Archive for the ‘St. Louis Cardinals’ Category

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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Lynn-Zimmermann Duel, Cardinals Edge Nats

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

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The Cardinals Lance Lynn and Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann went head-to-head on Friday night, with Lynn and the Cardinals prevailing 1-0 in a classic pitchers’ duel in St. Louis. Lynn held Washington to just two hits in eight complete innings, with St. Louis reliever Trevor Rosenthal closing out the game.

The lone St. Louis run was scored on a Matt Adams home run in the second inning. “I had a good fastball again, down in the zone, and the curveballs and sliders were there when I wanted them,” Zimmermann said of his stellar outing. “Really, it was one mistake on a changeup that was down the middle. He made me pay.”

“He’s been really good,” Washington manager Matt Williams said of Zimmermann. “He hung a changeup to Adams and didn’t get that pitch where he wanted to get it. Other than that, he induced some double plays and we played good defense behind him.”

There’s no question: Zimmermann was superb on Friday. But the notoriously inconsistent Lynn was even better. The St Louis righty threw 111 pitches, 73 of them for strikes while striking out eight. Washington’s two hits came from Jayson Werth and Jose Lobaton. Lynn did not allow a baserunner until the second hitter of the 6th inning.

Victimized by walks for most of the season, Lynn’s command was spot-on through eight innings. Lynn clearly needed the lift — as did the Cardinals. In his last outing, against Toronto, he walked four and on June 1 he gave up four runs on eight hits (and walked another four) against the Giants.

“He threw a lot of fastballs that came back to the plate, started off the plate and came back to the outside corner,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said of Lynn’s performance. “He threw really well. We hit some balls hard, but the difference tonight was one swing, and they got us.”

The Nationals have to figure out a way to win in St. Louis, and against the Cardinals. The Nationals have had difficulty with the Cards over the last several years, are 6-21 against them at Busch Stadium and were 0-6 against them in 2013. This year, so far, the Nationals (including last night’s game) have been marginally better, at 2-3.

The Nationals are back in a tie for first place in the National League East with the Atlanta Braves, who squeezed out a 4-3 win last night against the Angels in Atlanta. The still-surprising Marlins, who lost in an extra innings knock-down with the Pirates, remain just one game back.

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Nats Can’t Sweep, Fall To Giants 7-1

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

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Veteran starter TIm Hudson comes as advertised. The Giants righty is the proud owner of the lowest ERA in the National League and now, after his team backed him in a 7-1 win against the Nationals, he’s also the proud owner of seven wins. Hudson was solid and steady in San Franciso on Thursday afternoon, tossing the Giants to their sole win in their series against Washington.

We might say that Hudson deserved the win, in large part because he pitched out of numerous Nationals scoring opportunities, including a near game-breaking two-on-and-no-outs top of the fifth. But Hudson always seemed to bear down when it counted the most — with a strike out and double play saving the Giants in the 5th.

The Nationals attack was hardly anemic, with seven hits in all. But Washington couldn’t match San Francisco’s run production. Former National Michael Morse, whose San Francisco revival has been the talk of Giants’ fans (his thirteen home runs puts him third in that category in the N.L.) was 3-4 and scored twice in the Nationals loss.

Washington trotted out rookie Blake Treinen to start the game, which must have been a relief for Giants hitters (who had faced Strasburg, Fister and Roark in three successive losses), but Treinen has a snappy 1.78 ERA (that’s before his loss today) and a late moving fastball. Treinen worked into the 5th, and pitched well, but was clearly struggling against the potent San Francisco line-up.

His relief replacement, Craig Stammen, failed to stem the Giants tide however; Stammen gave up four hits and two runs in a single inning, as well as a balk — unusual for him. Then the Giants unloaded on Stammen replacement Aaron Barrett for three runs, two of them in the 8th inning.

The lone Washington run came in the fourth inning: Adam LaRoche singled to center and then advanced to second on a passed ball. A Ryan Zimmerman single to right field scored LaRoche.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Nationals now head to St. Louis where they will face the up-and-down Cardinals in a three game set. But for the Redbirds it’s been a frustrating season. Predicted to breeze to the N.L. Central title, the only breeze being felt in St. Louis has come from Cards bats — which are nowhere to be found . . .

