Archive for the ‘Stephen Strasburg’ Category

Nats Notes: Takeaways From The Miami Sweep

Friday, April 11th, 2014

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Fans don’t normally expect a series sweep to be dramatic, but this past series against the Miami Marlins provided theatricality in spades. Nats fans will note: these are not the Fish of yesteryear, or even the Fish of last year. Miami has a real team, forcing the punditocracy to rethink their near-unanimous criticism of Miami’s fire sale to Toronto in 2013.

As MASN commenter F.P Santangelo pointed out yesterday, the Marlins have some good young players (like the surprising Christian Yelich, who’s hitting a torrid .438 over the last week) and preseason predictions about this being just another “rebuilding year in Miami” already look like they’re way off. The Marlins were swept, but they look more dangerous than either New York or Philly.

Nats starter Gio Gonzalez opened the series with a shutout performance, looking as if he’s reached mid-season form, and Stephen Strasburg shook off whatever baggage there might have been from his two earlier and shakier starts to keep his game on lock down. The two aces are exactly where Nats Nation expects them to be on any given day — which will send shivers to the rest of the division.

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But Jordan Zimmermann? Oh my. No one, least of all him, had any explanation for what happened to him on Wednesday, when he gave up five runs in less than three innings and left the game shaking his head. We’ve never seen him have a meltdown like that. That said, Wednesday’s game demonstrated one thing we haven’t always associated with the Nationals: resilience –  the capacity to recover quickly from adversity.

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Nats Late Rally Downs New Yorkers In Flushing

Monday, March 31st, 2014

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Mets fans met all of our expectations on Opening Day, oohing and aahing on every Madoff pitch, but then booing their home town boys in the 10th inning, as the Nationals rallied to win their first game of the season, and their first under new Nationals’ manager Matt Williams, 9-7.

“You just can’t underestimate the fight in this ball club,” MASN’s color man F.P. Santangelo said just before the bottom of the final frame. “The team reflects the attitude of their manager.” That may be, but a lot of what the Nationals’ did on Monday looked a lot like what they did last year. The team struggled against Dillon Gee (New York’s resident Nats’ killer), but then made the New York bullpen look exactly like what it’s been in the last few seasons: Lousy.

The Nationals also got a solid, if sometimes uneven, start from Stephen Strasburg, who gave up four runs in six innings, including a first inning three run home run to Mets left fielder Andrew Brown (who?). But Washington’s power righty settled down for the rest of the game, striking out ten while giving up just five hits. “He settled down in the third,” manager Williams said after the game, before he shrugged: “He threw a fastball and Brown got it. That happens.”

 

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This might be standard operating procedure for the Nationals (Strasburg needs to settle down, Bryce Harper slid into the knee of a Mets’ infielder and early reports indicate that Wilson Ramos likely bruised a bone in his hand), but the team is as solid this year as it was last — when it finished as also-rans to the Bravos.

Yeah, well, here’s the deal (even if a single game doesn’t really show it): The Nationals are better this year than last, and not by a little bit.

Which is why the Nationals fans have a season to look forward to: Danny Haren in now in Los Angeles (and, phew, Edwin Jackson is still in Chicago), Doug Fister is the team’s new back-of-the-rotation ace (when he comes off the disabled list), and Jeremy Blevins (who gave up a tenth inning home run to David What’s-His-Name) solidifies the bullpen. And there’s this: Adam LaRoche hit an April home run, Anthony Rendon parked a fast ball in left field in the 10th and Danny Espinosa looked relaxed at the plate.

Then there’s rookie Aaron Barrett, who notched his first win as a National, and his first win as a major leaguer. The fastball-slider specialist (he spent last year at Harrisburg Double A), struck out two in a single inning of work, which ought to give Nationals fans hope that this year’s bullpen is a lot better than the one they saw in 2013. That alone would be a major improvement, and could make the biggest difference in the race for the N.L. East pennant.

And We’re Back: It’s been 183 days and at least eighteen major snowfalls (well . . .) since the Nationals last appeared on the field, and it’s about damned time. As we predicted before the end of last season (we can’t help praising ourselves, for who else will do it), Matt Williams has taken over the helm of the team, which ought to provide some fireworks as we go along . . .

Williams gained a reputation as a nose-in-the-dirt player, a legacy he carried into Arizona, which is perhaps the N.L.’s premier scrapping team. We don’t expect Williams to tell his players to pick fights, but gone are the days when Davey would shake his head at bean ball artists and odor-inducing umpire calls . . .

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The Nats Head Home After An 86-76 Season

Monday, September 30th, 2013

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The Washington Nationals finished their season in Arizona with a loss to the Diamondbacks, 3-2. In many ways the loss was representative of what the team had done all season: entering the eighth inning with a one run lead, the Nationals’ bullpen gave up two runs to an Arizona team they’d beaten handily in the previous two outings.

