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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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Baltimore’s Chops

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

How ’bout them O’s? The Orioles powered past the Oakland A’s 7-3 yesterday off of home runs from Nick Markakis, Adam Jones (which were back-to-back) and Nate McLouth. This was the Birds’ eighth victory in their last ten games, and assured them of a series win over the reeling White Elephants.

The Orioles are 15-9 on the season and are currently in second place in the tough A.L. East. There are all kinds of reasons for the O’s early season success, but none of them has to do with good starting pitching. While Chris Tillman gave them a solid outing yesterday (six innings, seven strikeouts), it’s the O’s bats that have made the difference.

The Orioles are third in runs scored in the A.L., third in home runs, fifth in team average and fourth in hits. In the opinion of CFG’s crack research team (here we are, in case you’ve forgotten), the O’s two through five hitters are among the most formidable in baseball: Manny Machado, Markakis, Jones and Chris Davis.

It’s possible to date the “arrival” of the O’s from the day that Manny Machado (their first pick in the 2010 draft) showed up at third base, which was on August 9 of last year. The O’s worried, worried, worried that Machado wasn’t quite ready, (he was just 20, and just three years out of high school), but he hit a respectable .262 last year and is at .277 this year.

Machado immediately showed he belonged; he singled and tripled in his debut, then hit two homers in his second game. At the end of the season, Machado’s .445 slugging percentage was the fourth highest by a third sacker his age, behind Jimmie Foxx, Bob Horner and Eddie Matthews. O’s fans took notice: the team went 33-18 after he arrived.

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Nats Down Ace R.A. Dickey, 5-3

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

The Washington Nationals defeated the New York Mets 5-3 on Tuesday night behind a fourteen hit attack, and a two run home run from pinch hitter Tyler Moore. The Nats win was notched against New York ace R.A. Dickey, and extended their lead in the National League East to 7.5 games over the Atlanta Braves.

The Washington victory was highlighted by a 4-5, one RBI night from Bryce Harper who was 0-10 against Dickey before Tuesday’s game. Other than Moore’s homer, Dickey was predictably sharp, throwing seven solid innings while giving up a single run. Moore changed that with a rifle shot over the left field wall.

“He has been throwing a good knuckleball all night. I think he kind of spun that one and it didn’t knuckle as much,” Moore said after the victory. “I was able to get one in my zone and I put a pretty good swing on it.” The home run was Moore’s ninth of the year.

Meanwhile, the Nationals’ starting ace Jordan Zimmermann, struggled through five innings of work, giving up two runs on six hits. Zimmermann’s outing contrasted sharply with his previous game, against the Cubs, in which he surrendered just two runs in seven innings.

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Gio, Espinosa Bedevil The Rays

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Gio Gonzalez pitched a solid six innings and Danny Espinosa notched two clutch RBIs, as the Washington Nationals defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 5-2 on Thursday night at Nationals Park. The victory gave Gonzalez his ninth win, while Espinosa’s 2-4 two RBI night provided hope that the second sacker had finally shaken off his second year slump.

Gonzalez had problems with his command early, exacerbated by a roving strike zone on the part of home plate umpire Cory Blaser. But after a rough beginning, Gonzalez settled down, striking out four while walking only two. Espinosa’s clutch hit came in the sixth inning, when Tampa reliever Joel Peralta intentionally walked Adam LaRoche to face Washington’s second baseman.

Batting from the left side, Espinosa put a Peralta offering down the right field line, scoring LaRoche and Jesus Flores ahead of him. The hit provided Espinosa with a measure of revenge on Tampa manager Joe Maddon, who was eying Espinosa’s lack of production from the left side.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson has stuck with Espinosa despite increasing skepticism that he will emerge from his slump. Last night was no different: “Sometimes it just takes a little time, patience,” Johnson said of Espinosa after the victory. “I know he has the talent, the ability, and you just try not to put too much pressure on him. He’s still a very dangerous hitter.”

The 5-2 victory gave Washington a series win against Tampa Bay — as the team has won two of the last three games. “When all was said and done, I think it was one of those great team wins,” starter Gio Gonzalez said. Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard showed once again why Washington’s bullpen is one of the most respected in the National League. Burnett pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning, while Clippard earned his 11th save.

The Wisdom Of Section 1-2-9: It was inevitable, we suppose, but it might still be a wee bit premature. “So,” a 1-2-9 regular said taking his standard seat in Row BB. “So . . . how are we going to split up the post-season tickets.” You could almost feel the section wince, as shoulders slumped all around. “Oh God, don’t jinx it.”

“Well, let’s be realistic,” he said. “The Phillies aren’t going to catch this team, and Beachy just went down.” A silence greeted this, but the eventual response was predictable. “There’s a long way to go.” True enough, the regular said, “but the team is solid and the pitching is better than we’ve ever seen it.”

As if to highlight the conversation, a group of New Yorkers one row back chattered on about the great teams of their home town. It was like listening to a group of oldsters talk about how great things had been in the old country — when, in fact, they’d been lousy. It was a “when-I-was-a-kid” monologue from a man in a Mets hat, who didn’t realize he was boring his listeners . . .

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