St. Louis started the month in a funk, being blown out by the Giants, then losing three of four to the Kansas City Royals. The loss to the Giants, their reputed opponents in this year’s post-season, seemed to unnerve the Redbirds, who looked hardly in attendance against Kansas City . . .

St. Louis fans point to the Giants game as a kind of bellweather of the 2014 campaign. The Cardinals looked particularly ineffective at the plate against (guess who?) Tim Hudson. We’d say that pitching has been a nagging concern for St. Louis (Lance Lynn has been inconsistent and Adam Wainwright’s elbow is tweaky), but the Cardinals just haven’t been able to hit . . .

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Darvish Silences The Nats

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

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Washington belted out fifteen hits in the first of three games against the Rangers and twelve in the second, but today Texas starter Yu Darvish silenced the Nationals, holding Washington to just five hits in eight complete innings of work and leading his team to a 2-0 win. Darvish was masterful, throwing 102 pitches, 70 of them for strikes; he struck out twelve.

Texas scored a single run on a seventh inning home run from Leonys Martin and notched its second run on a Donnie Murphy single that scored Dan Robertson in the eighth. That was all that Darvish would need, as Washington was unable to deal with his mix of splitters, sinkers and two seam fastballs.

“That team for two days just swung the bats at will, threw the ball around the ballpark, out of the ballpark,” Texas manager Ron Washington said of the Nationals after the Darvish outing. “We certainly needed to try to slow them down, and (Darvish) did that. He slowed them down. Yu was good today. He was very good. When the team needed him to be very good, he was.”

Despite Darvish’s brilliance, Washington starter Tanner Roark matched him pitch for pitch until Martin’s 7th inning home run. Roark has been one of Washington’s steadiest starters, and he showed why on Sunday, throwing twelve ground ball outs to a line-up looking for hits.

“He made one mistake to Martin, a changeup that was up in the strike zone,” Washington manager Matt Williams said of his starter. “Other than that, he matched him perfectly.” Roark has lost his last three starts, but has allowed only eight earned runs over his last 32 2/3 innings of work. In those three starts, Roark has actually lowered his ERA, from 3.65 to 3.25.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: What fun it’s been to watch that kerfuffle in St. Louis. The Giants edged the Cardinals in the opener of their four game series on Thursday (Final: 6-5). then bombed the Redbirds on Friday (and it was ugly, 9-2), before dropping a tight one last night, with the Cards Michael Wacha throwing a (phew) 2-0 shutout . . .

So today, with St. Louis looking to even the series, the Giants responded by blowing out the Cards, 8-0. This was standard fare for the McCovey’s, who have a habit of making a very good pitcher (today it was Lance Lynn, Friday it was Adam Wainwright), look merely mortal . . .

Lynn surrendered three straight singles in what had to be the longest first inning in baseball history (well, probably not) — but 21 minutes after starting the game, Lynn finally headed to the dugout, having given up four singles, a walk and (oh, yeah) four runs . . .

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Nats Ambush The Rangers, 9-2

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

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The Washington Nationals ambushed the Texas Rangers on Friday night behind the pitching of Stephen Strasburg — and with the help of a three run home run by Ian Desmond. For one of the few times this season, the Nationals actually seemed to coast to a victory, with Texas playing catch-up to a suddenly potent Nationals line-up. The Nats notched 15 hits in the victory.

Strasburg provided yet another stellar outing, but this time his team supported him. The young righty threw a solid six innings while striking out nine. His only hiccup came in the second inning, when the Rangers put two runs on the board after an Adrian Beltre double and a Strasburg error off the bat of Texas catcher Leonys Martin. Roughned Odor and Colby Lewis then followed with successive singles.

The Nationals took the lead in the 4th inning when Ian Desmond put a Lewis offering into the right centerfield seats, which scored Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche. Reversing a recent trend, the Nationals were 4-12 with runners in scoring position — and broke open the game on a 3-5 night from both Jayson Werth and Denard Span.

“[The homer] was real big,” Washington’s Denard Span said of the Desmond blast. “We got behind early. The mood was like, ‘Here we go again.’ We have been falling behind lately. With this home run, it gave us some type of energy. After that, we just piled on.”