While the game was the last in a season that saw the Nats drop out of contention for the N.L. East title back in June and July, the team came back in September with a run at the Wild Card. The key to the Nationals resurgence was a revived offense and pitching contributions from unlikely rookies, including Tanner Roark, who held the D-Backs to just three hits in seven innings on Sunday.

“I feel I can play up here for sure. But you never know what’s going to happen,” Roark said after his performance on Sunday. “Just workout in the offseason, do my best and come back ready to go in spring training.” Roark has been outstanding since arriving in the majors in early August: he finished at 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA over 53 2/3 innings, striking out 40 and walking 11.

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The final game of the season also marked Davey Johnson’s last game as the Nats’ manager. “Time to go home,” Johnson said after the game. “Put me out to pasture.” The Nationals praised their 70-year-old skipper, with Tyler Clippard noting that a good manager “builds confidence in his players and we benefited from that because he never wavered, no matter how good or bad you were doing.”

Johnson was philosophical about what is apparently the end of his career, choosing to bypass comments on the Nationals’ season. “I felt really lucky to have had the big league experiences I’ve had as a player and as a manager,” he told the press after the Arizona loss. “When you love a game as much as I love this game and like the competition, you just enjoy it.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: An 86-76 record would have sparked celebrations in Washington just a few years ago, but the Nationals (picked by many as the premier team in the National League) must be disappointed. Even so, there is good reason for celebrating a season that saw the Nationals finish ten games out of the hunt in the N.L. East . . .

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Werth, Strasburg Skin The Snakes

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

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Stephen Strasburg pitched seven solid innings and Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos each hit three run home runs, and the Washington Nationals easily downed the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Friday night, 8-4. The victory capped the first of a three game series, with two games remaining in the Nats’ season.

Strasburg, who is one of the ERA leaders in the National League (at a snappy 3.00), notched only his eighth victory on the year, throwing 101 pitches, 63 of them for strikes. Strasburg was undoubtedly disappointed with his 2013 win total, but Nats’ manager Davey Johnson acknowledged that the young righty didn’t always enjoy good run support from his teammates.

“We didn’t score many runs for him,” Johnson confirmed following the victory. “A bunch of times, we didn’t score any runs, one run or two runs when he was starting. His numbers indicated he should have won 15 ballgames, at least. He was certainly consistent all year long.”

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Despite the 8-9 campaign, Strasburg is 3-0 in his last three starts. “I think physically I held up pretty well,” he said following last night’ victory. “I think one thing I learned is sometimes less is more. I like to work really hard and when you reach a point in September you’ve really got to back things off or it’s going to be counterproductive.”

The Nats powered Strasburg to victory on home runs from Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos. The Werth home run came in the top of the fifth with Anthony Rendon and Jeff Kobernus on base, while the Ramos home run came in the top of the 8th with Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond on base.

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Nats Fall In St. Louis, Eliminated From The Postseason

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

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Carlos Beltran homered and Adam Wainwright subdued Washington’s line-up and the St. Louis Cardinals went on to defeat the Nationals, 4-3 at Busch Stadium. The loss eliminated the Nationals from the post-season: they are six games out of the last Wild Card slot with five games to play.

The key to the St. Louis win was Beltran’s fifth inning home run (his 24th on the year) that scored John Jay, breaking a 2-2 tie and putting the Cardinals ahead 4-2. Washington could only muster a single run the rest of the way. “It doesn’t feel too good,” manager Davey Johnson said of the loss. “We gave it a good fight. We just came up short.

The Nationals put on a run in September, going 16-6 on the month and winning a key day-night double header against the Atlanta Braves on September 17 that vaulted that team back into contention for a playoff spot in the National League. But the Cardinals has always played Washington tough, and that was true on Monday night.

Washington starter Tanner Roark notched his first loss of the season after an impressive 7-0 run, but the Cardinals heavy hitting line-up victimized him for nine hits in just five innings. “I was getting behind hitters a lot,” Roark said after the loss. “When you do that with a good team, they are going to hit your mistakes when you get them back in the count. They are going to battle like they did tonight.”

Washington’s scoring came early, on a home run from Jayson Werth that scored Denard Span and gave the Nationals an early 2-0 lead. St. Louis clawed back, despite an additional run put on the board from the Nationals in the 8th inning: a fielder’s choice on a Ryan Zimmerman grounder the scored Anthony Rendon.

But three runs are rarely enough to defeat the Cardinals, who score just under five runs every game. Then too, Adam Wainwright got stronger on the mound as the game went on: Wainwright’s night ended after the 7th, with five strike outs while scattering five hits. The St. Louis victory was Wainwright’s 18th win on the year.

