Archive for the ‘The Playoffs’ Category
Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
When baseball commentator Ken Rosenthal heard that the Nationals had signed righty Dan Haren to a one year $13 million contract, he shook his head in admiration: “This is a team building for the World Series,” he said on MLB Network, “and the signing of Haren shows that.”
Indeed. And Washington fans have every right to celebrate Haren’s arrival. After all, what’s not to like? The 32-year-old veteran has a track record of success (119-97 in ten years in the majors), racks up innings (238.1 in 2011), is a “gamer” — having thrown for both winners (Anaheim’s Belinskys) and losers (the up-and-down Snakes) and has shown remarkable consistency: never dipping below a .500 win/loss record in each of the last eight seasons.
But then there’s this: at the same moment that Danny and the Halos were tanking in the A.L West back in September, Haren was struggling through the worst season of his career, posting careers worsts in WHIP, H/9, HR/9, tying his second worst K/9 and throwing “only” 176 innings, his worst mark since becoming a starter in 2005.
What’s not to like? Well, plenty as it turns out. For while Haren was once among baseball’s elite fireballers, his fastball hasn’t topped out at an unspectacular 92-93 mph for the last two years and his back and hip problems were so bad that the mighty Cubs called off a proposed swap back in November that would have brought him to Chicago in exchange for Carlos Marmol.
Of course — and perhaps in spite of all of it — the signing of Haren brings a definite upside for the Nats, despite his poor year. The righty rebounded after the All Star break (a 3.58 ERA in thirteen starts), and pitched better even with his injury than Washington’s fourth starter, Edwin Jackson.
Saturday, October 13th, 2012
The Nationals couldn’t hold a six run lead, then couldn’t hold a three run lead, then couldn’t hold a two run lead, and then usually steady closer Drew Storen gave up four runs in the 9th inning, and the Washington Nationals lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, 9-7 to close out their 2012 campaign. This was the toughest of tough losses. “Devastating,” is how reliever Tyler Clippard described it. And it was.
In fact, this is one that the Nationals will long remember as a game that they could have and should have won: they were one strike away from going to the National League Championship Series, twice. But they couldn’t put away the St. Louis Cardinals, who will now go on to face the San Francisco Giants in a seven game playoff for the right to play in the World Series.
The 9th inning of Friday night’s game is likely to be remembered for a long time: for its agony. Storen entered the game with a 7-5 lead, but immediately gave up a double to Redbird slugger Carlos Beltran. Still, Storen seemed on his game. Matt Holliday grounded out and Allen Craig struck out swinging. There were two outs in the inning.
But then things fell apart. Storen walked Yadier Molina and David Freese. For Nationals fans, those 45,000-plus who packed Nationals Park, it looked suspiciously like the strike zone had suddenly shrunk. But Storen’s pitches, while close, were just nipping the corners and could have been called either way. They were called balls.
With the bases loaded, Daniel Descalso singled, bringing Beltran and pinch runner Adron Chambers home. The score was locked at seven. Davey Johnson then decided that Storen should pitch to Peter Kozma, who laced a single into right field, scoring another two runs. And that was the game.
Friday, October 12th, 2012
Jayson Werth capped a 13-pitch 9th inning at bat by putting a 3-2 Lance Lynn offering into the left field bullpen, sending the Nationals to a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park on Thursday night. “Three-two heater. He beat me,” Lynn said of the Werth at bat.
Werth’s crowd roaring blast ensured that the Nationals will play a final elimination game against the Redbirds on Friday to decide who will meet the San Francisco Giants for the National League Pennant. The Giants eliminated the Cincinnati Reds earlier on Thursday in a stunning 6-4 victory, after being down two games to none in that series.
In a season of exciting games, this was by far the most exciting, with the sold out crowd standing for every pitch from the 7th inning on. “That’s the way that game should have ended — Jayson Werth hitting a home run,” Nats’ manager Davey Johnson said of the epic walk off home run. “He has not hit that many this year. What was it, a 13-pitch at-bat, something like that? It was unbelievable.”
Werth’s ninth inning home run was set up by Washington’s outstanding pitching: six innings of three hit baseball from starter Ross Detwiler, followed by a superb relief effort from a trio of Nats’ relievers. Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen combined to strike out eight Redbirds in a row, holding St. Louis hitless in three complete innnings.
Following the game, closer Drew Storen paid tribute to the contribution that Werth has made to the club. “Last year didn’t go as well as he wanted, but what I think he did in the clubhouse from Day 1, he changed the culture,” he said. “He has been a huge part of the team’s success . . . I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s a great teammate and a great leader.”
Credit the Cardinals for crediting Werth. Ninth inning reliever Lance Lynn battled the savvy veteran through 12 pitches, strike after strike, but then laid the thirteenth in over the plate. “He battled that whole at-bat, and I was making good pitches, making my pitches, and you know, he won,” Lynn said. “It was just a matter of time. I was challenging him, and he was up for it.”
Werth understood the importance of the moment, both for him and for the franchise. “You know when I came here last year this place was empty,” he told reporter Tim Kurkjian after the win, “and now one year later this place is packed and it’s awesome. We have great fans, and it’s a great place to play ball.”
The Nationals will face off against the Cardinals on Friday night at Nationals Park in the deciding Game 5 of the NLDS. Lefty ace Gio Gonzalez will start for the Nationals, with Adam Wainwright taking the mound for the Cardinals.