Strasburg has now had eight straight starts where he has pitched six innings or more — and he could have gone much longer tonight, but with runners on base in the bottom of the 6th, Nats’ skipper Matt Williams decided that he had to have Tyler Moore pinch hit for him. The decision paid off, as Moore hit a two run double that all but sealed the Texas loss.

“Early in the first inning, he had some power behind his fastball and threw his breaking ball,” Texas manager Ron Washington said in analyzing Strasburg’s outing. “Then we started swinging the bats better. The guy is a good pitcher. We had some opportunities, but we couldn’t get a base hit. He’s a quality pitcher.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: That terrible sound you here is the San Francisco Giants eating the St. Louis Cardinals. Or maybe it’s the sound of the Giants eating all of the National League. On Friday night, the Giants showed why they’re the class of the N.L., downing the Redbirds in a 9-4 ho-hummer at Busch Stadium . . .

In truth, the score doesn’t do the game, or the Giants, justice. The Giants are 36-19, have hit more home runs than anyone in the senior circuit except for Colorado and are second in team ERA to the Braves. Scared? The Giants aren’t scared of anyone, so on Friday — when the Cardinals rolled out Mr. Universe, Adam Wainwright — the McCovey’s touched him for seven runs in 4.1 innings . . .

And . . . and the Giants did this on the same day that they announced that their powerhouse ace, Matt Cain, would go on the 15 day disabled list. Cain was due to return for his next start, but the Giants will play it safe, saving their righty for a mid-summer run against their in-division rivals . . .

Which leads us to ask: who the hell are these guys? The Giants finished ten games under .500 last year, but they spent the off-season retooling and restocking. While their core talent (Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Crawford, Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt) remained the same, G.M. Brian Sabean signed big bat Michael Morse to a one year, $6 million deal . . .

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Ramos Keys Nats Win Over Mets

Monday, May 19th, 2014

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Washington’s Wilson Ramos was 2-3 and knocked in four runs on Sunday, sparking the Nationals to a 6-3 victory over the visiting Mets — and taking the three game series from the Kranepools. The catcher’s key hit was a bases loaded single in the 5th that put the game out of reach.

The Sunday win was a classic Nationals’ victory: solid hitting with runners in scoring position, steady starting pitching (Jordan Zimmermann threw six innings of eight hit baseball) and close-out stuff from three bullpen stalwarts –Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano held the Mets hitless in three innings of relief.

The Washington win victimized New York youngster Zack Wheeler, who’s been shaky in his last two starts. Last week, against the Yankees, Wheeler gave out six free passes in just 4.1 innings against the Yankees, and yesterday the righty gave up big hits in clutch situations.

“Obviously, guys are starting to figure me out a little bit,” Wheeler said after the loss. “I was thinking after I came out, I might be a little predictable right now.” When asked about Washington’s Ramos, Wheeler just shook his head: “He got me today,” he said.

The Washington catcher wasn’t the only National who provided headlines on Sunday. The Nationals offense got rolling early on, with shortstop Ian Desmond getting the team on the board when he led off the top of the 2nd inning by taking a Wheeler offering deep to left center field. It was Desmond’s seventh home run of the year.

But all of the rest of the scoring came off the at-bats of Ramos, who doubled in Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth in the bottom of the 3rd, then followed in the 5th with his bases loaded single, scoring Jordan Zimmermann and Denard Span. “We feel very confident,” reliever Tyler Clippard said of the Washington win. “We’re kind of in that mode right now of just, get us the lead and we’ll do our thing.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: This was going to be Cincinnati’s year. The Reds entered 2014 as the odds-on-favorite to give the Cardinals a run in the N.L. Central — with everyone else (the Brewers, Pirates and Cubs) battling it out in their rear view mirror . . .

The 2014 campaign, it was thought, might actually feature a replay of Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine: solid pitching with a middle-of-the-order set of mashers that could overpower even the best arms. It’s no secret, the key to Cincinnati’s attack was going to be first baseman Joey Votto, who drew more walks (and had a higher OBP) last year than anyone in the National League . . .

But entering their three games series on Friday in Philadelphia, the Reds were more offensive pip-squeaks than any kind of machine — ranked 28th in runs, 24th in batting average, 21st in on base percentage and 23rd in slugging. It’s not that the Reds haven’t hit on all cylinders, it’s that they haven’t hit at all . . .

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