Archive for the ‘The Playoffs’ Category

Nats Notes: Washington’s XBH Machine

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

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There are now less than 40 games to go in the regular season and we are one game into a home series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Washington Nationals are seventeen games over .500 and lead the division by six games on the back of a series loss in Atlanta and sweeps of the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Nats are working on their longest winning streak of the season (currently seven games long), a good place to be in the home stretch.

The last three wins were each walk-offs, courtesy of catcher Wilson Ramos on Saturday, pinch hitter Scott Hairston on Sunday, and first sacker Adam LaRoche on Monday.

The compulsion to grind has been key over the streak. The Nats have pulled off multiple come-from-behind wins over the past ten games and came within a hair of doing so in the first game against the Barves.

Offensively, these wins were built not so much on the long ball, but on extra base hits and small ball. The addition of Asdrubal Cabrera and, most recently, Nate Schierholtz will only enhance that capacity: both of them are notorious gappers and Cabrera is a doubles machine.

Over the last ten games, these are the XBHs the Nats have tallied (not including the fourteen homers):

Denard Span: a triple, three doubles, and a stolen base
Anthony Rendon: a triple and a stolen base
Wilson Ramos: two doubles
Asdrubal Cabrera: a double and a sac fly
Kevin Frandsen: a double and a sac fly
Jayson Werth: a double and a sac fly
Adam LaRoche: a double and a stolen base
Bryce Harper: a sac fly
Scott Hairston: a sac fly
Ian Desmond: a stolen base
Stephen Strasburg: a sacrifice

In other words, over the past ten games, every member of the regular starting lineup, two bench guys, and a pitcher were getting in scoring position, driving in runs, and moving runners. That’s not only impressive, it’s been the key to the recent Nats surge.

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Nats On A Roll, Squeeze By The Bucs, 5-4

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

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Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper had two hits and two RBIs apiece, starter Tanner Roark pitched into the 6th inning, and closer Rafael Soriano provided another nail biting ending as the Nationals squeezed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-4 at Nationals Park on Friday night. This was Washington’s fourth victory in a row.

LaRoche and Harper were the big bats in the Nationals win. The Nationals took an early 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first frame, with a LaRoche single plating Asdrubal Cabrera. Then, with the bases loaded, Harper followed up with a single of his own — scoring Anthony Rendon and LaRoche.

Pirates starter Charlie Morton couldn’t keep the Nationals off the board in the early going and was pulled by Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle after just three innings of work. In all, the Nationals sprayed 11 hits versus Bucco pitching, with Denard Span once again hitting his stride, going 3-4 on the night.

While Roark picked up his twelfth win of the 2014 campaign, he gave up three runs on five hits in just 5.2 innings of work. Pittsburgh got back into the game in the fourth inning, when outfielder Starling Marte powered an 84 mph Roark slider into the left field seats, which scored second sacker Neil Walker. The Pirates were suddenly back in the game.

“He was a little off on his command tonight, the ball was up in the strike zone a little bit,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said of Roark’s performance. “Marte hit a slider for the homer and the ball just kind of elevated. But he battled. He got through the innings he needed to get through. He pitched well.”

The feisty Pirates showed why they’re still in the hunt for the National League Central crown, pushing the Nationals until the final out. The Pirates three run fourth was followed by a nail-biting 9th in which Starling Marte singled off of Nats closer Rafael Soriano, then scored on a Pedro Alvarez single to bring the Buccos to within one run of tying the game.

Soriano, struggling to notch his 29th save, then gave up a single to Chris Stewart, which put the tying run on base. But with Stewart looking to score, Soriano induced a foul pop off the bat of Josh Harrison (which landed in the glove of Wilson Ramos) to end the game.

On Wednesday, Soriano had told the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore that one of the reasons for his sometimes shaky outings was that he wasn’t getting enough work. The Soriano statement was apparently heard loud and clear by skipper Williams. “That’s three games in a row for Soriano. He got through it tonight. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” Williams said after last night’s win.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Pirates fans begin each year with the dream that they’ll relive 1979, the last year that the Bucs brought home the World Series trophy. But what’s usually missing from the Pittsburgh narrative, and often forgotten by baseball pundits, is that the 1979 win was notched against a Baltimore team that was among the most celebrated in franchise history . . .

The 1979 Orioles won 102 games, had a winning record against every American League team except the Yankees, led the A.L from mid-April to the wire, featured a 23 game winner (in Mike Flanagan) and a lights-out closer (in Don Stanhouse), and dominated baseball in one run and extra inning games . . .

Which is to say: if the Pirates could just start playing a bit better (and reach the playoffs) a replay of the Baltimore-Pittsburgh seven game, down-to-the-final-out tilt of 1979 is not out of the question. To make this even plainer, we would claim that the 2014 edition of the Orioles might even be better than their 1979 ancestors . . .

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Nats Outlast The Rain, And The Braves, 4-1

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

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After a nearly four hour rain delay that pushed Washington’s game against Atlanta into the early morning hours, the Nationals overcame the Braves in an 11 inning marathon, 4-1. The Washington win marked Atlanta’s ninth loss in ten games and pushed the Nationals 4.5 games ahead of the Braves in the National League East.

A bases loaded single off the bat of Wilson Ramos in the 11th inning was the difference in the game, as the Washington catcher plated Anthony Rendon for the go-ahead run. Kevin Frandsen followed Ramos with a double over the head of Jason Heyward, scoring Adam LaRoche (who had singled) and Bryce Harper (who had walked).

Skipper Matt Williams was pleased with his team’s effort. “Considering all that happened today, and the way we had to fight through the last couple of days, it was pretty good for us,” Williams said after the hard-fought victory. “We fought all the way.”

