August 19th, 2014 / Author: Jason Knobloch
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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August 19th, 2014 / Author: Mark
Adam LaRoche’s dramatic 11th inning home run lifted the Nats to their seventh straight victory (and their third walk-off win in a row), as Washington slid past the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night, 5-4. The round tripper came off of rookie reliever Will Harris and was the first walk off home run of LaRoche’s career.
The LaRoche homer hit off the facade of the upper deck in right field, as Nationals fans rose in a deafening cheer. “I got every bit of that one,” LaRoche said after the Nationals victory. “I don’t know how we got these walk-off situations the last few days, but we have. I managed to get my first one. It took me long enough. So it’s a good feeling.”
The walk off homer was the culmination of a strange night for the ball club, which found itself in a see-saw battle with a team that is nearly twenty games under .500. While Nats starter Jordan Zimmermann pitched well (seven innings, four hits and three earned runs), the D’Backs had victimized the righty on a pair of lead-off walks in the 5th and 8th innings. In both cases, Arizona was able to turn the walks into runs.
In the 5h inning, Zimmermann walked Mark Trumbo, who moved to third on a single and sacrifice bunt and then scored on a Jake Lamb sacrifice fly. In the 8th, Zimmermann walked Lamb, who then scored on a Didi Gregorius home run. The Nationals forfeited a 2-1 lead and were six outs away from a victory before the Gregorius homer.
“One pitch, and it looked a little worse than what it is. In that situation, I want to throw a strike,” Zimmermann said of his eighth inning troubles. “Everyone knows I don’t want to walk another guy. [Gregorius] was ready for it and got the bat on the ball.”
The strange night continued for the Nationals, who entered the 9th with a one run lead. But reliever Tyler Clippard, pitching in a closing role to give Rafael Soriano a rest, gave up a game-tying home run to David Peralta. It was the first home run given up by Clippard since mid-April and ended any chance the Nats had of ending the game in nine.
The Nationals kept pace with the D’Backs, but only just — waiting until the seventh inning to put their first two runs on the board (the result of an Ian Desmond walk and a Wilson Ramos home run blast to center), then following it up with two more in the eighth, when Denard Span doubled, Anthony Rendon tripled and Jayson Werth sacrificed Rendon home.
With the score knotted at four apiece and the game headed into extra innings, Nats skipper Matt Williams called on reliever Craig Stammen to keep the D’backs off the board. As usual, Stammen played Houdini for the Nationals crowd, loading the bases in the top of the 11th before striking out Lamb, Gregorius and inducing a Cliff Pennington ground out.
“It feels like every break is going our way,” Stammen said of the Nationals victory. “You don’t get out of a bases-loaded jam very often. It’s a 1-in-25 thing. Walk-off home run, two outs in the 11th inning. Coming back when we’re down and all that stuff. And giving up home runs and then coming back and scoring more runs, it’s just resiliency.”
The Wisdom Of Section 1-2-9: There were just over 21,000 in attendance for Monday night’s theatrics, but the regulars of Section 1-2-9 didn’t seem to mind. “There’s a football game on, so there’s that,” one season ticket holder remarked. Another regular shook his head. “I’d rather be here,” he noted. “We can always see those other guys . . .”
Not surprisingly, the early innings of the game were taken up with verbal replays of the two weekend victories over the Pirates (“you shoulda been here, I’ve never seen anything like it,” one fan noted), and praise for a team that, as one regular noted, ” wasn’t nearly this good back in April or May . . .”
Soon enough, and predictably, the talk turned to the struggles of Bryce Harper, a common theme among Nationals fans who think it’s past time that he broke out. “It must bug him that he’s not the face of the franchise,” one 1-2-9 veteran commenter noted. And so who is? he was asked. There was only a moment’s hesitation: “Right now, it’s Denard Span . . .”
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August 18th, 2014 / Author: Mark
Think of all the baseball cliches, and you will almost certainly touch on one that describes Washington’s 6-5 eleven inning walk-off triumph over the Pittsburgh Pirates: If you didn’t see it, you should have — if you weren’t there you should have been. Indeed, the Bucs-Nats tilt of August 17 will go down in D.C. baseball history as “a classic,” the kind of win remembered for a long time.
The game began modestly enough, with Washington’s Doug Fister facing off against Pirate ace Edinson Volquez. Fister had his usual ace stuff, allowing just five hits and no earned runs (the Pirates scored two in the 6th on two D.C. errors), while striking out five before being lifted after seven complete for 8th inning relief whiz Tyler Clippard.
Volquez was nearly as good (he’s 10-7 on the season, and is a workhorse), though he gave up a single earned run through 6.1 innings, while notching five strikeouts. But in the bottom of the 7th frame, the Nationals put three runs on the board, when Michael Taylor was hit by a pitch, Kevin Frandsen and Denard Span singled — and the Nationals plated three runs on fielders choice singles off the bats of Asdrubal Cabrera and Anthony Rendon.
Then, with the Nationals leading 4-2 in the 9th inning (and coasting to a seemingly assured victory), it all fell apart for the home towners. With Rafael Soriano on the mound to close the game (and searching for his 30th save), the Pirates struck for three runs.
