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Nats Keep Rolling, Edge Miami 3-2

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

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Sloppy play and a slow start weren’t enough to deny the Nationals their 90th win of the season, or starter Jordan Zimmermann his 13th, as Washington rallied to edge the Marlins in Miami on Saturday night, 3-2. The win, coupled with a Dodgers loss against the Cubs, lifted the Nats 2.5 games ahead of Los Angeles for the best record in the National League.

Starter Zimmermann was once again the ace of the game, throwing six innings of five hit baseball while striking out four. The victory for Zimmermann marked the Nationals tenth consecutive win with “the Ace of Auburndale” on the mound. Zimmermann soldiered on after taking a pitch off his shoulder in the sixth inning — a dangerous line drive that threw ripples of fear through the Nats dugout.

“It happened so fast,” Zimmermann said, after the Nationals victory. “I saw the ball coming and thought that it was stopped. I just tried turning and lift my shoulder. I was lucky enough that it hit my shoulder and not my face. It’s a little sore, pretty tight right now but it will be fine. It’s not going to affect me.”

The victory also marked the return of third sacker (and, now, left fielder) Ryan Zimmerman, who had missed 55 games, to the line-up. Zimmerman’s contribution was immediate. The “face of the franchise” was 2-3 on the night, with a single (in his first at bat in the second inning), and a triple in the 7th that scored Ian Desmond. “It was fun to be out there and be part of the team and be out with the guys in a really good win,” Zimmerman said.

Miami scored a single run in the first inning on four hits, including an RBI single from rookie Justin Bour. The Marlins scored their second run in the fourth, after Reed Johnson led off with a double to center field. Denard Span retrieved the ball off the wall, but overthrew cutoff man Asdrubal Cabrera. Backing up the play, Jordan Zimmermann overthrew Anthony Rendon at third, which allowed Johnson to score.

“I knew I overthrew the first cutoff guy, but I thought the ball was gonna get caught,” Denard Span said of the unusual two error play. “I turned my head and all of a sudden I heard the crowd roaring. I was like, ‘What the heck is going on?’ Next thing you know, he was rounding third.”

All of Washington’s runs were scored during a 7th inning rally that began with an Ian Desmond single. Desmond then scored on a Ryan Zimmerman triple, with Zimmerman then ruled out at home on a Wilson Ramos fielder’s choice. But second sacker Asdrubal Cabrera kept the inning going with a triple that scored Ramos. Cabrera, in turn, scored on a Denard Span single.

The three run 7th inning held up, with the Nationals bullpen closing out the game. Aaron Barrett and Tyler Clippard closed down Miami in the 7th and 8th innings, with Drew Storen keeping the Marlins off the board in the 9th (with the help of a game ending double play), notching his ninth save.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Braves season was still alive last week, but their skid just goes on and on. Last night the Braves were upended in Atlanta by the suddenly dangerous Metropolitans, who shut out the Tomahawks, 2-0. Atlanta is 4-13 in the month of September. Which means that the Braves “tragic number” is two: if they lose today, and the Pirates win, the Braves will be out of the post-season . . .

“I thought we had good at-bats up and down the lineup,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said, after last night’s loss. Really? The Braves were 2-10 with runners in scoring position. And. And don’t look now, but the Mets and Marlins have an outside chance of catching the Braves for second place in the National League East, which would just about do-in the Cobb County faithful . . .

And, ah, wouldn’t that be a shame . . .

Meanwhile, the Braves of the West (otherwise known as the Oakland Athletics) continue their imitation of a demolition derby. It’s getting really ugly, which means that it’s nearly impossible to avert your eyes. We tune in every night to watch the A’s, just so we can see how they’ll screw up this time. The A’s are 6-12 in September, and continue to find new ways to lose . . .

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Nats Hook The Fish Behind Gio, Harper

Friday, September 19th, 2014

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The pitching of southpaw Gio Gonzalez, timely hitting from left fielder Bryce Harper, shortstop Ian Desmond and second sacker Asdrubal Cabrera and a five run fourth inning propelled the Nationals past the Miami Marlins on Thursday night, 6-2 — as Washington continued their late-in-the-season dominance of the N.L. East.

