Archive for the ‘Tampa Bay Rays’ Category

It’s All Strasburg In Atlanta

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

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The Nationals edged closer to playing in October Monday night, downing the Braves at Atlanta’s Turner Field behind the shut-down seven inning pitching of righty ace Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg stymied the Braves, 4-2, leaving the Nationals on the verge of their second National League East championship in three years.

Strasburg has always had difficulty pitching against the Braves at Turner Field and entered the game with a stiff neck, but none of these problems were much in evidence on Monday. The righty gave up five hits while striking out seven and walking none in a 90 pitch outing. The win gave the Nats their league leading 86th win on the season.

“I’ve never seen him pitch bad against us,” Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez said after the Nats win. “You see the numbers, the seven-plus ERA his last four starts here. He’s a pretty darn good pitcher every time we face him. I know those numbers don’t bare that. But he’s a guy that we respect. He’s a guy who has been a big pitcher for them.”

Strasburg’s win was also the result of timely Nationals hitting, which began with a Denard Span double off of Atlanta starter Ervin Santana in the third inning. Span’s double plated Wilson Ramos for Washington’s first score. Ramos then homered in the top of the 5th inning for the Nats second score. The Nats added their third run on a Strasburg single in the 7th and a Nate Schierholtz RBI in the 8th.

The Braves mounted a comeback in the 9th inning, with Rafael Soriano taking the mound to protect a 4-0 lead. Andrelton Simmons greeted Soriano with a double and then scored on a Justin Upton double to left. When Soriano walked Chris Johnson with two outs, Nats manager Matt Williams brought in Drew Storen to get the third out — a B.J. Upton grounder that ended the game.

The Braves frustration at falling out of both the race for the N.L. East crown and a spot as a Wild Card team was evidenced in the 6th inning when first sacker Freddie Freeman was called out on strikes by home plate umpire Tim Timmons. Freeman slammed his bat in disgust and was ejected from the game; when Gonzalez defended his player, he was also tossed.

We all collectively, from the front office to our coaches to our fans, we want to win,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez. “Anything short of us getting into some playoff game or play-in game is not acceptable. You see guys fighting.”

The loss symbolized the demise of the Braves who, despite their early season woes with a rash of pitching injuries, were supposed to contend with the Nationals for the N.L East title. That’s not what happened: Atlanta played well against the Nats, but poorly against the rest of the league. Last night’s loss put them at a so-so 75-75 for the year. A disappointment . . .

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Baltimore’s Orioles are a single win away from clinching their first American League East title since 1997. Last night, against the Toronto Blue Jays, they continued their dominance of their division, finishing off the struggling Jays, 5-2. If they win again tonight, they’ll win the A.L. East crown . . .

It seemed only right that Wei-Yin Chen would be the pitcher to lead the O’s in Toronto. After last night’s performance (the underrated southpaw scattered nine hits in 5.2 innings of work), Chen is 16-4 on the season, the first time a Baltimore lefty had 16 or more wins in a season since Jimmy Key did it way back when . . .

“I allowed quite a few hits out there, but I was trying to battle,” Chen said of his performance after his team’s victory. “I was trying to keep the ball down without allowing too many runs. Fortunately I can do that with the help of my teammates . . .”

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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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Nats Sweep Philadelphia Behind Fister, LaRoche

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

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Righty starter Doug Fister and first sacker Adam LaRoche combined to lead the Nationals to a 4-2 victory over the reeling Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday afternoon at Nationals Park. The win marked a sweep of the Nats three game series with Philadelphia, and brought the team to within a glance of first place in the National League East.

This was Fister’s fifth quality outing in a row; the righty now boasts a 3-1 record to go along with his snappy 3.34 ERA. The Phillies looked lost against the righty, though they scored an early first inning run to take a 1-0 lead on their division rivals. Fister threw just 93 pitches, 63 of them for strikes.

Nationals hitters, meanwhile, gave Fister a lead to work with, victimizing hard luck Philadelphia starter Kyle Kendrick — who has had a down year. The difference in the game was a 5th inning home run off the bat of Adam LaRoche (his eighth of the year), which scored Jayson Werth.

Washington skipper Matt Williams decided to rest shortstop Ian Desmond in the match-up with the Phillies, which meant he penciled in an unusual line-up. The suddenly hot Danny Espinosa (4-2o in the three game series), played shortstop, Anthony Rendon shifted to second, while Kevin Frandsen filled in at third. Ryan Zimmerman once again started in left field.

The Nationals bullpen was, once again, lights out. Tyler Clippard pitched a one-two-three eighth inning, while Rafael Soriano untucked his jersey after notching his twelfth save. Nationals relievers thus reinforced their reputation as the best in the game.

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The sweep of the Phillies concluded a scheduled nine game homestand for Washington (the Nationals actually played eight, as their May 27 tilt with the Marlins was postponed), which started with two losses against Miami – the clear lowpoint in the Nationals’ season thus far.

But after the Miami disappointment the Nationals have righted their listing ship. The Nationals took two of three games from the Rangers before their Philadelphia sweep, with two of those games decisive triumphs in which the Nationals scored nine and then ten runs. “This is the team we expected to see when the season started,” MASN commenter Bob Carpenter noted during today’s game.