Photo Credits: AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Thursday, October 11th, 2012
It’s hard to argue with the numbers. Over the last eighteen innings, the Nationals have been outscored 20-4 by the St. Louis Cardinals and their pitching has cratered. The latest evidence of the Nationals’ postseason futility came on Wednesday when, with red towels waving all over Nationals Park, the Cardinals overwhelmed the hometowners, 8-0.
The latest victim of the Cardinals’ onslaught was Edwin Jackson, though it’s impossible to pin the second Nats’ loss in this five game playoff series on a single pitcher. The Nationals now face an ignominious elimination at the hands of one of the best hitting teams in baseball, hoping to salvage a single elimination playoff game with a win on Thursday.
As always, and even in the face of this adversity, Nationals’ manager Davey Johnson remained optimistic. He was buoyed by the sold out crowd, fanatical fans that have become the hallmark of the upstart franchise. “We’re not out of this, by a long shot,” he said. “Shoot, I’ve had my back to worse walls than this.”
But optimistic or not, there’s little doubt that, at least so far, the Cardinals are feasting on Nationals’ pitching. The Redbirds slammed out fourteen hits against five Washington pitchers, all of whom were ineffective — with the exception of closer Drew Storen. It all began with starter Edwin Jackson who gave up four earned runs in five innings.
A raucous crowd, watching the first playoff game in Nationals’ history, could not keep the Cardinals off the board, even in the first inning — when an Allen Craig double scored Matt Holliday. Shortstop Peter Kozma followed in the second inning with a home run that scored David Freese and Daniel Descalso. Suddenly it was 4-0.
Tuesday, October 9th, 2012
During the regular season, this would have been one of those forgettable games — with a young pitcher having an off day, and the Nationals hoping to bounce back from a poor performance. But in the playoffs, a 12-4 loss at the hands of a rejuvenated line-up is a sign of a knock-down series where both teams will fight to the very last. And the loser will go home.
The Cardinals, the best hitting team in the N.L., banged out thirteen hits, including homes runs from Allen Craig, Daniel Descalso and Carlos Beltran, and notched a must-win victory at Busch Stadium in St. Louis to knot their five game series against the Nationals in the N.L.D.S. at one game each.
The Cardinals victimized seven Nationals pitchers while rolling to victory, including young starter Jordan Zimmermann, who lasted only three innings while giving up seven hits and five earned runs — one of his worst outings of the year. “It’s definitely tough. I wanted to go out there and go deep into the game and try to get out of here with two wins. I didn’t do my part,” Zimmermann said of the loss.
This was, by all measures, a debacle: Zimmermann’s breakdown is unusual for him, except when he pitches against the Cardinals. The young Auburndale ace has a snappy ERA against the rest of the National League, but when it comes to St. Louis, he seems to freeze up. The Post’s Tom Boswell points to his his 9.76 ERA against the Redbirds in his six career starts against them.
Washington’s relievers, a normally steady presence during the regular season, were also ineffective on Monday. Craig Stammen, Christian Garcia, Michael Gonzalez, Ryan Mattheus, Sean Burnett and Tom Gorzelanny combined to give up six hits and six earned runs in just five innings of work.
Sunday, October 7th, 2012
The Washington Nationals fought back from a shaky Gio Gonzalez start, kept the game close, and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on an eighth inning Tyler Moore pinch hit single to defeat the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. The victory gave the Nats a 3-2 win in their first game against the Cardinals in the National League Division Series.
The victory marked the first ever post-season triumph for the D.C. Nine, who seemed on their way to defeat until a St. Louis shortstop Peter Kozma’s fielding error put Michael Morse on first with the potential tying run in the 8th. Ian Desmond followed with a single to right, sending Morse to third.
Even then, Washington had difficulty scoring: Danny Espinosa (who’d struck out in his previous three at bats) laid down a bunt, sending Ian Desmond to second. But the Espinosa bunt accounted for the inning’s first out. Kurt Suzuki followed Espinosa and struck out swinging.
It was then that super-sub Tyler Moore came off the bench and worked his magic, sending a Mark Rzepczynski offering into right field to give the Nationals the lead. “He threw some pretty tough pitches to me,” Moore said after the win. “I fouled off a couple. I was just able to kind of stick it out there and put the barrel on one, and it flared out to right.”
The Cardinals then had two chances to tie or win the game, but the Nationals bullpen proved equal to the challenge. Tyler Clippard worked the bottom of the 8th inning, setting down the Cardinals in order after the lead-off hitter reached on a throwing error from Ryan Zimmerman.
Saturday, October 6th, 2012
The Nationals will face the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS starting on Sunday, the result of the Redbirds’ 6-3 win over the Braves on Friday night in Atlanta. The Braves lost the game on three errors and a controversial infield fly rule call, but were also victimized by timely St. Louis hitting.
The loss marked the end of an otherwise successful season for the 94-68 Braves, and the final game for third sacker Chipper Jones, who now heads to the baseball Hall of Fame. “I know one thing is for sure, you won’t be able to say that Braves fans don’t care,” Jones said after the loss. “They came out in full force tonight, 50,000 strong. We love each and every one of them.”
The controversy over the calling of the infield fly rule came in the 8th inning, when St. Louis shortstop Peter Kozma appeared to settle under a pop fly behind shortstop off the bat of Andrelton Simmons. The left field line umpire signaled that the infield fly rule was in effect, but perhaps too late, and Kozma failed to catch the fly: with the batter out in any event.
Fredi Gonzalez, the Atlanta manager, protested the call — and vehemently. But the ruling on the field was upheld, and Simmons was ruled out. “I was under it,” Kozma later said. “I should have made the play. I took my eyes off it. I was camped under it.”