Gonzalez notched his ninth win of the season, providing his sixth successive quality start in a row. The Washington southpaw dominated Miami hitting with a snappy fastball, while allowing six hits over seven inningsĀ  and striking out five. This was the lefty’s third win in his last four starts.

“I just think he’s got a better feel,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said of Gonzalez’s recent success. “You look back to not too long ago, where his slot was a little bit off and he was losing control of the fastball up and away to righties. He didn’t have a feel for his curveball. But he’s got that back, which is important for him. If he can do that, he can roll through the lineup.”

The Nationals scored five of their six runs in the fourth inning off of Miami starter Brad Hand. The D.C. rally began with a Anthony Rendon single, who then stole second. With two outs, Wilson Ramos doubled, and Washington stroked four successive singles: from Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, Asdrubal Cabrera and Kevin Frandsen.

“That’s the way we play the game,” Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond noted after the victory. “Why change now? I think it’s kind of ingrained in our minds now the way that we’re supposed to go out there and go about our business.” Rendon and Harper were the sparks for the Nats offense, with Rendon notching a two hit night, while Harper was 3-4.

“We had a big inning and Gio pitched well, kept them at bay, bullpen came in and shut it down, and it was an all-around team effort,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said. “A good win for us.” Craig Stammen and Rafael Soriano came on in relief of Gonzalez and shut down the Miami offense in the eighth and ninth innings.

“With this team that we’re playing, these guys are going to the playoffs, we’ve got to play perfect baseball,” Miami manager Mike Redmond said after his team’s defeat. “We can’t give extra outs. We’ve got to take advantage and we’ve got to score runs when we can, and we weren’t able to do that.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We yak and yak about how great the Pittsburgh outfield is (with Marte, McCutchen and Polanco), but it might be that Miami’s is every bit as good — so long as Giancarlo Stanton is healthy and not recovering from an HBP in some Miami hospital . . .

Stanton is good enough to overawe everyone else in the game, not simply because he can hit (his final numbers on the season will be .288 with 37 home runs to go along with a .950 OPS, which leads all of baseball), but because he has a howitzer for an arm . . .

Because baseball is Stanton obsessed (prior to his injury, the hottest debate was whether he should be the MVP), we tend to overlook left fielder Christian Yelich and center fielder Marcell Ozuna. Yelich has been on fire since the All Star break, with a .316/.398/.394 slash line over 231 second-half at-bats. Yelich has had a solid year, with nine home runs, 54 RBIs and 89 runs . . .

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Mets End Drought Vs. Nats, Win 4-3

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

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The Mets have been nearly hopeless in playing the Nationals in New York, but on Friday night they ended their drought, notching a 4-3 victory over Washington behind the pitching of starter Dillon Gee and the bat of Juan Lagares. The victory ended a twelve game winless streak for New York against the Nationals at Citi Field.

The New York victory came at the expense of Washington southpaw Gio Gonzalez, who reacted angrily to Matt Williams decision to take him out of the game in the 7th inning. Gonzalez slammed the ball into Williams’ hand when the skipper relieved him, then exchanged words with him in a heated conversation in the dugout.

Gonzalez later downplayed the mini-confrontation. “Matt did his best to defuse it as much as possible,” he said. “It’s part of the sport. It’s high intensity, trying to keep the game close. He has been part of it; it’s part of baseball. You want to keep pitching, you want to keep going out there.”

Gonzalez pitched well on Friday night, but not well enough to notch the win, or keep the Mets out of the scoring column. The Mets put three runs on the board in the bottom of the first inning on an Eric Young, Jr. single, a Juan Lagares HBP, a walk to Lucas Duda and a Travis d’Arnaud double to deep left field. The three run inning forced Gonzalez to start over in the second.

“Second inning, it was a clean start, and I just tried to pound the strike zone, keep going after them,” Gonzalez confirmed after the loss. “Throwing the changeup for strikes. I’m trying to work fast and get us back in the dugout as soon as possible to get our guys to swing the bat.”

The Nationals struck back by plating two runs in the top of the third and a single run in the fifth, but New York answered with another Lagares double in the bottom half of that frame. Anthony Rendon provided most of Washington’s offense, including a home run in the top of the 5th (his twentieth of the season) to tie the score at three.

