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Span’s 9th Inning Sacrifice Gives Nats The Win

Monday, April 21st, 2014

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Denard Span’s walk off sacrifice fly in the 9th inning scored Danny Espinosa with the winning run as the Nationals defeated the Cardinals at Nationals Park on Sunday, 3-2. The victory assured a series split between the two teams, who are predicted to meet in the off-season, and allowed the Nats to keep pace with the Atlanta Braves in the N.L. East.

The bases were loaded when Span stepped to the plate in the 9th, with the Cardinals playing five infielders to prevent the winning run. “I counted: one, two, three, four, five,” Span said of his clutch at bat. “Right there I told myself a groundball probably not going to do it. Try to get the ball in the air somehow.”

The Washington victory was another come-from-behind win, with the Nationals scoring two runs in the bottom of the 7th inning to tie the game. The 7th inning rally featured classic station-to-station scoring from a team that has too often relied on the long ball — with singles from Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa.

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The Cardinals scored their runs against Washington ace Stephan Strasburg, who pitched six complete inning of five hit baseball, but failed to get the decision. Strasburg threw 90 pitches, 63 of them for strikes, before yielding to Washington’s suddenly effective relief corps. Craig Stammen, Jerry Blevins and Rafael Soriano kept the Cards off the scoreboard, with Soriano notching the win.

The Washington win was particularly gratifying because it came off one of the best bullpens in baseball and included a return to the lineup of Bryce Harper, who was benched on Saturday for failing to hustle. Harper met with Washington skipper Matt Williams prior to Sunday’s game to talk of the incident. “[Williams] just said, ‘Go get ‘em.’ That’s the three words he said. He was every enthusiastic,” Harper said of their pre-game talk.

While Span was the hero of Sunday’s game, the key to the Nats resurgence was Danny Espinosa, who was 3-4 and got key hits during the 7th inning rally and then again in the 9th — scoring the Nationals’ winning run. “His approach is good, his intensity is good, his attitude’s fantastic, and he loves to play,” Williams said of Espinosa’s reemergence.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Nearly every year the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are picked to win the American League West, and nearly every year they disappoint. That was particularly true for 2012, when the Angels signed free agent Albert Pujols, and then against last year, when they signed slugger Josh Hamilton . . .

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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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Nats Swept In Atlanta

Monday, April 14th, 2014

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Repeat after me: “It’s still early, it’s still early, it’s still early.” And that’s a mighty good thing, because if this was September, with the N.L. East a dogfight between its two best teams (Atlanta and Washington), the Nationals would be in deep trouble.

Just days after rolling out of Washington with a series sweep against Miami under their belts, the Nationals are now departing Atlanta feeling as the Marlins must have felt. Yesterday’s loss, a 10-2 whupping at the hands of the Braves, only emphasized the Nationals problems — in the three game series the team was outscored (23-11), outhit (33-31) and (well) outplayed.

Sunday’s matinee only highlighted Washington’s problems, which seem to be magnified against their division rival. Ace Gio Gonzalez lasted six innings, but was hit hard, giving up six runs on nine hits over six innings. The middle of the Braves line-up seemed to play with Washington: B.J. Upton was 2-5, Freddie Freeman was 2-3, Justin Upton was 2-3 and Andrelton Simmons was 2-5.

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Worse yet, Washington’s hitters couldn’t seem to touch Atlanta starter Aaron Harang, the 35-year-old well traveled righty who Atlanta fans doubted could fit into a rotation that the Braves front office vowed would get younger year-by-year. It was Harang, and not Gonzalez, who ended up on top, with Harang throwing six innings of five hit ball and taming a suddenly anemic Washington line-up.

“The Braves have the Nationals’ number,” Baseball Tonight’s Karl Ravech said during last night’s broadcast. The numbers seem to prove it. Yesterday’s 10-2 pasting was Atlanta’s 18th win in its last 25 match-up against the Nationals, and its fifth win this season in six meetings.

