Nats Slug Their Way To 6-2 Win In Baltimore

July 10th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Home runs by Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth — and seven solid innings of pitching from starter Doug Fister — led the Washington Nationals past the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards on Wednesday night, 6-2. The Nationals victory in the Orioles slugfest secured Washington’s hold on first place in the National League East.

After the extra innings loss to the Orioles in Washington on Monday (during which the O’s slammed four round trippers), the Nationals not only needed the win, they needed to show they could stand toe-to-toe with one of the best hitting teams in major league baseball. They did that last night.

“This is a good ballpark to hit home runs in,” Nationals manager Matt Williams acknowledged following the Washington victory. “All you need to do is look at the other dugout to see that.” Given Fister’s solid showing, and a Nats bullpen that was in shutdown mode, the Ramos-Desmond-Werth show was more than enough to give the Nats the victory.

The Nationals started the night against O’s starter Bud Norris by putting two runs on the scoreboard in the first inning, courtesy of a Jayson Werth double that scored Anthony Rendon and an Adam LaRoche RBI single that brought in Werth. At the end of two, the Nationals led 3-1, thanks to Wilson Ramos’ third home run of the year.

Doug Fister, meanwhile, was befuddling the O’s potent line-up, though he and Nats skipper Matt Williams admitted that the steady righty was struggling with his command. But despite his early troubles (the O’s scored early on an RBI single from Chris Davis, then on a home run from Manny Machado in the 4th), Fister worked to stay in the game.

“Doug continues to battle,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said. “We stretch him out. We sent him back out there with the notion that if he got in trouble, we’ll go get him. He really found the zone the last inning, especially. He pitched really well.”

The victory on Wednesday also showed why the Nationals and their fans believe Anthony Rendon should be an All Star. With Ryan Zimmerman penciled into the line-up as a Designated Hitter, Rendon was slotted in at third, where he flashed his leather, robbing Baltimore hitters of at least two singles.

“Their third baseman had a great night playing third base,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter told the press following the O’s loss. “We could have got back in it a little bit, but they didn’t let us defensively.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Battle of Texas (it’s now called, alternately, the Lone Stars Series or the Silver Boot series) has never gone well for Houston. The Astros lost 17 of 19 games to their cross-state rival Texas Rangers last year, and were seemingly fated for another last place finish against their sprinting A.L. West rivals in 2014 . . .

Projected as a powerhouse prior to the season, the Rangers had everything: A strong starting staff anchored by Yu Darvish and a line-up that featured one of the game’s best long ball hitters in Prince Fielder. But Fielder is injured (with neck surgery) and out for the year, Darvish is struggling — and now the Texas Rangers are in last place . . .

The Astros made the Rangers fall from grace official last night, pummeling Darvish while running away from the Rangers in a decisive 8-4 victory. The win capped a Houston sweep of their three game series against the Rangers, in which they scored 28 runs while stroking 42 hits. This was a slaughter . . .

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Baltimore Barrage Bombs The Nats In 11

July 8th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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An old-fashioned pitchers’ duel that lasted through seven-plus innings pitting Chris Tillman against Stephen Strasburg gave way to an extra inning Baltimore barrage at Nationals Park on Monday night, with the Orioles coming away with an 11 inning 8-2 win in the first of a four game set of the Battle of the Beltways Series.

The Baltimore victory was triggered in the top of the 11th inning in a 2-2 tie game, when the Orioles sent nine batters to the plate against long reliever Craig Stammen. Over the next half inning (though not in this order), the Orioles scored six runs on two singles (from Nelson Cruz and Nick Hundley), a Nick Markakis double and home runs off the bats of Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado.

The big score in the 11th came off the bat of the otherwise slumping Chris Davis, who entered the game hitting under .200. “Stammen made some tough pitches, some close pitches,” Davis said after his 11th inning heroics. “I was just able to hang in there.” The Davis home run came on a 3-2 count when Stammen threw the power hitter a fastball that was high in the zone.

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“I really did not think he would be able to hit that pitch out,” Stammen said of the pitch to Davis. “He was right on it and he was looking for it. It was a little bit higher than I wanted.” The Davis round tripper seemed to tip the scales against the Nationals, as the Orioles showed why they’re one of the best hitting teams in the game.