The difference between today and last week, when the Nationals were pummeled by the Marlins, couldn’t be more stark. Since the return of Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals have been hitting the ball and scoring runs — and have benefited from stellar outings from their pitching staff. That includes gems from Jordan Zimmerman (an eight inning outing on Tuesday) and Stephen Strasburg — who threw seven innings while notching 11 strikeouts last night.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Nationals drew an impressive 33,016 for today’s late afternoon wrap-up game against the Ashburns. That’s an impressive number, particularly because the avalanche of Philadelphia fans that once filled the park is now a fading memory. The Phillies, perennially in the top five in N.L. attendance, are now having difficulty drawing fans. They are barely outdrawing the Nationals in attendance per game . . .

Attendance is often the best gauge for MLB business success, along with television revenue. No surprise: the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays remain in the bottom five, despite the exciting team that Miami has put on the field. Miami just concluded their sweep of the now hapless Rays in Tampa Bay, where the Rays drew an embarrassing 49,000 fans for the three game cross-state match-up . . .

We might say that the fans of the Rays are voting with their feet (as they clearly are in Philadelphia), but the team has always struggled to put customers in the seats. The Rays drew a paltry 1.5 million fans last year, when they finished at 92-71, good enough for a Wild Card birth . . .

The Tampa Bay attendance figures are likely to get worse. The Rays are now 23-37 and 13.5 games behind the Blue Jays in the A.L. East. On Tuesday they were shut out by Miami’s Henderson Alvarez, 1-0. Sure. Alvarez is a heckuva pitcher, but the Rays are a punchless bunch: 13th in the A.L. in batting average and dead last in runs scored . . .

Tampa Bay gets little help from their starters, with a rotation eviscerated by injuries. Jeremy Hellickson is now on the disabled list, Alex Cobb has been sidelined and uber thrower Matt Moore is out for the year after Tommy John surgery. With youngster-slugger Wil Myers (the ur-prospect swiped from K.C.), also ailing, Tampa Bay has to rely on a middle of the line-up of sluggers who aren’t slugging . . .

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Cardinals Sweep The Nats, 4-1

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

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With their chances of a playoff berth at an end, the Washington Nationals played flat in St. Louis on Wednesday, losing to the Cardinals, 4-1. The loss notched a St. Louis sweep of the Nationals in the three game set and put the Cardinals a single game from winning the N.L. Central crown.

The loss also ensured that Washington righty Jordan Zimmermann will not reach twenty wins on the season, his 2013 campaign finishing at 19-9. The Cardinals were led by rookie pitcher Shelby Miller, who stifled Nats’ hitters through six innings, giving up just four hits and one earned run.

The St. Louis offense was not overwhelming, but it was enough to seal the win: St. Louis got its first run on a Matt Carpenter ground out that scored Daniel Descalso in the 3rd, a Yadier Molina single that scored two runs in fourth and a Matt Adams home run in the bottom of the 6th.

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The Cardinals have dominated the Nationals following their victory against them in the playoffs in 2012. The Nationals have faced the Cards six times this year and lost every game; they were swept in Washington in April (in three close games) and, now, in St. Louis in September.

“I’ll tell you: They kicked our butt in just about every aspect of the game,” Washington manager Davey Johnson said in the clubhouse after this team was swept yesterday. “I tip my hat to them. Matheny has done a good over there, I wish them luck. They had their way with us.”

In each of the two series this year, the Nationals have had trouble scoring runs off the Cardinals pitching staff. The key in the most recent series has been the St. Louis relief corps, and on Wednesday four Cardinal relievers (Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal) combined to hold the Nationals to a single hit and no runs.

“The Cardinals have done a good job with their pitching staff. They have good starters, but I think what sets them apart is their bullpen,” right fielder Jayson Werth acknowledged after Wednesday’s loss. “The bullpen is good. They have a lot of velocity and they have a lot of depth.”

MLB relief statistics show just how effective Cardinal relievers have been — they’ve given up just 3.74 runs per game, good enough for fifth best in baseball and are particularly good when holding a lead (fourth best in the National League). More impressive still is that the Cardinals relief corps is young: each of the four relievers on Wednesday were rookies.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The media powers that be are yakking about the “unbalanced schedule” in baseball, the topic providing running commentaries yesterday on both Mike & Mike on ESPN and then, later in the evening, on the MLB Network . . .

“The schedule is designed with the division races in mind,” Jayson Stark noted on ESPN. “For the first time every team in a division plays essentially the same schedule.” The problem (Stark noted) is that while baseball’s schedule emphasizes division rivalries (with each team in a division playing other division rivals up to nineteen times) that unbalance has a significant impact on the Wild Card races . . .

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Harper, Roark Lead Nationals Rally

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

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At the end of the third inning in Kansas City on Friday, starter Gio Gonzalez replayed the body language used by Stephen Strasburg when he pitched against the Cubs in Chicago: he found himself on the bench and shaking his head. The difference between Gio and Stras, however, was that Gonzalez lasted just 3.1 innings.