“It’s going to happen sometimes, but what we can’t do is get out of ourselves,” manager Matt Williams said following the loss. “We can’t allow anything to take us out of our game. It didn’t work for us this weekend. We have another one tomorrow against the Marlins. We have to concentrate on that one.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: That long deep sigh you hear comes to you all the way from the North Side of Chicago, where the Cubbies have started the season with a 4-8 record. The most recent example of North Side futility came yesterday, against the Cardinals, when Chicago pitching was victimized by 11 Cardinal hits and a snappy 6.1 innings from starter Michael Wacha . . .

Baseball’s punditocracy has written off the Cubs for 2014, saying the team is headed for 90 losses — at least. But there’s light at the end of Chicago’s endless tunnel, faint though it may be. Chicago has a keeper in first sacker Anthony Rizzo (who’s hitting .319 on the young season), and has a farm system stacked with talent, including third sacker Kris Bryant, center fielder Albert Almora and shortstop uber prospect Javier Baez . . .

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Nats-Braves Claw Their Way Through 10

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves scratched and clawed their way through another bitterly fought contest, with the Bravos eventually coming away with a 7-6 10th inning win on a Justin Upton single. The game was another one run contest, which is becoming the new standard in the growing Nats-Braves rivalry.

Atlanta was first on the board, plating four runs in the bottom of the 2nd inning against Washington starter Tanner Roark. Despite the early score, Roark settled into the game, pitching into the fifth inning and allowing his teammates to fight their way back into the game — scoring one run in the 4th inning and three in the 5th, courtesy of a Ryan Zimmerman home run.

“I felt great out there,” Roark said following the tough loss. “I just didn’t really have the command of my pitches that I wanted.” Indeed, Roark had trouble finding the strike zone, plunking Justin Upton, Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman with pitches.

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The teams traded runs after the 4-4 tie, with Atlanta scoring one in the bottom of the 5th and the Nationals responding in the top of the next frame. “The guys continued to fight back. It’s a really good sign,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said following the loss. “It didn’t come out our way tonight, but they got back in it with the lead. We’ll take our chances with that every day.”

The Nationals, who are becoming known for their ability to launch late inning comebacks, were helped by solid performances from the middle of their order. Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper were a combined 7-13, with Zimmerman accounting for half of the Nationals runs.

The Nationals led 6-5 going into the bottom of the 8th inning, but reliever Tyler Clippard gave up a home run to Justin Upton, the Nationals new nemesis. The Braves then brought on closer Craig Kimbrel — perhaps the best closer in the majors. Kimbrel set down the Nats in the top of the 9th, striking out Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman.

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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 Bats, Gio Mash The Apples

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

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Washington stroked thirteen hits, including four from Jayson Werth and Gio Gonzalez notched his first win of the season as the Nationals downed the Mets at Citi Field, 5-1. Gio Gonzalez also contributed a home run, his third of his career, in the top of the 5th inning.

Manager Matt Williams worried about a letdown after the Nationals took the opener on Tuesday, but the home towners seemed primed from their opening win. “They were ready to go today,” Williams said after the victory, “which was great.” The victory came off of Mets starter, 40-year-old Bartolo Colon, who gave up nine hits and three runs in six innings.

Nats’ starter Gio Gonzalez, on the other hand, looked in mid-season form. Battling against an ump with a low strike zone (and showing frustration with some of the calls), Gonzalez successfully eluded some tough innings, helped by some slick fielding — which included a Bryce Harper throw from left field that nabbed a spring Ruben Tejada in the bottom of the 6th.

“The things he can do with that arm are pretty special,” Ian Desmond said of the Harper throw. “Your instincts tell you what a normal outfielder can do, not one with a Bazooka.”

Washington youngster Tanner Roark will wrap up the New York series for the Nationals at Citi Field on Thursday afternoon — after which the Nationals will play their home opener on Friday versus Atlanta.

 

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Let us now praise Kyle Farnsworth. Nats’ fans are familiar with the big (6-4, 230 pounds) righty, who broke into the majors with the Chicago Cubs in 1999 and has since served stints with Pittsburgh, Kansas City, the Yanks, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and (as we saw last night) the New York Stinking Mets . . .

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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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