The game featured a solid pitchers’ duel, with Washington’s Tanner Roark matched up against Atlanta’s Aaron Harang. The two hurlers numbers were similar, with the Nats and Braves trading singles and runs through ten straight innings. Roark’s and Harang’s final lines (each threw seven complete and gave up a single earned run) reflected just how tightly the two teams play.

Washington scored first, in the sixth inning, on Adam LaRoche’s 16th home run of the season. Atlanta responded in the bottom of that frame, when Jason Heyward’s sacrifice fly scored Tommy La Stella. Washington’s bullpen was, once again, outstanding: Matt Thornton, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano held the Braves scoreless through four complete, with Soriano picking up his 26th save.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It’s mid-August (the dog days, when the season seems to go on forever), so analysts, pundits and columnists are searching for things to write and talk about. On Friday, MLB Network listed nominees for the A.L.’s MVP award, apparently because it’s never too soon to speculate . . .

Among those listed were Baltimore’s Adam Jones, L.A.’s Mike Trout, Detroit’s Victor Martinez, Seattle’s Robinson Cano and Oakland’s Josh Donaldson. The surprise in the list (at least for us), is Victor Martinez, who is worthy but often overshadowed by Detroit superstar Miguel Cabrera, who’s having an off year — at least for him . . .

Our pick is Adam Jones, who’s the heartbeat of the first place Orioles. You won’t find Jones at the top of the league in batting average (he’s hitting a respectable .285 on the year), but he’s plated 22 round trippers, which puts him in the company of Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols and he’s knocked in 70, which puts him 11th in the A.L . . .

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Nats Take The Miami Series, Head Home

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

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The hobbled Washington Nationals escaped Miami with a 6-3 win on Wednesday night, taking two games of three from their division rivals. The Nationals were powered by sloppy Marlins fielding, a three run home run off of Miami starter Jose Fernandez by Jayson Werth in the top of the 6th (which tied the game at 3) and a pinch hit home run from rookie Zach Walters.

The errors from Miami and the two Nats home runs were the difference in the game, besting Miami ace Fernandez. In the 6th, the usually sure-handed Jerrod Saltalamacchia allowed Jose Lobaton to scamper to third on a throwing error and the Miami catcher then dropped a pop foul off the bat of Anthony Rendon.

“We’re in a funk out there, for whatever reason,” Miami manager Mike Redmond said after the loss. “We just have got to keep throwing these guys out there and get them going. Another pinch-hit home run. Stuff like that just can’t happen late in the game. We’ve given up a lot of big hits late in the game. Those are crushers. We’ve got to find a way to make an adjustment.”

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The Nationals were shut down by Fernandez, who owns a snappy 2.66 ERA on the season — and who only gave up a four hits in seven innings last night. “He’s an animal,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said of Fernandez. “He’s one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.”

The Nationals’ runs in the 6th inning were all unearned, leaving Fernandez the victim of his teammates poor play. After the Fernandez departure, the Nationals put three runs on the board off of two Miami relievers: Mike Dunn and A.J. Ramos.

After being swept in Atlanta, the Nationals needed the Miami salvage operation, and they got it. The team put up nine runs on sixteen hits in the first game of the series, and last night were able to get a solid starting performance from righty Tanner Roark, who pitched into the 7th inning while notching five strikeouts.

Roark was at his best in the 5th, when he ended a Miami rally that had Marcell Ozuna on third with one out. Roark struck out Giancarlo Stanton and Garrett Jones flied out to left to end the threat. “It was a big momentum swing,” said Roark of his clutch pitching. “I felt like we had a good weight off our shoulders and my shoulders as well.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: No one likes to hear this, but it’s true. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the standard of success in the American League is the New York Yankees; it’s impossible to read anything about baseball without reading about them. But that’s also true for the St. Louis Cardinals, the N.L. version of the Bombers. For good reason . . .

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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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Zimmerman Foils Wacha’s No Hit Bid

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

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Cardinals’ starter Michael Wacha came within a single out of no-hitting the Nationals on Tuesday night, but a Ryan Zimmerman infield bounder put the Nationals in the hit column as St. Louis went on to down Washington, 2-0. Wacha, who entered the game at 3-1 after a swift rise through the minors, threw 112 pitches before being lifted after Zimmerman’s single.

“For a kid to do that against a lineup like that, at this point in the season, it’s hard to get your head around it,” Cardinals’ skipper Mike Matheny said after the victory. Zimmerman, who Wacha struck out twice prior to his single hit, also praised the young righty. “He pitched great. He really had his stuff going,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman’s bounder hit in front of the pitcher’s mound and flew over Wacha as the young pitcher reached for it. It hit off his glove, but was fielded by shortstop Peter Kozma, who flipped the ball to first baseman Matt Adams, who swiped at Zimmerman but missed him.

After the hit, Matheny brought in reliever Trevor Rosenthal to close out the game. Rosenthal ended it on six fastballs to Jayson Werth, who grounded out sharply to first baseman Adams. “I guess it just wasn’t to be,” Wacha said of his short-circuited no hitter. “But it was still a pretty special night.”

Wacha’s performance overshadowed a solid outing from Washington starter Gio Gonzalez, who threw seven innings while striking out six and giving up six hits. Drew Storen shut the Cardinals down at the end of the eighth, setting up the tumultuous 9th inning. It was Gonzalez’s eighth loss on the year against eleven wins.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: “Don’t be surprised if the Indians, losers of 94 games a year ago, turn out to this year’s Orioles,” Sports Illustrated writer Albert Chen said back in March. Cleveland fans apparently didn’t believe him, accounting for the third worst attendance in baseball this year . . .

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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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