Gonzalez had one of his worst outings of the year, pitching to just one out in the fourth, before being yanked. Yet, at the end of the game, the Nationals found themselves 11-10 victors in a back-and-forth contest that saw the home towners score a breathtaking seven runs in the fourth inning.

As it turned out, the Nationals needed every run they could get and, at the end of the game, wished they had more.

“You are going to have games where you are going to be iffy,” Gonzalez said after the improbable Nationals triumph. “You are going to be all over the place. Today was a perfect example. Fastball was flat and I couldn’t find the strike zone. When you fall behind on a good hitting team, they are going to do some damage.”

What was true for Gonzalez was true for veteran Kansas City starter Bruce Chen, who entered the 3rd with a 6-0 lead, and departed in the fourth behind 8-6. The Nationals onslaught in the fourth inning came courtesy of three singles, a sacrifice fly, a walk, a bases clearing double, another walk and a home run.

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The bases clearing double came off the bat of Bryce Harper, who served up a shot to the base of the right center field wall, while the home run was the work of hotter-then-a-skillet Jayson Werth — and it landed behind the seats in the Kauffman Stadium’s pool in deep center field.

It was then, in the wake of Gonzalez’s struggles, that new found wonderboy Tanner Roark entered the game. He was nothing less than brilliant and, along with a Bryce Harper diving catch with one out in the 9th inning, saved the game for the Nationals.

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Nationals Fall Hard In San Francisco, 8-0

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

The Nationals’ hitting woes not only continued on Monday night in San Francisco, they might have actually gotten worse. Washington’s anemic line-up was able to muster only three hits against Ryan Vogelsong, a starter with the worst ERA in the National League, and the Giants defeated the hometowners, 8-0.

For the first time this year, Vogelsong looked like the starter that notched a 14-9 record last year. The righty kept the Nats off balance through five innings and struck out two. “That’s the best I’ve felt in a long time,” Vogelsong said of his outing. “From a mental aspect, physical aspect, everything felt good.”

“That was a tough one,” Nationals’ manager Davey Johnson said of the loss. “Been in a lot of funny games, but going into that one being a couple of pitchers short was tough.” The Nationals have now lost three in a row, and stand at 3-5 on their current road trip.

The Nationals were hoping that spot starter Zach Duke would be able to hold the Giants at least through five innings, but the southpaw threw only 57 pitches before being lifted in the fourth inning for reliever Craig Stammen. The Giants, meanwhile, victimized Duke for seven hits and four runs.

The Giants looked fully recovered from their recent 1-5 road trip against Toronto and Colorado — where they looked like the punchless Nationals. On Monday night, the Giants pounded out seventeen hits against Washington pitching, the most at AT&T Park since August of 2010, with first sacker Brandon Belt going 4-5 with a home run, his sixth of the year.

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A “Tough Night” In L.A.

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

“It was a tough night, tough night,” Nationals’ skipper Davey Johnson said of Washington’s disappointing 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday night.

Johnson’s words reflected not simply the team’s latest inability to score runs, but a rash of in-game injuries — to lefty starter Ross Detwiler (who left with back tightness after the third inning) and catcher Wilson Ramos, who reinjured his hamstring and left the game in the top of the 4th inning.

Wednesday night’s loss to the Dodgers left the Nationals at just two games over .500, and allowed Los Angeles to take the three game series. The problem for Washington (aside from the two injuries) continued to be the team’s inability to drive in runs: the Nats’ stroked nine hits in Wednesday’s loss, but left 16 runners on base.

For L.A., the big story of the night was the return of Zack Greinke, who took the mound after more than four weeks on the disabled list. Greinke pitched five complete innings in notching his second win on the season. “I thought my stuff was pretty good,” he said after the victory. “My stamina needs to grow a little bit, but that could be next start.”

While there’s no doubt that Greinke pitched well, the Nationals had several opportunities to knock him out of the game — but were unable to capitalize. Before leaving the game, Wilson Ramos got on base in both of his at-bats, but was left stranded his teammates. The only Washington score in the early going (and all night) came in a home run off the bat of Adam LaRoche, his fourth of the season.

The only piece of good news for the Nationals was the continued brilliant relief pitching of Craig Stammen who came in after Detwiler left the game and kept the Dodgers scoreless in three innings of work. Stammen has been the best pitcher in the Washington bullpen and lowered his ERA to 2.25 on the year.

The best chance to win the game for the Nationals came in the 8th inning, when the Nationals had runners on first and third with nobody out but weren’t able to push across a run. “We had the right guys up there,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if we are trying to do too much instead of just hitting the ball and putting it in play. I don’t know, but we’ll figure it out.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It’s amazing but true — after losing two of three in L.A. (and after struggling at the plate), Washington is still only one game behind the Atlanta Braves in the surprisingly uncompetitive N.L East . . .

The reason? The Braves have a deplorable road record, going only 7-13 on their two ten game road trips this year. The losses have been keenly felt in Atlanta, particularly after the early 12-1 start. The Braves have only won ten of their last 27 games, and are 11-15 against teams better than .500 . . .

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