“He has been unbelievable,” teammate Denard Span said of the Nats third sacker. “He has been our most valuable player from start to finish. He has been in the lineup pretty much every day, giving us everything we need. He is scoring runs. We need him to steal a bag, he steals a bag, driving in runs. He is doing it all.”

Mets manager Terry Collins was visibly relieved by his team’s win, particularly after a winless lull against Washington at Citi Field that goes back 14 months. “There’s been a lot of nights where we’ve had them late in the game and they’ve come back and done some big damage against us, but it was a good win for us tonight for sure, ” Collins said.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The nation turns its lonely eyes to the West Coast, where the most interesting baseball is being played. The Giants opened what could be a winner-take-all series against the Dodgers in San Francisco last night, derailing the N.L. West leading Trolleys 9-0 in the first of a three game set . . .

This is a damned near ancient rivalry in the Great Game, made all the more important by the fact that prior to last night’s contest the Giants trailed the Kershaws by just two games. Madison Bumgarner stepped up in his start last night, throwing seven innings of three hit baseball . . .

Dodger fans need to take a quick gulp: southpaw starter Hyun-Jin Ryu was removed after the first inning with left shoulder irritation — he’d just given up four runs. Bumgarner, meanwhile, notched his 18th win and struck out eight . . .

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Harper Homers Can’t Lift The Nats

Monday, September 1st, 2014

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Two home runs from Bryce Harper, one in the second inning and one in the fourth, weren’t enough to lift the Nationals in Seattle, as Washington came out on the losing end of a 5-3 contest. The loss was the fourth in the last six games for the Nationals, who now travel to L.A. to face the Dodgers.

The Mariners win, which salvaged a single victory in the three game series, turned on the bat of Dustin Ackley, who homered and drove in four runs for Seattle — and made a loser of Washington starter Tanner Roark, who registered his ninth loss on the season against twelve wins.

The Nationals took an early lead in the game, posting single runs in the second, third and fourth innings off of Seattle starter Hisashi Iwakuma. Iwakuma threw six complete innings of five hit baseball for his 13th victory on the 2014 campaign.

Seattle’s big inning was the fifth, when Brad Miller singled on a line drive to center, Austin Jackson followed with a soft single to left, and Ackley took a 92 mph Roark fastball deep to right field to plate Seattle’s first three runs.

Ackley, a highly touted draft pick out of North Carolina, has been a late bloomer for the Mariners. “Listen, he’s a good player,” Seattle skipper Lloyd McClendon said of Ackley. “When he was drafted, he was the best college player in the draft, college hitter. Sometimes, it takes a while.”

The Nationals loss, coupled with Atlanta’s 1-0 win over the Miami Marlins, narrowed Washington’s lead over the Braves to six games in the National League East. After two exciting victories in Seattle on Friday and Saturday, the Nationals offense was non-existent on Sunday, with Washington coming away with only six hits against Seattle pitching.

The good news for the Nationals is that, after several weeks of struggling (after returning from an injury that kept him out 57 games), Harper has finally found his groove — and his swing. Sunday’s outing gave him seven home runs in his last 23 games. The left fielder is hitting .306 with seven home runs and 14 RBIs since August 7.

“I feel pretty good out there. I’m trying to put together some good at-bats,” Harper said after his team’s loss. “I get my work in every day and see how I feel every single day. Stick to the same routine, same plan and try to execute.” New acquisition Nate Schierholtz also homered (in the third inning) for the home towners.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It was all about pitching in Atlanta, where Braves southpaw Alex Wood struck out twelve in leading the Chops to a nail biting 1-0 victory over the lumbering Marlins. The Braves victory came off the bat of Evan Gattis, who’s second inning solo shot proved the difference in the game . . .

In San Francisco, meanwhile, the Giants showed they’re still very much in the race for the N.L. West flag by grabbing a sweep against the suddenly reeling Brewers. Sunday’s victory was a laugher, with San Francisco plating fifteen runs on sixteen hits. Pablo Sandoval had a two run homer and three RBIs in the victory . . .