Soriano’s troubled 9th began when the big righty hit Pirates outfielder Starling Marte. Soriano then gave up a single to Travis Snider, then allowed Marte to score and pinch runner Michael Martinez to advance to second on a wild pitch. Ike Davis was then walked. And although the Nats picked up an out on a Gaby Sanchez fielders’ choice, rookie sensation Gregory Polanco doubled to center to score sprinting pinch runner Jordy Mercer and Sanchez.
With Soriano slumping on the bench, reliever Matt Thornton got the Nationals out of the 9th, but the Nationals seemed deflated by the blown save — and headed for defeat. It was then that the fireworks began, courtesy of Jayson Werth, who’d been sidelined for the last week with a tweeky shoulder.
With one out in the 9th, Werth (who was hitting for Thornton) drew a walk from Pirates reliever Mark Melancon. Werth’s reappearance in the Nationals line-up reenergized the Nationals, with the right fielder advancing to third on a Denard Span single and scoring on a clutch fielders choice off the bat of Asdrubal Cabrera. Unaccountably, but dramatically, the Nationals had knotted the game at 5.
The dramatic Nationals fall, and rise, lasted through the scoreless 10th, with lefty reliever Ross Detwiler holding the Pirates scoreless. Then, in the bottom of the 11th, the Nationals walked off in dramatic fashion: on a Werth double, a move-em-over grounder to the right side from Denard Span and a game-winning sacrifice fly off the bat of uber-sub Scott Hairston.
“Today was a tribute to just the team mentality in general,” starter Doug Fister said of his team’s victory. “That’s a lesson learned for us, knowing that [if] something goes wrong, there’s 24 guys right behind you that pick you up. Whether it’s offense, whether it’s defense, guys are playing well together.”
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Pirates came into Washington with high hopes, but have now dropped five games in a row. “We get to play in front of 120,000 people over the weekend, playing a good team,” Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle said of his team’s effort. “Got to keep battling, score one more run than they — that didn’t happen for us this weekend . . .”
The three game Washington-Pirates set was worthy of October, with two walk-off Nationals wins and each game decided by a single run. The Nationals were saved from their sloppy play (two errors on Sunday that allowed two Pittsburgh runs, both in the 6th inning), by clutch at bats from Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos, Denard Span and Scott Hairston . . .
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August 16th, 2014 / Author: Mark
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.
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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August 15th, 2014 / Author: Mark
Washington righty Stephen Strasburg reversed his road woes (he is 2-8 while pitching away this year), throwing seven innings of snappy three hit baseball, as the Nationals extended their dominance over the New York Mets, winning 4-1 at Citi Field and sweeping their three game series.
Strasburg was all but unhittable in the Nationals triumph. “He really had fastball command from both sides of the plate. That’s where it starts with him,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said of his starter’s outing. “If he can do that, it just opens up everything else. He pitched well. He had a jam in the middle inning and he got out of it with a great double-play ball. He pitched well.”
The Nationals line-up, meanwhile, was just as dominant as Strasburg. The Nationals runs came on two home runs. Adam LaRoche hit his 17th home run in the first inning with Asdrubel Cabrera on base, while a revived Bryce Harper hit his sixth of the season with Ian Desmond on base in the fourth.
Harper’s recent performance has been a boon for the Nationals, who are counting on added production from their left fielder now that Ryan Zimmerman is on the disabled list. “If Bryce gets on track, watch out,” MASN commenter F.P. Santangelo said after Harper’s fourth inning home run.
“His strength is coming back, and if he gets a ball that is in a little bit, sometimes it hurts him. He feels it for a day or so, but that is part of the process coming back from that,” Williams said of his young star. “He is getting stronger by the day. He is seeing it better.”
The Nationals scored their runs against New York starter Dillon Gee, who proved effective against the Phillies in his last outing (one run in seven innings), but was undone by Washington round-trippers on Thursday. Gee was among the stalwarts on New York’s injury riddled starting rotation at the beginning of the year, but he left the ball in the middle of the plate in last night’s loss.
But the big news of the night was Stasburg, who was trying to bounce back from his worst outing of the season against the Braves — a five inning seven-earned-runs affair versus Atlanta. The righty ace was anything but shaky against the Mets, throwing 101 pitches, 66 of them for strikes.
“This game is funny,” Strasburg told the press after his win. “You can always learn something new. I think I’ve had bad games on the road. I think there’s things that I do that put me in a position where they can take a better swing at it. I’m just going to keep trying to learn as much as I can.”
Washington wrapped up its three game set in New York by relying on their shut down bullpen after Strasburg left the game at the end of seven. Tyler Clippard pitched a no hit eighth, while closer Rafael Soriano held the Madoffs hitless in the 9th, notching his 28th save.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The lone New York run on Thursday night came off the bat of Lucas Duda, whose single scored Nats killer Daniel Murphy, who’d singled off Strasburg to start the bottom of the 4th. Murphy has always hit well against the Nats, but as Matt Williams put it earlier this week — “the truth is that Murphy hits well against everyone . . . ”
The Nationals sweep in New York probably ended whatever hopes the Mets had of a post-season berth. Mets manager Terry Collins told the New York press following his team’s schooling of Philadelphia (last week), that they shouldn’t count New York out of the post-season just yet. But it now looks official: the Mets are eight games under .500 and 10.5 games back in the N.L. East . . .