In fact, however, the final score didn’t reflect what a tough, well-played and exciting pitchers’ duel the game was until it went into extra innings. Stephen Strasburg was nearly flawless in his start, throwing seven innings of four hit baseball while striking out nine. Baltimore starter Chris Tillman was nearly as good, matching Strasburg’s seven innings while striking out six.

The O’s and Nats both got on the scoreboard in the same way. Baltimore initial two runs came on a Nelson Cruz home run in the top of the 4th that scored Manny Machado, while the Nats first two runs came off the bat of Anthony Rendon who launched his 12th in the bottom of the 6th. Rendon’s round tripper scored Denard Span.

Manny Machado had a big night for the Orioles, going 5-6 with two RBIs. Nelson Cruz accounted for two more Baltimore runs in a 3-5 night. The big bat for Washington was Anthony Rendon, who was 2-5 and raised his season BA to .284.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Washington fans have plenty of reason to gripe about the final All Star selections, and gripe they have. A good case can be made that Rafael Soriano should have made the team as a closer ahead of Milwaukee head-case Francisco Rodriguez . . .

Soriano has better numbers than “K-Rod” and stacks up well against Aroldis Chapman, who made the team (in our opinion) more on the basis of his velocity than his 9th inning wizardry. If it were up to us (and of course, it isn’t), we would have removed K-Rod and Chapman and picked Soriano and savvy San Diego stalwart Huston Street . . .

Washington will be under-represented in Minneapolis, with one player on the roster. But the selection of Jordan Zimmerman was both right and obvious — he’s been Washington’s most consistent and feared starter, even given Stephen Strasburg’s latest snazzy numbers . . .

The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore made a strong case for Anthony Rendon being on the team over Matt Carpenter. Our view is that St. Louis skipper Mike Matheny can be justly accused of being a partisan, which we might come to expect from anyone in a Redbirds uniform. Cardinals fans have always struck us as believing that Busch Stadium is the world’s navel with the clydesdales the equivalent of the Bald Eagle . . .

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Zimmerman Single Seals Series Win

July 6th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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The Washington Nationals got a taste of Cubs righty Jake Arrieta on Sunday, and he was everything Cubs fans say he is. Arrieta battled Washington ace Jordan Zimmerman for six full innings, a toe-to-toe pitching duel that was among the best played and hardest fought games at Nationals Park this year.

But the difference between Arrieta and Zimmermann in this game was that when Zimmermann left the contest (after throwing 105 pitches and keeping the Cubs off the board), the Nationals had supported their starter by scoring a single run, which was something the Cubs had failed to do for Arrieta.

It’s not surprising, then, that Sunday’s match-up came down to who had the better bullpen — and the better clutch hitting. In the end, Washington proved why their relievers are considered among the best in the game, while Cubs relievers are just so-so (and are 13th in the majors), with Pedro Strop giving up the go-ahead run on a single off the bat of Ryan Zimmerman in the 8th inning.

Zimmerman’s hit gave the Nats the win, as closer Rafael Soriano came on in the 9th to shut down the Cubs, notching his 21st save on the year. It was another high pressure performance from the Nationals third sacker, known for his plate discipline in clutch situations when playing at home.

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“It’s good to get the win against these guys,” Zimmerman said after the game, “and its good that we have such strong starting pitching. This was a tough game.”

The Cubs Arrieta (“he came as advertised,” Zimmerman said), agreed: “It was a dogfight,” Arrieta said after the game. “I really had to grind it out there. I had guys on base. I had to make pitches in big situations. I was able to do that.”

In fact, the Cubs outhit the Nationals on Sunday, spraying ten hits against five Nationals pitchers, while the Nats made do with seven. But the Cubs weren’t able to move their base runners home, stranding 20 of them through nine innings and were 1-9 with runners in scoring position.

The Nationals win gave Washington the series against a tenacious Chicago line-up, but the triumph didn’t come easy. Starter Jordan Zimmermann had to wriggle out of a jam in the 3rd, reliever Drew Storen got into trouble in the top of the 7th (and gave up the run that tied the game), and Tyler Clippard got in trouble in the 8th, but got two outs after putting two Cubs on base.

Zimmerman’s GW/RBI capped what was a monster series for him, as he now seems all the way back from an early season injury that sidelined him and left the Nationals line-up punchless. Zim has notched 13 hits in his last ten games, raising his average by 30 points. He was 6-12 in the Cubs series.