The San Francisco win was the 15th on the season from Giants’ ace Madison Bumgarner, who notched seven strikeouts in six innings. The game also featured the first appearance of the season of Tim Lincecum in relief. The two time Cy Young Award winner pitched the eighth and ninth innings, but gave up two runs on three hits . . .

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Strasburg Sharp As Nats Sink Seattle

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

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When Stephen Strasburg is on there is simply no one better, and the Washington ace showed why on Saturday night, throwing 7.2 innings while striking out eight in leading the Nationals to a 3-1 victory against the Mariners in Seattle. Strasburg’s eight Ks set a franchise record for strikeouts in a year, surpassing that set by Gio Gonzalez two years ago.

The Strasburg victory was a vindication for the righty, who struggled in his last outing and has been viewed as inconsistent by many baseball analysts. He was anything but on Saturday, walking none and allowing a single earned run (on a Dustin Ackley home run), in notching his 11th victory of the season.

“Just the fact that he had two good ones and then a little bit of a clunker, and tonight to come back and answer, for him is important,” Washington skipper Matt Williams said of Strasburg. “For him, it’s just that if he throws it where he wants to, he can be dominant out there.

“I had pretty good fastball command today and kind of set up my other pitches,” Strasburg said of his outing. “I wanted to go out and give everything I had until [Williams] took the ball out of my hand. I just stuck to the game plan. I just had to execute pitches. I made them hit my best stuff.”

The Nationals scored early off of Seattle starter Roenis Elias. The Nationals plated two runs in the first inning when Jayson Werth hit his fifteenth home run of the season, scoring Denard Span who had reached on an error. Washington added a third run on an Anthony Rendon double in the fifth, which scored Jose Loboton.

The 3-1 victory put the Nationals up by seven games in the National League East, as the Braves lost to the Marlins 4-0 in Atlanta. The Nationals have a shot at sweeping Seattle today, with Tanner Roark facing off against the Mariners Hisashi Iwakuma.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: MASN on-field analyst Dan Kolko engaged in an interesting bit of speculation on Saturday, pointing out that if the Nationals had finished just a bit better back in 2008, Seattle would have drafted Stephen Strasburg first overall in 2009, with Dustin Ackley falling to the Nationals with the second overall pick . . .

Seattle thought that the North Carolina hitter was bound for stardom and he might well be, but it’s taken him some time to develop — so long, in fact, that many Mariners fans were will to label him as a “bust” at any point over the intervening years. But Ackley, after hitting just .215 up to July 1, has found his swing and is hitting .313 since . . .

Seattle partisans point to the addition of Robinson Cano as the reason for Seattle’s revival, but the club was 16-8 in August, when Ackley drove in 19 of his 55 RBIs. Ackley credits his turnaround to fixing a glitch in his swing . . .

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Nats HR Derby Downs King Felix In Seattle

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

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Six Washington home runs, and six steady innings from righty Jordan Zimmermann, pushed the Nationals past Felix Hernandez (perhaps the best right-handed pitcher in the American League), as the Nats went on to down the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Park on Friday night, 8-3.

With “the King’s Court” along the left field line looking on in stunned silence, Hernandez gave up home runs to Anthony Rendon (in the first inning), Jayson Werth (in the third inning), and Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos — both in the fourth inning. It was the third poor outing in a row for Hernandez.

“It was a tough day,” Hernandez admitted to the press in talking about Seattle’s loss. “I couldn’t get out of the middle of the plate the first four innings. I was up and I got crushed. Everything was off.”

The victory snapped a three game losing streak for the Nationals, who were swept in Philadelphia earlier in the week. “They were aggressive with Felix,” Nats skipper Matt Williams noted in speaking of his hitters. “They got some balls up in the zone to hit. It’s a big ballpark. You don’t expect that in a park like this. But then, we put some good swings on it.”

Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann, meanwhile, righted himself after a after a shaky first inning (Dustin Ackley tripled, Robinson Cano walked and Kendrys Morales and Kyle Seager singled to score two), to throw six complete innings in striking out eight Mariners. This was Zimmermann’s tenth win of the season.

“I was a little strong the first, second inning. Fastball was up and I couldn’t get it down,” Zimmermann said after his team’s victory. “Throwing that many pitches helped me a little bit.”