Collins has been under scrutiny in New York, where Mets watchers have consistently questioned his odd in-game decisions, as well as his team’s inability to get on base. But the questions have apparently had little effect on the front office which, according to some baseball analysts, has decided to bring him back for a fifth season . . .
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August 13th, 2014 / Author: Mark
Washington homered four times, Doug Fister notched his twelfth win (against just three losses) and the Nationals went on to down the New York Mets at Citi Field, 7-1. This was Washington’s ninth win in a row in New York, with the team extending their N.L. East Division lead to five games over Atlanta in the N.L. East.
Fister was the key to the win. The former Detroit righty stymied the Mets offense, throwing seven innings of shutout baseball while allowing New York seven hits. Fister struck out three. The Nats righty threw 107 pitches, 71 of them for strikes and didn’t walk anyone.
“Doug throws what he wants when he wants and where he wants,” Mets manager Terry Collins said after his team’s loss. “When you go up there, especially when you’re looking at our lineup four through nine, they’re all pretty young, and he can carve you up and he does.”
Most of Washington’s runs came on round trippers, with Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond and rookie Michael Taylor each hitting home runs. Taylor, subbing for right fielder Jayson Werth, also notched his first career hit in his first time at bat in the major leagues in the second inning.
Newly acquired second sacker Asdrubal Cabrera also had a big night for the Nationals, going 3-5 while stroking two doubles. Harper, Desmond (who hit his 20th home run) and Taylor each had two RBIs for the Nationals, who put six runs on three home runs on the board in the five run fifth inning.
Desmond’s 20th home run marked the third season in a row the young shortstop has hit at least twenty round trippers. “It’s difficult to do,” Nats manager Matt Williams said of Desmond’s accomplishment. “He also steals some bases for us and his defense has been fantastic. So, he is certainly one of our leaders on the club and he wants to play every day.”
But the biggest celebration of the night was reserved for Taylor, the 23-year-old Fort Lauderdale, Florida native who was seeing his first big league action. It was a memorable start for the Nats newbie, who was 2-4 on the night with his first big league home run.
“It’s fantastic. He has worked really hard. He has taken all the BP and worked his way to get here,” Williams said of the youngster. “It’s gratifying for everybody. The bench was excited on the first base hit, and the homer, even more excited. Good for the kid and certainly a memory he’ll remember forever.”
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Mets pitching future is on the DL and, if recent reports are any indication, likely to remain there. The team recently announced that young righty Jeremy Hefner, recovering from Tommy John surgery, has had a setback in his rehab and may have to have surgery yet again . . .
It was devastating news for the New Yorkers, who once believed that Hefner and Matt Harvey, who’s also recovering from Tommy John surgery, would lead a 2014 Mets renaissance. Now it appears that the Mets front office will stick to their guns and slow Harvey’s return, waiting to put him on the mound for the start of the next season . . .
This is actually a double-wammy, as the Mets put rookie of the year candidate Jacob deGrom on the disabled list on Monday with shoulder tendinitis. Righty deGrom has been a find for New York, and is 6-5 on the year with a 2.87 ERA. The Nationals faced deGrom last Thursday, and the youngster threw an effective six innings against the home towners . . .
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August 11th, 2014 / Author: Mark
A reader writes of our column on the Indians, Braves and the Tomahawk Chop yesterday that, contrary to what we wrote, scalping was practiced by American Indians prior to the arrival of Columbus. The reader then provides proof of the claim. The article cited (“Who Scalps Whom?” and written by Diane E. Foulds) appeared in “Hawthorne In Salem”. It’s fascinating and well worth the read.
More plainly, the article provides solid evidence to refute what we so offhandedly and carelessly noted (but then, we are partisans on this kind of thing) and so we’ll take our medicine and bow to the facts. But we’ll add (in deference to being half right), that at least Indians weren’t the only ones to take scalps.
The reader then adds: “Personally I don’t associate the Tomahawk Chop with scalping, do you? I associate it with the Florida State cheer and axe chop that went to the Braves with Deion Sanders. The Braves have a tomahawk on their jerseys. What else do you do with a tomahawk but chop with it?”
All good points, and again we agree, but (once again) only in part. Tomahawks are (indeed) meant for chopping and that’s what you do with them, but the association with “scalping” seems to us obvious. Hmmm, well maybe not. After all, American Indians don’t seem to have a problem with the Chop, so maybe it’s just us.
Okay, okay, okay. We’ll come clean. What really bothers us is the fact that Atlanta fans do the Chop and all too regularly; it really drives us nuts. It’s particularly galling when it comes with Atlanta runners on base against the Nats (an all too often occurrence these days) and was much in evidence last night during Atlanta’s 3-1 triumph over our beloved Nine. We hate the Chop.
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