Jordan Zimmermann has been just as impressive, albeit on the mound. In June, Zimmermann put himself in contention for this year’s Cy Young, notching a 1.43 ERA in 44 innings. In all of June the Ace of Auburndale gave up six walks while striking out 41. Opponents in June hit .189 against him.

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13 Runs, 19 Hits — Plus Gio

July 6th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Saturday’s whipping of Chicago was an offensive outburst like no other, as the Washington Nationals sprayed 19 hits (including eight doubles) and scored six times in the 3rd and four times in the 7th, victimizing the suddenly pitching poor Cubbies, 13-0.

The offensive onslaught was supported by an outstanding outing from lefty starter Gio Gonzalez, who held the Cubs scoreless in eight complete innings. Gonzalez allowed just four hits in his outing, while striking out seven, notching his sixth win on the 2014 campaign.

“He stifled our offense,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of the trouble his line-up had against Gonzalez. “He locates his fastball, works it to both sides of the plate. And his breaking ball is really good. … It’s got sharp, late break, good tilt. He can use it effectively against both lefties and righties.”

Every Nationals in Saturday’s line-up had a hit, including Gonzalez. Anthony Rendon was 3-4 (with three doubles), Jayson Werth was 3-4 (with two doubles), Ryan Zimmerman was 4-5 with three RBIs and Gonzalez stroked a 7th inning single that advance Wilson Ramos (who’d led off the inning — with a double).

“Obviously, this isn’t going to happen every day, but with the type of at-bats we put together today, even when the game is out of hand, it’s good to see every one grinding it out, even when it doesn’t matter,” third sacker Ryan Zimmerman, who is now hitting.272, said of the Nationals’ offensive outburst. “Everyone finished the game strong.”

The Nationals batted around in the third inning and scored six runs, eight Nationals batted in the 6th inning (while scoring “only” two runs) and nine Washington hitters came to the plate in the 7th inning, scoring four runs. The game marked the highest run and hit total for the home towners this season.

While Washington chased Cubs starter Carlos Villanueva after two innings, it was reliever Chris Rusin who was the designated goat for the North Siders. Rusin gave up nine hits and five runs in just 3.2 innings of work. Rusin’s shaky work raised his ERA from 1.80 to 6.23 on the season.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It’s all about tunnels in Chicago. Both major dailies, the staid and standard Chicago Tribune and the tabloid Chicago Sun-Times, headlined Theo Epstein’s comment that yesterday’s swap of 40 percent of the Cubs rotation to Oakland now allows the North Siders to see “light at the end of the tunnel . . .”

We might expect Cubs fans to be skeptical, particularly after yesterday’s 13-0 drubbing of their beloveds at the hands of the Washington Nationals, but Epstein was all smiles during a press conference in which he announced the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. “We certainly hope we’ve improved our future,” Epstein said . . .

Epstein also said that the trade had nothing to do with Starlin Castro, who must be wondering what the Cubs are going to do with the (at least two) premium minor league shortstops (Javier Baez and Addison Russell — winging his way east to Chicago from the A’s), who are poised to challenge for his slot . . .

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Cubs Swap Samardzija, Hammel

July 5th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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It was a bad day for the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels, as the Oakland Athletics pulled the trigger on a trade that strengthens their shaky but tough pitching staff — and makes them the odds-on favorite to not only seize the American League West division championship, but to play deep into October.

Just hours after taming a potent Washington Nationals line-up in a 7-2 Independence Day victory, Jason Hammel was shipped out to Oakland along with tough Cubs righty Jeff Samardzija. The two will buttress an Oakland starting rotation that has had trouble competing with the likes of the Detroit Tigers, which just swept the A’s in three straight.

In exchange, the Cubs received Addison Russell (one of baseball’s top shortstop prospects), pitcher Dan Straily (who will report to Triple-A Iowa) and developing outfielder Billy McKinney.

It is not clear why the Cubs decided to complete the swap with the A’s as opposed to the Toronto Blue Jays, who were rumored among the front runners (with the Baltimore Orioles) in the race to get Samardzija. It was also thought that the Cubs would trade their two pitchers in separate deals, instead as a part of a package.

Then too, the Cubs already have a top flight shortstop in Starlin Castro and a shortstop waiting in the wings in Javier Baez, though as MLB Trade Rumors noted, “But [Cubs] president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer will gladly add the top-end prospect piece now and figure out any logjams in the future.”