The Nationals tacked on three runs in the 8th and 9th innings, once again as a result of the long ball. Bryce Harper hit the 50th home run of his career in the 8th, followed by a 409 foot shot by Wilson Ramos — his second home run of the game. Adam LaRoche put the game away in the 9th with a sacrifice fly that scored Denard Span.

Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano pitched well in relief of Zimmermann. The trio gave up three hits and one run (all of them while Soriano was on the mound) in three innings of relief.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Atlanta Braves are gamely attempting to stay in the N.L. East race, downing the Marlins last night in Atlanta, 5-2. As usual, the Braves relied on the long ball to secure the victory, with Justin Upton and Jordany Valdespin each hitting home runs . . .

It’s interesting to track the fate of both the Nationals and Braves through a comparison of their schedules. Earlier in August, Atlanta made nearly the same road trip to the Left Coast that the Nationals are making now. The Braves dropped a three game set to the Padres, lost both of their games versus the Mariners and then (after facing the Nats), dropped three of four to the Dodgers at home . . .

Last night’s win in Atlanta kept the Braves just six back of the Nationals, as teams enter the final month of the season. An N.L. East pennant isn’t necessarily out of reach for Atlanta, but there’s only 29 games left to play and Atlanta would have to come close to sweeping Washington in the six games they have yet to play against them to have a shot at the flag . . .

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A.J. Pitches Philly Past The Nats

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

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Veteran Phillies righty A.J. Burnett tamed the Nationals with twelve strikeouts on Monday night, leading Philadelphia past Washington at Citizens Bank Park, 3-2. Burnett’s victory was his first since the All Star break, and came against Washington starter Tanner Roark, who was saddled with his eighth loss of the season.

Burnett’s victory was supported by home runs from third sacker Cody Asche and catcher Carlos Ruiz, who hit only his fourth of the year. Dominic Brown had two hits and an RBI for Philadelphia, while the Washington attack was led by two solo home runs from Wilson Ramos and Anthony Rendon.

The Nats defeat followed on the heels of an offensive outburst against the San Francisco Giants, in which the Nationals notched 23 runs, which included a 14 run shelling on Sunday. The Nats performance against Philadelphia on Monday was much more modest, as Washington banged out just two runs on six hits.

As in many of Washington’s losses, the game was filled with a number of might-have-beens. Washington hitters led off the seventh and eighth innings with doubles (from Ian Desmond and Kevin Frandsen), but were unable to plate the runs. Nor could Washington mount one of its by now legendary comebacks — with a Wilson Ramos home run in the 9th giving only a taste of the kind of heroics the team is known for.

Righty Roark, meanwhile, provided a workmanlike outing, while giving up thigh high gift to Asche in the 5th. “It was a changeup but it didn’t change,” Roark said of the Asche home run. “It was just a BP fastball. It was right down the middle, thigh high. He got me.” Roark gave up just five hits in the game, and one walk.

Jerry Blevins relieved Roark for the 7th inning, but gave up a round tripper to Philadelphia’s Ruiz. “It was a bad pitch, mistake. Sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you don’t. He got all of it,” Blevins said. “Track record shows that I’m better than what’s going out there. And I don’t feel like I’m pitching as bad as it looks.”

While Philadelphia remains mired in last place in the N.L. East, the performance of Burnett, who has been struggling, provided a needed tonic for their team. Burnett attributed his win to a change in his mechanics, solving a glitch he noticed in his delivery. “I wish I could have found that little glitch about a month, two months ago,” Burnett said after his team’s victory. “Unfortunately it took a long time, but better late than never.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: If only the Chicago Cubs could face American League East teams all the time. Back in late June, the Cubbies swept the Red Sox in three games and this past Sunday they completed a surprise sweep of the A.L. East leading Baltimore Orioles . . .

The Cubs victim on Sunday was Baltimore righty Miguel Gonzalez, who threw a solid 6.1 innings, but couldn’t come away with the win. The problem for Gonzalez wasn’t Chicago’s hitters (who scruffed a measly six hits off of him), but Cubbies southpaw starter Tsuhyoshi Wada, who carried a no hitter into the seventh inning before giving up a home run to Steve Pierce . . .

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