The Nationals stared into the night after a three-up-three-down ninth inning, stunned that their run for the postseason was over. The clubhouse was reportedly silent after the loss, as the team took stock of its “World Series or bust” season. “You put the uniform on to win, and we didn’t get it done,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “So I feel bad for everybody.”

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Mea Culpa: We take no special pride in getting things right and, like everyone else who writes about baseball, we get plenty wrong. We said at the beginning of the year that the Los Angeles Dodgers were overrated and would tank: that players who finished with an attitude in Boston would bring that same attitude to Los Angeles. Well . . .

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Two “Must Wins” Yield A Single Victory

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

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The Nationals split a “must win” day-night doubleheader with the Miami Marlins in their last home games of 2013, which all but knocked them out of the running for the last Wild Card spot in the National League. While not mathematically eliminated from the post season, the Nationals now trail Pittsburgh and Cincinnati by five games with six to play.

Trailing by 4-2 with just six outs to go in their first game against Miami, the Nationals could not mount a comeback, despite the urgings of a crowd of 35,000-plus. The Nationals, behind starter Dan Haren, were victimized by Giancarlo Stanton, Miami’s most potent long ball hitter (who hit his 24th on the season), and 21-year-old rookie Christian Yelich, who hit his fourth.

Managing the Nationals in his last home game, skipper Davey Johnson provided a blunt assessment after the Marlins 4-2 afternoon victory. “This one hurt,” he said. Third sacker Ryan Zimmerman, while not conceding the end of the season, was just as blunt:  “I’m not good at math, but I’m good enough to know that losing makes it tougher,” he said.

The team honored Johnson before the opening of the first game, including scoreboard tributes from Nationals’ players. Johnson, who steers clear of such emotional tributes was, nevertheless, gracious in his post-game comments. “The players coming out and guys talking about me, that was moving. I feel for them greatly,” he said. “To get something like that coming back makes you happy and sad at the same time.”

Haren, on the other hand, focused on the Nats’ future, hinting that he’d like to be a part of it. “I know there’ll be some subtle changes, me probably being one of them,” he said in post-game comments, “but I think the most important thing is to keep this group together. This could be a building block.”

Haren, who was lifted after the 6th inning of the first game after giving up three runs on eight hits, finished the season with nine wins and 14 losses and a 4.87 ERA. His problem all season has been giving up the long ball to opposition hitters, a problem on full display on Sunday. Haren has given up 28 home runs this season, second worst in the league.

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The Nationals bounced back from their afternoon loss with an exciting win in the nightcap, mounting a ninth inning surge that culminated in a walk-off ground ball off the bat of Wilson Ramos that was misplayed by Marlins’ third baseman Chris Coghlan. The grounder scored pinch runner Eury Perez from third, giving the Nationals a 5-4 victory.

The walk-off finished off a back-and-forth game that saw the Marlins knot up the game at four with a single run in the top of the 8th inning. But the Nationals responded in the ninth with a lead-off double from Jayson Werth, who was then brought into the dugout by Johnson to a standing ovation from Nationals’ fans.

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Nats Take The Miami Series, 6-4

Monday, September 9th, 2013

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Stephen Strasburg gave up four runs and four hits in six innings, but pitched well enough to allow Washington’s hitters to get to Miami’s rotation, and the Washington Nationals went on to down the Marlins 6-4 on Sunday. It was Strasburg’s seventh win of the year and vaulted the Nationals to a two of three game series win.

This was certainly not the young righty’s best outing of the year, as skipper Davey Johnson confirmed following the victory. “Stras should have been able to go further but he was a little out of sorts today,” he said. Strasburg apparently knew that, but worked through his issues.  “I knew if I kept the game close we could bust it open,” he confirmed.

Strasburg has been a puzzle all year, with few guessing that he would have only seven wins in early September. Even more puzzling however, the righty balked home two runs in the second inning. “Pretty embarrassed with the balks,” Strasburg said. “Seems like something new happens every time this year. Learn from it and try and do better with that next time.”

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Strasburg admitted that he was shifting from the stretch into a full wind-up with a man on third base, which broke a season-long habit of his. With Ramos flashing signs, Strasburg put his hand into his glove, realized that Ramos wasn’t finished, and pulled his hand out: a rare mental error for the otherwise focused righty.

The Nationals continue to swing the bat well, their only recent down game coming against Miami ace rookie Jose Fernandez in the first game of the series. Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos were each 3-5 in the triumph (the catcher added a homer), with Jayson Werth (2-4 on the day) continuing his tough pursuit of the National League batting title.

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