For the Cubs, Russell has to be viewed as the key to the deal. It seems likely to us that when Billy Beane offered him to G.M. Jed Hoyer, the Cubs simply couldn’t pass him up. Russell is a solid hitter who grades out at 15-20-plus homers in the majors and a good glove. He’s as close as it’s possible to get to a “can’t miss” minor league middle infielder.

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Cubs Rout Roark, Nats 7-2

July 5th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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Fresh off a sweep against the reeling Red Sox in Boston, the Chicago Cubs continued their mid-summer surge, touching Washington starter Tanner Roark for nine hits over seven innings, while coasting to a 7-2 victory over the Nationals at jam-packed Nationals Park on Independence Day.

This game looked lost from the start, with Chris Coghlan and Justin Ruggiano stroking successive singles to start the game against a sluggish Washington defense. While Anthony Rizzo grounded into a double play, his grounder was enough to score Coghlan, with the Cubs taking the early lead.

While Jayson Werth tied the game with his long overdue 8th round tripper in the bottom of that frame, the Cubs were off and running — putting single runs on the board in the 2nd and 3rd, then clinching the game with three in the top of the 9th.

This was Roark’s second straight poor outing against the North Siders: Back on June 27, Roark gave up four runs on ten hits in just six innings of work, while on Friday he lasted an inning longer while giving up nine hits. This was also Roark’s second successive loss; the righty is now 7-6 on the season.

Nationals skipper Matt Williams said that Roark was consistently missing his spots with his fastball, which is what got him into trouble. Roark agreed, shaking his head at his own performance, while giving credit to Chicago’s hitters. “They did what they did last time — base-hit me,” he said. “Got beat.”

The Cubs attack was led by Justin Ruggiano, who is now getting playing time in the Cubs outfield after nursing a strained hamstring for the last month. Ruggiano was 3-for-5 with a homer and two RBIs. His third inning home run was absolutely tagged, landing well up in the outfield stands in left center field. Ruggiano is hitting .333 over the last ten games.

Cubs starter Jason Hammel kept the Nationals from putting together in-game rallies, providing continued evidence that he’s poison for the Nationals. Hammel threw six innings of five hit baseball and was irritated that he was lifted after the 6th inning — and unaware that he was about to be shipped to Oakland in a stunning pitchers-for-prospects swap.

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The Wisdom Of Section 1-2-9: There were visitors from Miami down in Row AA, a family of Marlins baseball fans in town to enjoy Independence Day, visit the monuments — and take in a Nats game. The father, with son, wife and daughter in tow, gave the section some much-needed leavening . . .

The Marlins family was particularly outspoken after hearing fans criticize Bryce Harper for his recent comments on who should play where for Matt Williams, and grumbling about Jayson Werth when a first inning single fell in front of the normally wide-awake right fielder . . .

“You should try to root for the Marlins,” the father of the brood piped up in the 3rd inning. “You have a tremendous team here. Werth and LaRoche are terrific, you’ve got pitching top-to-bottom and look at this stadium. And we’ve got none of that.” His son shook his head: “We’ve got Giancarlo Stanton,” he said, “and from the looks of it, that’s what you guys need here . . .”

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The Iron Horse

July 5th, 2014  / Author: Mark

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On this Independence Day, major league baseball paid tribute to Lou Gehrig who, 75 years ago gave his famous “luckiest man speech” before a packed house at Yankee Stadium. In his address (July 4, 1939) Gehrig told fans that he was suffering from ALS, a rare fatal illness which affects muscle function without a cure. The illness forced Gehrig to retire from the game at the age of 36.

Seventy-five years later, baseball paid tribute to Gehrig the man. Here, we pay tribute to Gehrig the hitter: 2130 consecutive games (every day for fifteen years), 2721 hits, 1995 RBIs, 1888 runs, 534 doubles, 163 triples, 493 home runs, a career batting average of .340, a career .447 OBP, a two time MVP and a seven time All Star.

To celebrate Gehrig’s life, all players on Friday wore a Gehrig commemorative patch and select major leaguers read parts of Gehrig’s farewell speech as part of a video tribute. The only tasteless aspect of Lou Gehrig Day (in our humble opinion) was the decision of the Yankees to hand out a commemorative Lou Gehrig bobblehead . . .

“Fans,’ Gehrig said in his speech, “for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.”