pitching to have a shot at another world title. Everyone is in play: the Redbirds have scouted Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and A.j. Burnett of the Phillies, Ian Kennedy of the Padres and Cleveland’s Justin Masterson, in addition to Lester . . .

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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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A Lousy 7th Dooms The Nats

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

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A lead off home run from Matt Adams and a rare breakdown in the Nationals bullpen spelled the difference between victory and defeat on Saturday, as Washington dropped its second straight game to St. Louis, 4-1. Washington starter Stephen Strasburg paid the price for the team’s poor showing in the 7th inning, after throwing what looked to be his standard starting gem.

The 7th was the difference. After Matt Adams led off the inning with a home run, giving the Cardinals a 2-1 lead, St. Louis outfielder Jon Jay singled — which marked the end of Strasburg’s night after a solid 95 pitching outing. With reliever Jerry Blevins on the mound, Jose Lobaton allowed a passed ball and Blevins walked Matt Carpenter.

Even with men on first and second, Washington might well have survived the St. Louis surge. But usually lights-out reliever Drew Storen then hit second sacker Mark Ellis and (with the bases loaded), Storen walked Matt Holliday, which scored a  St. Louis run, giving the Cardinals a 3-1 lead. An Allen Craig single then plated the third run of the inning, giving St. Louis the 4-1 victory.

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“The ball slipped out of his [Storen's] hand on a curveball and then he hit him and then he kind of got all over the place,” manager Matt Williams said of his reliever’s outing. “We got out of the inning, but the damage was done at that point. They’ve been good. The bullpen’s been very good. It’s going to have a hiccup every once in a while.”

While the 7th inning was the talk of both clubhouses after the Nationals defeat, Washington’s inability to hit St. Louis pitching was a major subtext of the series. The Nationals banged out a measly four hits against St. Louis pitching on Saturday and were unable to get to St. Louis starter Shelby Miller.

Miller, a first round pick of St. Louis in 2009 — the year that Strasburg was the MLB player draft’s first overall pick (and Storen was ninth) — struck out seven Nationals hitters in sealing the St. Louis win. “What can you say?” Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton acknowledged after the defeat. “They’ve been throwing good and today was one of those days.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Saturday was a tough day for the National League East. The Nationals, Braves, Mets and Marlins were all losers, with the Phillies the only team to come away with a win . . .

The Braves were defeated 11-6 in 13 innings in Atlanta, with the Halos scoring five runs in the top of the 13th inning on a bases loaded single from Kole Calhoun. The Braves deflating loss (after their 4-3 win against the Belinskys on Friday) kept the Nationals in a tie with Atlanta atop the division . . .

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